Why Are Believers Willfully Ignorant About Atheists?


When believers talk about atheists, they often don’t bother to talk to any first. What are they afraid of?

Did you hear the one about the Anglican minister who said atheists have no reason for grief?

I wish I was joking. I’m not. In a widely- disseminated and discussed opinion piece, Anglican minister Rev. Gavin Dunbar made an interesting and even compelling argument that grief is necessary for love and humanity… and then went on to argue that, unless you believe in God, you have no reason to care whether the people you love live or die, or even to love them in the first place.

Again: I wish I was joking. I quote:

The new atheists proclaim their gospel with the fervour of believers: God is dead, man is free, free from the destructive illusions of religion and morality, of reason and virtue. But then a someone dies, suddenly and cruelly, like the young man known to many in ..[this] parish [in [Eastern Georgia] who was killed in a freakish accident last weekend. And his death casts a pall of grief over his family, his friends, their families, his school, and many others. Yet if he was no more than an arrangement of molecules, a selfish gene struggling to replicate itself, there can be no reason for grief, or for the love that grieves, since these are (we are told) essentially selfish survival mechanisms left over from some earlier stage in hominid evolution. Friendship is just another illusion. But of course we do grieve, even the atheists. And in so grieving, they grieve better than they know (or think they know).

The grieving atheist cannot provide any reason why he grieves, or why he (rightly) respects the grief of others.

My first reaction… well, to be honest, my first reaction was pretty close to blind rage. [snip] My second reaction was a desire to carefully, painstakingly, as patiently as possible, explain to Dunbar exactly how and why atheists value life and experience grief, and to go through his piece with a fine-toothed comb taking apart every ridiculous myth and piece of misinformed ignorance. [snip]

But after I’d thought about all this for a while, my urges to both blind rage and line-by-line demolition gave way… to a baffled irritation, focusing on one big question:

Couldn’t he have asked us?

Couldn’t Dunbar have gone down to his local atheist organization and asked them, “You know, I don’t get it about atheist grief — if you don’t believe in God or the soul, why do you value life and grieve over death?”

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Are Believers Willfully Ignorant About Atheists? To read more — about the blind rage, the line-by-line demolition, and the big key question of why believers are so willing to blithely speculate on how atheists think and feel and yet so unwilling to just ask us about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. cswella says

    Uh…

    If the deceased went to heaven and they are going to meet them again after a short period, what reason do christians have for grief?

    Seems obvious to me that the person who does not hold a belief in an afterlife has MORE reason for grief.

  2. says

    Why are the willfully ignorant?

    My first guess would be that they need an irredeemably evil The Other to demonize because treating people like people is hard and pretending you’re the good guy fighting a mustache-twirling villain is easy.

  3. anthrosciguy says

    What cswella said. According to what Rev. Dunbar claims to believe, that poor kid is in the best of all possible places, living on eternally in the best possible manner. Either the Rev. Dunbar does not actually believe what he claims to believe, or he has only reason to rejoice in this poor kid’s death. I and every other atheist, OTOH, have reason to grieve.

  4. Peter says

    Bronze Dog has it right, I think. I suspect that the whole idea of finding out what we are really like never crossed Rev. Dunbar’s mind; he’s sure that he knows all there is to know about us, and he thinks sitting down to a thoughtful chat with THOSE PEOPLE would be about as appealing as wallowing in sewage. That’s a poor attitude, and it certainly wouldn’t incline me to pay attention to anything he says, but he’s already decided that we’re the spawn of Satan, so he doesn’t care what we think.

  5. Tak the Hideous New Girl says

    Someone tell Gavin Dunbar that this Atheist is still grieving for her father (who was also an Atheist) who died a year and a half ago.

    Why am I grieving? Because I loved him very much, I miss him terribly and will never see him again, talk to him again or spend time with him again.

    There, that was easy.

  6. Mattir says

    I think attitudes like this are more “maliciously ignorant” than merely “willfully ignorant.” There’s a serious amount of hatred required to say such things about other human beings.

  7. Paul says

    “Religion is like a house of cards — protected by a massively strong fortress.”

    Brilliantly stated, Ms. Christina!

  8. vel says

    do these guys realize that their lying aka “false witnessing” about atheists makes them and their religion look ridiculous since by their actions, they can’t possibly believe such nonsense?

    “The new atheists proclaim their gospel with the fervour of believers: God is dead, man is free, free from the destructive illusions of religion and morality, of reason and virtue.”

    hmmm, now where have atheists said that we are free from the “destructive illusions” of morality, reason or virtue? Religion is a given since the destructive illusion of Christianity is just like every other religion in the world, baseless claims.

    Dear Mr. Dunbar, you are a pompous ass to claim that atheists cannot give reasons why we grieve or act humanely. I can, that I miss people, want them to treat me as I treat them, etc.

    Now, pompous ass and wonderful example of Christianity, your turn to give me a reason: tell me the reason that you intentionally lie?

  9. baal says

    Did you hear the one about the Anglican minister who said atheists have no reason for grief?

    I had to stop my immediate reaction. Any of the various, “your group are not people” statements creates a strong reaction in me. What inevitably follows is permission to treat that group poorly or to consider them worthy of harm based solely on group membership.

  10. absent sway says

    Perhaps he should return to his Bible, where the apostle Paul claims that believers shouldn’t grieve like pagans, who don’t have hope of seeing their loved ones again. Something to that extent; I don’t have the time at the moment to cite chapter and verse but it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to find.

  11. says

    Reading the article.

    Many atheists — I’m one of them — look at the fact that consciousness is a physical construct, and are filled with wonder and awe. We look at the fact that, out of nothing but rocks and water and sunlight, this wildly complex bio-chemical process called life developed, and then evolved into forms with the capacity for consciousness, and then evolved into forms with the capacity for communication and compassion, ethics and altruism, love and grief… and we are gobsmacked.

    Copied and saved. Sometimes this just makes me stop in my tracks and stare into space, amazed.

    Now, back to finish reading.

  12. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    An asshole pastor like this hijacked my great-grandmother’s funeral to sneer at Dawkins and other prominent atheists, and secularists in general, with barely a word about her life or her values. At least a quarter of her descendents in attendance were atheists. My mother and I were the only people who said anything to him directly, and we wound up going back to the hotel room in anger rather than attending the first half of the reception because we assumed this had been arranged by the family – which is the exact sort of thing my mother’s siblings might have done, but we fortunately, the rest were just as mad about it as we were and thanked us for speaking up directly.

    What a disgusting betrayal.

  13. says

    The first step in making an enemy out of someone is dehumanizing them. That’s all this is. A sick and pathological need to have someone to hate and feel superior to.

  14. 'Tis Himself says

    I just posted the following as a comment to Dunbar’s rant:

    As an atheist I’m used to theists sneering at me, threatening me with Hell, and accusing me of various things ranging from Satan worship to being sexually abused as a child to being angry at various gods. But rarely has my humanity been questioned. Mr. Dunbar claims that I, like every other atheist, am “free from the destructive illusions of religion and morality, of reason and virtue.” I will grant that I am free of religion, but I’d like to know where Mr. Dunbar gets the idea that I reject morality, reason and virtue.

    I have a moral system based on altruism and the Golden Rule. I don’t steal, rape, assault, or kill people because I don’t want those things to happen to me. What’s more, I pre-emptively don’t do these things or anything else generally considered immoral. I think that’s a better basis for morality than “I have to be moral or else God will spank my bottom forever” or even “I’m moral because that’s pleasing to God.” A child is good for fear of punishment or for hope of reward from its parents. An adult is good because that’s how adults are supposed to behave. So I reject Mr. Dunbar’s accusation that I’ve discarded morality.

    All too often when I’m discussing the evidence for belief in gods, the theist retreats to “I don’t have any epistemological evidence for my beliefs, I just believe.” Faith is considered a virtue by theists. Sorry, Mr. Dunbar, but theists are the ones most likely to reject reason, not atheists.

    Virtue is similar to morality. I try to be virtuous because that’s the proper, correct, mature thing to be. Besides, virtue is rather malleable. What may be virtuous to one person may not be to another.

    All I can tell from Mr. Dunbar’s screed is that he dislikes atheists. Perhaps if he talked to some of us, we might be able to shift his prejudices enough that he’d stop denying us basic humanity.

  15. Randomfactor says

    To use a Christian metaphor, Christianity is a house built on sand.

    Sand? Hell, SUGAR. They daren’t even let any moisture get near, let alone a wave.

  16. Mattir says

    Once again, I make the mistake of looking at alternet comment threads. And have learned that I should just be quiet and not complain about religious people saying dehumanizing things about atheists.

    Yeah, like that’s worked sooooo well for minority communities in the past… (narrowly avoiding a Godwin)

  17. Gregory in Seattle says

    Rev. Dumbar is, himself, an atheist: he does not believe that Ahura Mazda is the source of all goodness and light.

  18. says

    To be fair – he is not saying that atheists do not grieve, only that in his (extremely uninformed) view of an atheist’s philosophy (as if there is such a thing) there is not REASON to grieve.

    It’s the same old same old – “Then where does your morality come from!” argument.

    It would be similar to saying (as cswella said) that Christians (and others that believe in a happy afterlife) do not have any reasons for their grief.

    Now, the difference between a Christian saying that an atheist world view has no place for grief and an atheist saying that a Christian world view has no place for grief….

    ….is that NO prominent atheist thinker that I know of since the dawn of time actually thinks that atheism inherently includes a rejection of grief.

    However, Christian theologians HAVE – and that theology (however unpopular these days) influenced the culture in which I grew up.

    It is the idea that we don’t have a right to complain about anything because whatever happens is God’s Will. It is absolutely the concept – instilled in me as a child in subtle but real ways – that grieving was inherently selfish. We were sad for ourselves, not for the people who died, because they were in a better place — and anything short of complete selflessness was ungodly so grief was unseemly.

    For me – what he said is just so painfully ironic.

    I don’t feel insulted or incensed – just confused. When I ask what reasons there are for grief within his worldview – it is an honest question.

  19. says

    You know what occurred to me when I first read this? Christians* do not believe that animals have the kind of souls that make them eligible for an afterlife. Yet they generally grieve when their pets die. Even if we take grieving for other humans out of the picture (and as people mention above, surely atheists who don’t think there is such a thing have more reason to mourn someone’s permanent loss), Mr Dunbar’s screed would apply just as much to his parishioners being sad at the death of Fido or Fluffy:

    Yet if he was no more than an arrangement of molecules, a selfish gene struggling to replicate itself, there can be no reason for grief, or for the love that grieves, since these are (we are told) essentially selfish survival mechanisms left over from some earlier stage in hominid evolution. Friendship is just another illusion.

    How does he explain grief over beloved animals? Certainly it can’t be because we (humans and atheists alike) are all “implicitly affirm[ing] the reality of the soul”.

    Therefore, I have to conclude that Mr Dunbar is being disingenuous.

    *of any orthodox denomination, including Anglicanism

  20. Shattered says

    Many animal species, such as elephants, clearly experience grief.

    I’m pretty sure that elephants aren’t religious.

  21. says

    Believers do talk to us, but the fact is that they rarely listen. They don’t listen because they are convinced they know everything they need to know about us before they even start the conversation. There is definitely no need fo consult things like ‘google’ when you have God as your search engine.

    So they talk TO us but not WITH us. It is amazing to me the number of believers that have had the audacity to explain MY atheism to ME. They ‘know’ all about us because God has told them all they need to know, the fact that we are lost souls in need of salvation. For them, His word is all that matters. So, they believe they know us even better than we know ourselves. Because they ‘know’ we are missing out on the love of Jesus and we of course, are too blind to see that.

    Talking to us is all about trying to bring us in to that relationship with Him, that’s the only thing it’s about. Hearing during the conversation about how much meaning, desire to be moral and love of life we get from our atheism is one big ‘yawn’ to them. it’s just meaningless babble from the lips of people who have no idea what the true essence of life is.

  22. F says

    Mattir

    I had to look because you mentioned the comments. Blargh! There was enough stupid concentrate in the first few idiot comments to make me stop. Had to nuke my brain from orbit and re-install the article.

  23. lee says

    Instead of wasting our time concerning ourselves with “why don’t they talk to an atheist” or arguing with them point by point, we should remember and point out as often as possible that these things they say about atheists are not our problem. The problem clearly lies with them, they accuse atheists of behaving and feeling the way they imagine they would if they didn’t have god. This is most likely due to their own lack of self awareness about how they feel or what they think god gives them and the devastation they would feel without it. You know what? That’s just not my problem. I think it’s time we start pointing out to them that they should work on their own issues before projecting them on to atheists. Screw the debate, screw the conversation, lets just get to the point and the heart of the matter, it’s them not us and they need to figure out what makes them feel so hopeless about not having god in their lives. Period.

  24. Mary Lynne says

    17. Tis Himself:

    How did you leave a comment? I would like to, but it says registered users must log in and I don’t see where to register.

    ML

  25. Mary Lynne says

    This really got to me, too. Haven’t figured out yet how to comments, so I found his church email and sent this:

    Dear Rev. Dunbar,

    I hope you are reading the comments on your column on the TitusOneNine website. You sound like a kind man, but I don’t think you realize how incredibly hurtful it was in so many ways. To say that I, as an atheist, do not or could not grieve because I don’t believe in a soul is, first of all, profoundly wrong – we do, in fact, grieve.

    Second, I find that I can grieve more deeply and honestly now than I did when I was a person of faith. When my mother and stepmother died, my deep pain, anger and sadness was diverted and complicated by the religious messages I received to subvert those normal human emotions. Somehow I was supposed to be grateful to a merciful God for ending their suffering from lung cancer and taking them to Heaven? Without being angry at him for giving both of them lung cancer in the first place?

    When I lost my father-in-law more recently, I could feel what I felt – pain, anger, sadness, regret. I could miss him, know he lived on in our memories and the family and good deeds he left, and be angry and sad without feeling I wasn’t “trusting God” by my anger that a good man died too young. I grieve more deeply because I know this one life and consciousness is a precious gift and there is not one more moment of awareness for any of us any time in eternity after death.

    If anything, why do you grieve? Death is not final. You will see your loved ones again. The Christian cannot give any reason why he grieves. Except, of course, that you can. You feel the loss of those you care about, as do those without faith.

    I read your column as saying that you don’t see how YOU could survive grief without God, Do you understand now that does not mean that those without God do not grieve?

  26. Switchhttr says

    Bronze Dog touched on the crux of the matter, but there are several layers to it.

    Tribalism and Othering is definitely a part of the problem. The “us” needs a “them” for contrast and to set boundaries, and this is vital if the identity of the “us” people is largely (or entirely) tied up in their group.

    Denial of the humanity of “them” is also a much more difficult task if “us” people know members of the “them” group. I can’t recall where I saw it, but I once saw a video of a researcher referring to everyone in America having an “Aunt Susan”–namely, a close relative who is outside their faith and who is known to be good, such that the nieces and nephews can’t conceive of her being eternally damned.

    I also think there’s a limit to the cognitive dissonance that people can entertain. A religious believer can take the reverend’s approach and avoid exposure to any evidence that contradicts your belief (“La, la, la, I can’t hear you!”), or resort to one of the other popular rationalizations (moral atheists already know God in their hearts and are just being contrary/stubborn, or were in the wrong religion and simply haven’t found the right one, or are being stubborn because they were disappointed or hurt and became embittered, or yaddah, yaddah, yaddah).

    A combination of these would comprise my working hypothesis on the matter. Frustrating, yes; surprising, no.

  27. danettebaltzer says

    Pastors and theologians tell lies all the time to keep their flock flocked. They know much of the bible is manmade yet they refuse to admit it because they know what will happen as a result. And if they admit that Atheists are not the devil incarnate, then that further erodes their power to control their sheep.

  28. ohioobserver says

    I hope I read the AlterNet piece carefully, because I think that while you addressed many issues related to the antipathy against atheists, you missed one (or perhaps implied it): money, power, and privilege.

    The religious leaderships enjoy a flow of wealth that makes religion the largest industry on the planet, financially. The clergy, and those who associate them, enjoy positions of power over a body of followers, whose lives they control (how they work, who they marry and love, what they do on Sundays, what other people they can associate with, and so on) — and for many, this submission is involuntary, with the threat of suffering, now or in the hereafter, hanging over them since babyhood. And practitioners of religion enjoy the privilege of unquestioned validation, from the state and the general public.

    The very existence of nonbelievers who live happy lives without acquiescence to the arbitrary rule of a religious institution is a threat to the wealth, power and privilege of those who benefit from being members of those institutions. I see no complex theology or moral reasoning in this. We are examples to the world that one need not give up one’s wealth, will, or admiration to people who have done nothing to deserve any of it in order to be decent, loving, and joyful.

  29. Tussilago says

    To say that, because someone’s consciousness is “only an arrangement of molecules”, that means they can’t be a real person whom you can love – that’s like saying that, because a book is “only an arrangement of ink on paper”, that means it can’t contain a real story or interesting ideas that you can find worth reading.

  30. stonyground says

    First I would like to endorse comment 28 by lee and comment 34 by ohioobserver, both very cogent critiques of Dunbar’s position.

    Comment 35 by Tussilago touches upon the observation that I wanted to make. Dunbar, and many others like him, often comment upon the naturalistic worldview that most atheists subscribe to. “We just evolved from slime so it’s no surprise that we behave like slime”, that kind of thing. They don’t seem to be able to get their heads around the fact that some people think that truth is really important. If a certain truth has unfortunate implications* for the meaning of life, the Dunbars of this world think that the way to deal with such unfortunate implications is to pretend that this truth isn’t true. They then get all offended when we point out that their beliefs are infantile and childish.

    *As stated in the OP, these unfortunate implications are entirely in his own imagination.

  31. albiefarinas says

    Believers are willfully ignorant about almost “everything”, that they are willfully ignorant about atheists, is the least of out problems….

  32. says

    The piece by Rev. Dunbar seems to me like what happens when someone believes that we need a belief in God for a better life, but then they can’t help notice that there are parts of reality that conflict with that.

    From Rev. Dunbar’s post:

    But of course we do grieve, even the atheists. And in so grieving, they grieve better than they know (or think they know).

    The grieving atheist cannot provide any reason why he grieves, or why he (rightly) respects the grief of others. For to grieve the death of such a young man is implicitly to affirm the reality of the soul.

    It seems like he knows atheists feel grief … but he has to find a way in which belief in God is necessary, so he argues that you can’t have a good *reason* for feeling grief if you’re an atheist, completely ignoring the fact that positing an imaginary being isn’t exactly a good reason. It basically sounds like someone saying that because they can state their position clearly and succinctly (belief in God) therefore, their reason must be a good reason, but if you’re an atheist and you allow for uncertainty and for the realization that there’s no evidence for an afterlife, then your reason must be bad, just because it’s not as succinctly and surely expressed as religious faith.

    From Greta’s post:

    The most crucial point: Saying that life and morality and reason and virtue and emotions such as grief are physical processes — this is not the same as saying they are illusions.

    It’s easier to ignore those voices if people can pretend that we’re not quite human.

    This, seriously, this.

    @Tussilago:

    To say that, because someone’s consciousness is “only an arrangement of molecules”, that means they can’t be a real person whom you can love – that’s like saying that, because a book is “only an arrangement of ink on paper”, that means it can’t contain a real story or interesting ideas that you can find worth reading.

    I love this comment.

  33. Steve says

    As said, if they truly believed in heaven, they should rejoice and celebrate when someone dies.

  34. says

    Should I even bother trying to restrain the middle finger that’s rising against this god-bothering ass?

    The grieving atheist cannot provide any reason why he grieves, or why he (rightly) respects the grief of others.

    Is it so difficult to imagine the concept of “this person was a part of our lives and their departure is taking something tangible and substantial away from us”? Really? You think my friends are just placeholders for something meaningful when I take away the idea of their souls? You think my family members are just carriers of selfish survival mechanisms as far as I care? You think a lifetime of experience doesn’t form attachments?

    This is my ass, and you can bite it.

  35. says

    Well…I can certainly agree that it was wrong for Dunbar to marginalize any nonbeliever’s honest grief at anyone passing. As several pointed out, the fact that nonbelievers don’t believe in an afterlife would make the grief MORE poignant, not less.

    (I might note that just because you are a believer doesn’t necessarily mean you believe in an afterlife, either; the Saduccees didn’t; Solomon–or anyone who wrote under his name– didn’t, as any careful reading of Proverbs would show.)

    I can certainly understand your grief and anger at your emotions and humanity being marginalized that way.

    However, there was another hidden presumption in the article that grated on ME just a little, understandably. First off, yeah, probably more nonbelievers know atheists stands than vice-versa, but there ARE believers who have been atheists. C.S. Lewis; noted sceptic Anthony Flew became convinced of a Creator, though not one sanctioned by any particular religion, on the strength of the anthropic coincidences. Some of us are quite familiar with atheist positions, both from conversations and reading authors like Hume, Dawkins and Sagan.

    But when you say arguments for theism are “not attempts to look at the evidence and logic supporting theism and atheism.” Hmmm. Well, yeah, if you’re talking about, ohhh, I dunno, Texas Education Boards and Bachmann and Santorum—but there are plenty of educated, quite intelligent people who can argue quite eloquently for theism. George F.R. Ellis, a cosmologist of reknown who has co-written a book with Stephen Hawking, in his BEFORE THE BEGINNING issued a quite eloquent and devastating argument for a Creator as the most logical answer to the anthropic coincidences that riddle the universe. (See chapter 7). John Polinghorne, a former physicist who worked with Murray Gell-Mann in developing the idea of a quark, has written numerous books on this–since he’s become an Anglican priest. Arthur Peacocke has also.

    None of them are Institute for Creation Research cranks, all of them readily admit that evolution is (of course) real, but all of them use a conscious selection of the values of certain constants as the best explanation of the oddly fine-tuned universe we find ourselves in, for the constants that allow evolution to WORK, and are quite comfortable with discussing why even the idea of a multiverse doesn’t answer all the coincidences that rather spookily occur.

    If Dunbar and many other theists deny you your heart, your grief, and your humanity–it sounds (in a much milder form, admittedly) that you are denying theists their intellects.

    Either way one group is dehumanizing the other.

    The Pew Research survey is probably right–those who think against the mainstream are probably brighter than those who go with the flow, and the highly-religious USA, it’s probably easier to shut up and go to church and not think. But if you were raised in an atheist society—say Stalinist Russia or post-French Revolution France or Maoist China–one could argue it would be the brighter ones would be those who rebelled against society and believed.

    But that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been, and still are, some very intelligent theists who think they have intellectual reasons for believing. If you imply that their reasons are intellectually lacking…

    THAT’s dehumanizing, too.

  36. says

    *Sigh*

    When I said, “probably more nonbelievers know atheists stands than vice-versa” I MEANT “probably more nonbelievers know THEISTS’ stands than vice-versa”.

    Typos’r’us.

  37. Ermine says

    Strangely enough Al, just like every other theist who comes here, you can talk real big about these supposedly educated theists, but somehow you can’t quote or link to a single SPECIFIC instance of any of these “eloquent and devastating argument[s]”.

    Why does it happen like this every single time?

    We know from simple statistics that, the more educated people are, the less likely they are to believe in God – ANY god(s) at all. We know from other recent studies that, on average, atheists and agnostics know more about other religions than do members of any of those religions themselves.

    Care to actually give us one of those “eloquent and devastating argument[s]” right here? We’d be happy to discuss it if you actually made one, but the theists always seem to dance around the point without ever being specific. They’re always ready to say that SOMEONE made great arguments, but to actually quote them so that we can point out where they’re wrong? Never! It’s almost as if there aren’t any specifics, but they’re hoping no one notices! But that wouldn’t be -your- problem, would it? Of course not!

    I’ll just wait here for you to clear that up then, shall I?

  38. says

    Al Schroeder

    But that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been, and still are, some very intelligent theists who think they have intellectual reasons for believing.

    Just about every argument I’ve seen for the existence of god(s) falls into one of two categories.

    A distaste for some aspect of a godless universe. Lack of divine ‘justice,’ for instance, the thought that one’s life might end completely, or the lack of a god-given moral instruction manual.

    An unwillingness to accept ‘we don’t know’ as an answer. This can range from how the universe came into existence to an as yet unexplained feature of cellular biology. Something ‘we don’t know (yet)’ gets ‘explained’ by saying a god must have arranged it.

    Neither case provides supporting evidence for the god conjecture. They show what people want to believe about the world, not how the world actually is.

    Also, I’ve never yet seen an argument that made any serious attempt to bridge the giant chasm between deistic creator and the Abrahamic god. Given that most apologists I’ve heard/read have been Christian, with a personal belief in that very specific god, I find it quite dishonest of them to act as if ‘proving’ a deistic creator somehow validates their belief in the interventionist god of the Old and New Testaments.

  39. says

    [Tussilago]: To say that, because someone’s consciousness is “only an arrangement of molecules”, that means they can’t be a real person whom you can love – that’s like saying that, because a book is “only an arrangement of ink on paper”, that means it can’t contain a real story or interesting ideas that you can find worth reading.

    Excellent analogy. Theists love to play this very old deconstructionist game, including those philosophers who ought to know better. John Searle made the same reasoning error with the Chinese room argument back in 1980. People who find these bad arguments convincing simply do not understand systems theory nor emergent properties. You would think they could grasp the concept that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, but they will do so only when convenient.

    [Al Schroeder]: George F.R. Ellis, a cosmologist of reknown who has co-written a book with Stephen Hawking, in his BEFORE THE BEGINNING issued a quite eloquent and devastating argument for a Creator as the most logical answer to the anthropic coincidences that riddle the universe.

    Seriously? You think we haven’t dealt with the anthropic principle before? Anyone with a minute to read Wikipedia knows why the anthropic principle is bad reasoning. Yes, that’s right, your argument is so awful Wikipedia can debunk it in the summary. Yowch.

    It is the reversal of cause and effect: the universe came first, not life. Life always comes after. This directly implies that any universe in which life exists must, by definition, be wholly compatible in the universe in which it exists. This is awfully simple. It is a “devastating” debunking of a puerile argument.

    It is an argument from improbability, exactly the same one used by Creationists against evolution and the age of the earth. That some sequence of events is unlikely is no reason to discount it when the evidence for its occurrence is staring you right in the face. Implausible events happen all the time; it’s the nature of a huge universe that something absurdly unlikely is always happening somewhere.

    Attempts to use the anthropic principle to create God are an clear demonstration that believers, even the supposedly intellectual ones, regularly engage in ad-hoc reasoning. You’ve started from the conclusion that God exists and are working backwards, grasping at straws, to find any reason to think so. The reason that you need do so is that there is no evidence any gods exist. If you had any desire to think empirically, you would start with that evidence and draw your conclusions from there.

  40. says

    The believers who research atheists are more likely to stop believing. Therefore, less believers research atheists than the general population, proportionately. But such application of Bayes’ Theorem does not explain why, just where you can find stuff more.

    I think as we gain credibility, they will get worse about this, but that will just make us even more reasonable by comparison.

  41. evodevo says

    And, of course, early man and current hunter-gatherers never mourned their dead, or felt grief, right?

    What an idiot.

  42. says

    Ermine: be happy to.

    I assume you know what I mean by “anthropic coincidences”. Other respondents do. If not, I’d be happy to explain in any level of detail you want.

    George F.R. Ellis, in the book and chapter cited above, considers the matter of ultimate causation for the anthropic coincidences, and comes up with five possible explanations.

    1) Pure random chance. Possible, but with no predictive power, and considering the number of coincidences and the narrow range they must fall in for intelligent life we can reasonably envision (carbon,silicon or methane-based life,for instance) to eventually arise somewhere in the universe, certainly unsatisfying. It’s like being in front of a firing squad in front of sixty rifles, and they aim–and ALL misfire at the same time. Certianly it’s true if they didn’t, you wouldn’t be alive to wonder why–but wondering why is certainly permissable.

    2) High probabability: despite appearances, such a universe as ours is highly probable. (Then you have to wonder what metalaws compel it to make it highly probable, and what drives THOSE metalaws, and it becomes an infinite regress without explanation.)

    3) Necessity: only one self-consistent set of physical laws and values of constants are possible. (But we CAN imagine other values and other universes, and they seem to work quite well. Kurt Godel proposed a rotating universe unlike ours in which time travel would be permitted. Other computer models of alternative universes seem to work well. If this is the true explanation, there must be many hidden variables we’re not aware of. And of course, you can’t prove a negative.)

    4) Universality: there is a huge ensemble of uniberses with varying constants, and we live in a universe that is just right. We arose because we were one of the few universes where intelligent life CAN develop. There are a couple of variations of that–different domains of the universe with differing constants as predicted in some variations of inflation theory, variations in time with a pulsating universe changing constants each time, different branes in string theory all with differing constants. (Classic Everett many-worlds explanation for quantum mechanics doesn’t address this, because many-worlds is about different outcomes from the same set of laws, not differing sets of laws.)

    5) That the values for the constants and the initial boundary conditions for the universe were deliberately selected, with an aim to foster conditions where life can begin and evolution can take place, in timelines long enough for intelligence to develop.

    1 through 3 really explain nothing; and if any of them could be proven, would still be extraordinary; (for instance, the only possible combination of laws necessitates the developement of intelligence?)and might cause further questions about the extaordinary nature of reality.

    4) and 5) do. The problem arises with Occam’s Razor. 4) requires at a minimum, billions of hypothetical, unevidenced entities to explain the universe we see. (Universes with differing constants than we observe are the hypothetical entities in this case.) For that matter, most of such theories require some fine-tuning even on the outset. Inflation requires relativity, quantum mechanics and gravity in certain parameters, and symettry breaking in certain levels as to foster enough diversity as to allow intelligent life to develop in at least some of them. So it just moves the fine-tuning question a little further back in time. Same with John Leslie’s theory of evolutionary universes branching from black holes, which is unevidenced and highly speculative, as is much of string theory.

    5) Requires one hypothetical, unevidenced entity. Only one. Someone/thing to select such values in the constants and boundary conditions of the universe.

    Which would Occam’s Razor select for?

    Last I looked, the one with the least such entities.

    One can also make the point that 5) explains some additional things in addition to the basic question, like the oddly efficient use of mathematics to explain the universe we live in, the ethical motivations that cannot be explained by evolutionary pressure (for instance, those who work tirelessly to help animals.) and in general the religious impulse of mankind, by saying there might be something to have an impulse about. It’s the mark of a good explanation if it also sheds light on points that wasn’t covered in the original question.

    Please note that this says nothing about the identity or nature of such a Selector, other than some sort of interest in fostering life and ultimately, intelligent life. It might be Jehovah, Zeus, Olaf Stapledon’s STAR MAKER or the Flying Spaghetti Monster just on the anthropic evidence.

    No; of course I don’t expect this to convince you. Feel free to refute it. If Greta doesn’t want it here (which I certainly would understand) my email is alschroeder3@comcast.net.

  43. says

    kagarato:

    Wikipedia. You are seriously using Wikipedia reasoning?

    Okay.

    “It is the reversal of cause and effect: the universe came first, not life. Life always comes after. This directly implies that any universe in which life exists must, by definition, be wholly compatible in the universe in which it exists. This is awfully simple. It is a “devastating” debunking of a puerile argument.”

    It’s awfully simple, all right. Of COURSE the universe must have the constants in the range, and the boundary conditions needed, for life to arise, if life (like us) is here.

    It still doesn’t answer the question, though. We know no stable orbits can exist in anything but three-dimensional space, which has implications for planets and subatomic particles. Almost any change to the laws of physics would result in no intelligent life evolving. For instance, if neutron mass was a little less than it was, proton decay would have taken place so there would be no atoms at all; the production of oxygen and carbon (and indeed, any higher elements above that) in stars depend on the careful setting of two nuclear levels. The chemistry on which known life depends involves intricate folding and bonding patterns that would be destroyed if the fine structure constant were a little different. (The fine structure constant has its place in stellar reactions too.)

    “If alpha [the fine-structure constant] were bigger than it really is, we should not be able to distinguish matter from ether [the vacuum, nothingness], and our task to disentangle the natural laws would be hopelessly difficult. The fact however that alpha has just its value 1/137 is certainly no chance but itself a law of nature. It is clear that the explanation of this number must be the central problem of natural philosophy.
    —Max Born”

    There are MANY such qualities, all falling within the narrow range for life to evolve. And your answer is, basically,

    “Well, it HAS to be that way, for life to be here. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask about it.”

    And that tautological thinking…satisfies you?

    How is that different from the man surrounded by sixty guns, mentioned above, when all sixty guns misfire at once?

    Yes, they would have to misfire for him to question why he’s alive.

    But saying he’s alive because they misfired—doesn’t EXPLAIN why they misfired. Which is basically your thinking above.

    Or makes his curiosity about same, any less valid.

    And oh, they COULD all misfire at the same time by sheer chance.

    Me? I’ll be looking for the person or agency that gimmicked the guns.

  44. Ermine says

    Al,

    Refute WHAT? Okay, now I know what your big argument is – the Anthropic Principle. That’s it? “Because we’ve found life in one tiny corner of this vast universe, it OBVIOUSLY must have been created by an all-powerful, omniscient male, who listens to our prayers and cares about how hard we work on Sunday/Saturday and whether we marry for love or procreation?”

    None of that follows from any of the preceding. And no, I don’t care to argue to point with you here. Wikipedia has a perfectly good answer to your conundrum: only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing any such fine tuning. Yes, the universe supports intelligent life. DUH! Otherwise we wouldn’t be here to make that observation. That doesn’t tell us anything about how it came to be. It also doesn’t give any clues about any “interest in fostering (intelligent) life”, either. Even going on the assumption that there -was- some force that altered/set the rules to make the universe conducive to the eventual evolution of intelligent life, it still could have been an accident, an unexpected side-effect, even possibly the outcome LEAST wanted by that hypothetical force, a force which no one yet has provided any actual evidence to support. It tells us nothing about anything, and you think this is an “eloquent and devastating argument”?

    If that’s the best you’ve got, it’d be a complete waste of my time. You run along and have fun with it though!

    …The Anthropic Principle. *snerk!*

  45. Chuck on Piggott says

    Remember Christina,

    Ein feste Burg est unser Gott.
    Beautiful piece of music, silly sentiment.

  46. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Please note that this says nothing about the identity or nature of such a Selector, other than some sort of interest in fostering life and ultimately, intelligent life. It might be Jehovah, Zeus, Olaf Stapledon’s STAR MAKER or the Flying Spaghetti Monster just on the anthropic evidence.

    A few objections:
    1) Is there a reason to assume that intelligent life (which, in these debates, usually implies human life) is the main objective of the Selector’s work, and not just a byproduct or in intermediate step of the work of a creator who really just wanted to have bacteria, or turtles, or pliers? Why the Anthropic principle, and not the Testudinal principle?
    2) The Anthropic principle poses a personal, intelligent being who creates the Universe in a specific way so that it would lead to the formation of life, and, ultimately, personal, intelligent beings. Do you see the problem with that? If God, than that means that biological life is not needed to sustain personhood and intelligence. The Anthropic principle tries to explain the physical universe by posing a being that eliminates the need for a physical universe to exist.
    3) All together now: WHO CREATED GOD, THEN?
    4) The assertion that a god created the Universe brings up the inevitable question: why? why would said god want to create anything, and why would it create the Universe just so and not otherwise? Any answer to this question that I can think of requires making guesses regarding the motivations of an intelligence infinitely higher than ourselves, and thus has no more predictive power than “random chance”.

  47. says

    @ Al Schroeder:

    There is a sixth possibility you haven’t mentioned: The universal constants are not independent, and simply cannot have any values other than the values they do have.

    Until the early 20th century, the permeability μ0 and permittivity ε0 of free space were assumed to be independent of each other (and thus, there grew to be two incompatible sets of measuring units). Later work showed that μ0 * ε0 = 1 / (c ** 2).

    Since we have well-documented gaps in our understanding of physics, it is entirely possible that other universal constants will be found not to be independent.

  48. says

    Becoming Julie:

    (Nodding.) Good point. I think it’s covered under 3) Necessity, but if you want to make a separate category, feel free.

    But what does that say if the only constants possible are the ones that allow intelligent life to develop?

    In any case it’s pretty sure that we don’t live in just a generic universe…that the “fine-tuning” (special selection? I’m TRYING to get away from anthromorphic ways to put it, honest.) is a given from the word go.

    And quite frankly, proving that they can’t have any other values would be a bitch to prove.

    But it’s definitely a possiblity!

  49. says

    Forbidden Snowflake:

    First off, good response.

    1) I’m perfectly willing to concede intelligent life forming might be the by-product of some other goal, alien and/or incomprehenisble to us. (To use a totally frivolous answer, it likes kitten pictures, and we’re all a means to create an internet to facilitate the sending of cat pictures. If so, I know of some near-saints out there.) But such an answer has no explanatory power, so unless we see some evidence for same, it’s best to keep it with what we see as the results we observe.

    2) Again, good point. Although you realize you actually just gave a possible justification for angels, jinn, or Nyarlathetop existing–? But we are dealing with a universe that is physical, where life arose through long evolution, etc. The fact that I can talk to you in person, by snailmail, by direct email, doesn’t preclude me talking to you in a comments section on the internet. Similarly, to say that a Selector could create intelligence in other ways doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why He/She/It might create life in the way it WAS created. (Like to send cat pictures. *Grin*)

    3) No one. Oh, we could have some “selectors” from another universe who created OUR universe, and deliberately chose the values we observe. But if they are beings within a universe, then they most likely needed special constants to evolve, and then we have to explain THEM, etc. Look, either the universe exists as the final cause or there is a final cause beyond the universe. The thing is, we KNOW of the Big Bang. We can even hear it or photograph it, via the Kobe thing. The universe isn’t eternal. It could be that the Hawking model is right, and asking for what happened before the Big Bang is as meaningless as saying what’s north of the north pole. But if you cut out the middleman, and say there’s nothing that created the universe—and certainly I could understand the Occam’s Razor principle of that—but then you have to explain why the one universe we can safely say exists has those odd coincidences built in. We don’t live in Just Any Universe. We couldn’t live in MOST universes, and intelligent life of any sort we can resonably envision would’t survive in most universes. So if there is a cause that chose those initial boundary conditions and constants, then the universe can’t be its own first cause. Something else has to be.

    4) Sorry; unknown and unknowable. If you subscribe to any particular belief system, you can pick and choose, but the fact is we don’t know. We can speculate, but such would only be good guesses. One might think such a being might cherish intelligent life for the purpose of eventual communication and cherishing, but it’s like having a huge library–you might have it because you love books, you might have it because you like to burn books. I can’t claim evidence that way.

  50. says

    Ermine:

    “only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing any such fine tuning. Yes, the universe supports intelligent life. DUH! Otherwise we wouldn’t be here to make that observation. ”

    Well, as you say…DUH!

    How is that different from:

    “Hey, Dad, what makes the sun shine!”

    “That’s a stupid question! If it wasn’t there we’d freeze to death, and you couldn’t ask that question!”

    “But–”

    “SHUDDUP! Can’t you see how dumb a question that is?”

    I submit the above—ALL of the above–is tautological thinking and leads nowhere.—Al

  51. says

    Al, thanks for demonstrating for the rest of us that your “reason” for belief is exactly what Daz predicted in #44:

    A distaste for some aspect of a godless universe. Lack of divine ‘justice,’ for instance, the thought that one’s life might end completely, or the lack of a god-given moral instruction manual.

    An unwillingness to accept ‘we don’t know’ as an answer. This can range from how the universe came into existence to an as yet unexplained feature of cellular biology. Something ‘we don’t know (yet)’ gets ‘explained’ by saying a god must have arranged it.

    You can’t accept the possibility of anything improbable actually occurring by chance, even though it happens to you every day of your life. Yes, including extraordinarily, astronomically improbable events. Every possible outcome is extraordinarily improbable. This is mathematically demonstrable. Yet somehow, this series of “unbelievably” improbable events goes on and on. If you were consistent, you would have to be in such a state of shock all the time as to be incapable of functioning.

    You can’t accept that there are questions for which we don’t know the answer, and indeed that there may be no answer. The origin of the universe is not a “solvable” problem in the absolute sense. This is not some mathematical riddle where there is one right answer. Whenever we determine something about the early nature of the universe, it has always — and will always — raise even more questions. There is never going to be one final answer. There isn’t enough collectable information about the distant past to have certainty about anything.

    You can’t accept that you don’t believe in any other entity without evidence, yet you gladly propose supernatural entities to explain the universe that have zero evidence. Not even a shred. Who is abusing Occam’s razor here?

    You don’t, apparently, even realize that introducing an unknown and unproved entity to explain the universe creates a causality chain. God explains nothing, because you cannot explain (nor demonstrate) God.

  52. Forbidden Snowflake says

    1) I’m perfectly willing to concede intelligent life forming might be the by-product of some other goal, alien and/or incomprehenisble to us.[…] But such an answer has no explanatory power, so unless we see some evidence for same, it’s best to keep it with what we see as the results we observe.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean. The Testudinal principle has precisely as much explanatory power as the Anthropic principle, and as much evidence (i.e., none).

    2) Again, good point. Although you realize you actually just gave a possible justification for angels, jinn, or Nyarlathetop existing–?

    No, I didn’t. I just rolled with the implicit assumption that ideas such as “mind that isn’t dependent on matter” and “supernatural realm that is separate from and yet somehow can influence the natural realm” are meaningful and not incoherent. I don’t actually accept these ideas at all, but I acknowledge that were they true, angels, jinns, etc., could exist.

    But we are dealing with a universe that is physical, where life arose through long evolution, etc. The fact that I can talk to you in person, by snailmail, by direct email, doesn’t preclude me talking to you in a comments section on the internet. Similarly, to say that a Selector could create intelligence in other ways doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why He/She/It might create life in the way it WAS created.

    But nothing is explained this way. You have no good reason to assume that a god would want to create a universe in general, and a universe like ours in particular. You base your argument on the supposedly low odds* of the Universe existing as it is on sheer physics, but positing a god does not solve the problem unless you’re can demonstrate that the existence of a god makes a life-supporting universe more likely.
    *though you’re just guessing that they are low

    3) No one. Oh, we could have some “selectors” from another universe who created OUR universe, and deliberately chose the values we observe. But if they are beings within a universe, then they most likely needed special constants to evolve, and then we have to explain THEM, etc.

    The Testudinal principle all the way down!

    But if you cut out the middleman, and say there’s nothing that created the universe—and certainly I could understand the Occam’s Razor principle of that—but then you have to explain why the one universe we can safely say exists has those odd coincidences built in. We don’t live in Just Any Universe. We couldn’t live in MOST universes, and intelligent life of any sort we can resonably envision would’t survive in most universes.

    The question that jumps to my mind is: so what? Yes, intelligent life probably couldn’t exist in a universe with different parameters, though I can’t argue the physics. But to conclude from it that the Universe if fine tuned, you have to first presume that it was created for a certain goal, one that is better fulfilled by a life-supporting universe than a lifeless one. The Bayesian math doesn’t work otherwise.

    4) Sorry; unknown and unknowable. If you subscribe to any particular belief system, you can pick and choose, but the fact is we don’t know. We can speculate, but such would only be good guesses.

    Not even good guesses, really; more like projections of our own evolved psyche as a gregarious species (“communication and cherishing”) onto the Universe.

    And how would a “supernatural” mind communicate with us (or with the physical world in general), anyway?

  53. says

    @ Al Schroeder, 55:

    But what does that say if the only constants possible are the ones that allow intelligent life to develop?

    It says that the development of intelligent life was inevitable.

  54. says

    BecomingJulie:

    Not necessarily: “allow” and “inevitable” aren’t the same thing. There are numerous points—say, a Black Plague-like disease among early hominids in Africa over a million years ago, that might have prevented us (or other species like us—I’m not saying there is ANYTHING special about humanity–or Earth, for that matter) from arising.

    Whether you think the brute fact of the option of intelligent life arising being inevitable– IF it’s true that the only constants possible are the ones we currently observe– doesn’t deserve further explanation is more a matter of philosophical taste.

    Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, thinks it’s significant, but feels it implies there must be a huge ensemble of universes out there. So you don’t have to adopt a theist or deistic stand, by any means.

    But if that brute fact satisfies you—IF it is indeed the case that the constants we can observe are the only ones possible–well, than all I can say is glad you’ve arrived at a conclusion that satisfies you. I would say more explanation is needed, and certainly some sort of logical theory or demonstration that such is the case, but that depends, again, on your philosophic stand on inquiry in general.

  55. says

    Forbidden Snowflake:

    If you want to contemplate that the universe’s constants were fine-tuned to create tortoises (the testudinal principle) I’m game; I’m not saying humanity, by itself, is important at all. I would venture to say that intelligent life is one –probable?–outcome of such fine-tuning, but hey, maybe the intent is to create the Master transhuman-level-thinking Tortoise eventually. The misnamed “anthropic”-principle is just that the constants are suspiciously in the narrow constants for intelligent life to develop. That says nothing about humanity specifically– or earth, for that matter.

    The odds in some cases are rather breathtakingly low IF–and I admit it’s an IF–the values can be different. We don’t know that for sure. But again, if the values that only can exist are the ones that foster intelligent life…

    The so what objection and proving intent objection: if you throw paint at random and get something resembling a Jackson Pollock, it’s one thing. When you get a Mona Lisa, it’s something else altogether. The very specific small range of values that allow us to even be discussing it—in some cases breathtakingly small, like the number of spatial dimensions, or the cosmological constant—argues to me, Mona Lisa specificity.

    But don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of books, on both sides of the subject, to give a idea of what level we’re talking about. (The most complete one is the ANTHROPIC COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE by Barrow and Tipler.)

  56. says

    Kagerato:

    So I take it you don’t believe in quarks either? After all, they can never be directly observed or found in isolation. Just curious.

    Anyway: you’re right that there are improbable events every second. Because there are trillions of things happening—every second.

    But the creation of the universe—unless, of course, there is a huge ensemble of universes out there-but let’s be consistent with your position and only examine the entities are explainable and demonstrable–is a one-time event.

    In which various constants and boundary conditions are only in the extremely narrow range that allows intelligent life to develop. All—as far as we can prove–not related to each other. Since you want to avoid the hypothetical, we’ll take you at your word.

    So, that’s the equivelent of—the one and ONLY time you splurge and buy some lottery tickets, of winning:

    Powerball.

    Lotto.

    The Irish Sweepstakes.

    Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes.

    ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

    Never gambled before.

    Never will gamble again.

    Yes, it could happen. There is definitely a chance of that.

    Me? I’m going to see if someone rigged the tickets. I know, suspicious, suspicious…

  57. says

    So I take it you don’t believe in quarks either? After all, they can never be directly observed or found in isolation. Just curious.

    They’re indirectly observable, for some limited definition of the word “observe”. Gods have not been observed even indirectly. False equivalence.

    But the creation of the universe—unless, of course, there is a huge ensemble of universes out there-but let’s be consistent with your position and only examine the entities are explainable and demonstrable–is a one-time event.

    Nonsense. No cosmologist or physicist worth their salt would so bluntly claim as fact that “the creation of the universe is a one-time event”. The life and death of a universe is a huge point of contention.

    For all we know, this same universe has gone through trillions of birth-death cycles already. We simply do not know. This is why I say so clearly that you cannot accept the unknown. You have to assume that the universe works the way you want it to be, because nothing else will support your conclusion.

    Oh, and there’s something I forgot to mention about what you wrote before.

    “Hey, Dad, what makes the sun shine!”

    “That’s a stupid question! If it wasn’t there we’d freeze to death, and you couldn’t ask that question!”

    “But–”

    “SHUDDUP! Can’t you see how dumb a question that is?”

    I submit the above—ALL of the above–is tautological thinking and leads nowhere.

    That’s the entire point you missed. You can’t use tautological arguments to support anything. Any conclusion. That you don’t understand this, and still think the anthropic principle supports you, is truly astounding. It will never prove anything whatsoever, it doesn’t influence probabilities, it doesn’t do anything. It’s circular. It’s unfalsifiable. That means it’s wrong, and you’re wrong to attempt to use it as the basis for an argument.

    Present your evidence for God or give up. Those are your only options; you’re not going to convince anyone here with the incredible sophistry you’ve pulled. You cannot use as evidence anything that would have been true without the existence of any gods. That’s the failure you cannot see, but which is blindingly obvious to most of us.

  58. says

    @ Al Schroeder, 61:

    In a big enough universe, everything that is not explicitly forbidden is bound to happen somewhere, sooner or later, by definition.

    Why does π have the value it does? It’s just a property of the universe. No point thinking too much about it, or even ascribing any more significance to it than it deserves from its intrinsic mathematical properties. Why is the speed of light 299 792 458 metres per second? Again, it’s just a property of the universe. If the speed of light was anything but 299 792 458 m/s, then either a metre would have to be a different length, or a second would be a different amount of time.

    Just because the universe has constants “baked into” it, in no way implies a baker with intentions. Not everything that happens, happens for a reason; sometimes, it simply happens for want of a reason not to.

  59. Tussilago says

    Al #56:
    “intelligent life of any sort we can resonably envision would’t survive in most universes”

    No, it wouldn’t. That’s because intelligent life of any sort WE can reasonably envision would be life that evolved in THIS universe, or one much like it.
    If life had evolved in another, different universe (and maybe it has for all that I know), it would have evolved to survive in that kind of universe, and be so different that we couldn’t “reasonably envision” it.
    That’s what “universe came before intelligent life” means. Life forms are adapted to the conditions under which they evolved, because if they weren’t, they would have died out and been replaced with something better adapted to the conditions. It’s not a “the sun shines because otherwise we would freeze to death, shut up”-argument.

  60. Forbidden Snowflake says

    If you want to contemplate that the universe’s constants were fine-tuned to create tortoises (the testudinal principle) I’m game; I’m not saying humanity, by itself, is important at all. I would venture to say that intelligent life is one –probable?–outcome of such fine-tuning, but hey, maybe the intent is to create the Master transhuman-level-thinking Tortoise eventually.

    Why would you consider any kind of intelligence to be the reason for the existence of the universe? This is nothing but projection of human biases onto the universe. It’s laughable.
    “Hey, I’m a human and I like building things for my enjoyment and spending time with my children, so there must be a person just like me, only bigger, who built the universe for his enjoyment, considers us his children and made us to spend time with us!”

    The misnamed “anthropic”-principle is just that the constants are suspiciously in the narrow constants for intelligent life to develop. That says nothing about humanity specifically– or earth, for that matter.

    More arbitrary privileging of “intelligent life”.

    The odds in some cases are rather breathtakingly low IF–and I admit it’s an IF–the values can be different.

    So the odds can actually be anything from near zero to one. And this is the alleged improbability you feel is best explained by the belief that an invisible person with magical superpowers, the probability of whose existence is also unknown, created the universe by an unknown mechanism with unknown motives.

    We don’t know that for sure. But again, if the values that only can exist are the ones that foster intelligent life…

    So, if the probability of having constants compatible with life is staggeringly low, that proves god is real. If that probability is very high, that also proves god is real. And of course, intelligent life must be the property by which a universe is judged as a success or failure, because… Well, just because, apparently.
    You rejection of naturalistic options due to them being unfalsifiable and lacking explanatory power is looking pretty double standard-ish.

    The so what objection and proving intent objection: if you throw paint at random and get something resembling a Jackson Pollock, it’s one thing. When you get a Mona Lisa, it’s something else altogether.

    What makes you think that intelligent life is analogous to the Mona Lisa and not to the Pollock?

    The very specific small range of values that allow us to even be discussing it—

    Who except us gives a shit about whether we’re having this discussion or not? Would a universe where no life exists whatsoever fall short of a goal you assume the universe to have?

  61. Sensemaker says

    I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that you are being too generous here. I do not think Rev. Gavin Dunbar is even willfully ignorant. I believe he is flat-out lying. I believe he knows perfectly well that what he says about atheists is simply not true.

    He is lying to us, he is lying about us, and the only possible excuse he could have is the lame excuse that he might have spent a lot of time and energy on successfully lying to himself before lying to us. I don’t think he has that excuse.

    Sensemaker

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