Does God exist? Perry Hendricks & I argue about it


I was drafted to participate in a debate on my campus last night, and first I have to admit that yes, I have been quite vocal in my opposition to the utility of debates. As an excuse, I was asked by our students to do this, and I’m a sucker for student requests.

Secondly, the topic was, “does god exist?” That’s a real groaner of a subject, and normally I’d demand something more specific and manageable, but again…students. Also, my opponent, Perry Hendricks, seems to be a nice guy, so I went with it. It’s not as if we’re going to actually answer the question, or that the answer would matter.

We had an audience of about 100 people, mainly students taking a break before finals week hits them next week. I’d asked that it be recorded, but unfortunately it was not. But fortunately, I’d brought a pair of clip-on mikes, so I was able to capture Perry’s and my remarks in audio. Unfortunately, those mikes did not capture the audience’s questions, which is too bad since there were a lot of questions (mostly for Perry) and they were good sharp questions, too. I end this recording at the start of the Q&A, I’m sorry to say.

The format was straightforward. Perry got 20 minutes for an opening statement, then I got 20 minutes, then we go 10 minutes each for responses, and then we descended into a flurry of back-and-forth that again, my rudimentary recording set up could not cope with.

Partial transcript/commentary below the fold.

Here’s a short summary of Hendricks’ argument authored by Perry Hendricks.

I will argue that there are (at least) 4 facts that are evidence for theism over atheism. First, I’ll argue that conscious agency is evidence for theism over atheism. Second, high level knowledge is evidence for theism over atheism. Third, moral knowledge is evidence for theism over atheism. Why think that these first three facts are evidence for theism over atheism? Briefly, because they are good kinds of things, and if God exists, he would (probably) ensure that good kinds of things exist. But these facts aren’t likely to come about just given the truth of atheism.

The fourth fact is this: the fact that there is something that is necessary (non-contingent) is evidence for theism over atheism. Why think there’s something that is necessary? Two steps. Step 1: contingent things (i.e. things that don’t have to exist) exist: there are phones, people, trees, and so on. These things are all contingent. Step 2: all contingent things depend on something beyond themselves (e.g. I depend on my parents in order to exist, a phone depends on the materials extracted from the earth (among other things) in order to exist, and so on). Step 1 and Step 2 entail that something necessary must exist (think: the set of all contingent things is itself contingent, and so it must depend on something beyond itself). Why is this evidence for theism over atheism? Because the theistic hypothesis entails that there’s a thing (God) on which all contingent things depend. Whereas the atheistic hypothesis makes no such prediction.

And here’s my opening statement in full.

You’ve probably already figured out that I’m taking the con position on the question “does god exist?”, and I must admit that I’m not terribly enthused about the debate. I’ve wrestled with the question at least since I was ten years old, and part of that process of wrestling was largely about trying to understand why so many other people believe in something so absurd. The only interesting part of the question is hearing how other people have come to their conclusion.

Dr Hendricks and I briefly discussed the boundaries of the discussion, and part of that was defining our terms. What do you mean by “god”? This is a major stumbling block. I’m used to wrestling with thorny, complex subjects — try asking me to define “homology”, or “what is a gene?”, and we’ll have a good time while we try to pin down the topics, which are surprisingly difficult — so I’m not averse to a robust conversation. The fact that a word is difficult to define does not mean that the referent does not exist, but it does mean that laying a mutually agreed upon foundation is necessary before we even begin to talk about it.

“God” is such a vague and poorly defined subject, lacking in concrete evidence, that I was actually relieved that he suggested a definition he found agreeable: an omniscient, omnipotent benevolent being. Great, I thought, we’re going to discuss the silliest possible meaning of the word, so maybe we’ll have some fun after all.

In multiple debates on this subject, I’ve noticed that my opponents can’t resist the temptation to defend the most grandiose, most extravagant, most extreme version of a god they can imagine — no petty little local storm god with some impressive tricks for them. Their god must be the mightiest god of them all, the god who can beat up your god. Guys, it’s not a competition. If you can show me any kind of god, like the god of mice, the god of lost car keys, the god of curing hangnails, I’ll be impressed. But nooo, it’s always the god who knows everything and can do anything — they set the bar impossibly high, as if it’s a contest in who can invent the most superlatives.

And then, philosophers and theologians are the worst. Having invented Super God, the debate then consists of inventing post-hoc rationalizations for why their Supreme High Overlord MUST exist. They don’t actually show that this deity does exist, it’s all about stacking abstract ideas into an elaborate logical house of cards that demonstrate why it shoulda oughta must exist. Every advocate for a religion does this sort of thing, spinning out rationalizations for why their peculiar and specific version of god must of necessity exist, never noticing that they all contradict each other.

I will say this for philosophers — at least they try to distill out a universal definition, expanding the meaning of “god” into a vacuous vapor that at least avoids obvious battles between Jesus & Mohammed, or Odin and Mars. Instead we’re wrangling over some toothless, inhuman, intellectual abstraction.

I’m a scientist. Trying to rationalize a phenomenon into existence by arguing about it is not how we play the game. That means we may be talking past each other for an hour.

Here’s how I would do it. You claim that there exists a being who knows everything. OK, let’s start small and simple.

What’s in my pocket? Ask your omniscient god to tell you what I’ve got in my right back pocket.

Cue the excuses. I know what people will say. That’s too petty for the God of the Universe. Who am I to make demands of god? God is ineffable. God works in mysterious ways. A skeptical theist might say we can’t know the reasons god doesn’t give the answer, so his failure on this test means nothing. Or my favorite, accuse me of impiety or sacrilege.

All I can say is that you’re the one claiming that this god is the all-knowing lord of time and space. He’s got time. Yet he always fails the simplest of tests.

This is just the start. If a god passed that test, we’d follow the scientific method and ask further questions and make new hypotheses. Let’s ask god to do a thorough scan of my body to identify any potential cancers! Let’s ask him to do that for everyone! Early diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.

We know already that this won’t work — all through human history, prayers have been streaming skyward to ask for relief from disease. They are not the basis for reliable treatment. Notice that I’m being generous, only asking for information, and not asking him to snap his fingers and just make cancer disappear, which, presumably, an omnipotent being could do. I know, maybe god has his ineffable reasons, maybe there’s a reason why letting someone die of cancer is a net benefit to humankind. Sure.

But then I have to ask, what is the point of postulating a hypothetical omniscient being if it’s knowledge is unknowable to us? If even the most trivial examples of knowing can’t be known? If it’s omnipotence can do nothing for us?

That’s another huge problem with the god hypothesis: how do we know? How do we test it?

There are a couple of common canards about atheists that I’d like to lay to rest here. We do not hate god, generally speaking. We don’t claim to have absolute, positive proof that god does not exist. If I had to answer the question of this debate, “Does god exist?” with a simple answer, it would be “probably not.” The thing is, we don’t know for sure…but neither does anyone else. We all have access to the same evidence, and it’s the theists who claim that, for absolutely sure, there is a god…but the atheists are saying your evidence is unconvincing, that you’re claiming certainty where there isn’t any, and that you cannot even define god in a clear and testable way.

This is one of the reasons I don’t care for these kinds of debates, because they are fundamentally about certainty vs. doubt, and certainty is always preferred by the larger audience, while doubt is so inconclusive and so unsatisfying. If you prefer honesty and truth, though, the correct answer to the question is “WE DON’T KNOW.” I don’t know. Dr Hendricks doesn’t know. No one here knows. In fact, if anyone were to raise their hand and announce with absolute positivity that “Jesus is Lord,” “God is Great,” or “Gods Don’t Exist,” I’m afraid I’d just roll my eyes, and know that, on this subject, you aren’t worth talking to. Dogmatism is so uninteresting. Slogans are not evidence.

Finally, I must address the question as a professor of the liberal arts, as a scientist, and in particular as a developmental biologist. One of the things I look for in a narrative or an explanation is a beginning, and a progression of events. I want a central character who grows and adapts and changes. This is true even for religious believers: the Bible starts with a creation story, explaining where people and the world came from. The Anishinaabe have a creation story. The Fulani people (Mali) have a creation story. The Han Chinese have a creation story. If we go back to the Bible, it’s full of stories, and stories are not static, they are full of events and change, beginnings and endings.

Yet here we are, discussing a deity that has no beginnings, is omnipotent and omniscient for eternity, who shows no progress, who is claimed to be benevolent but without any motivation, any reason for his being.

Richard Dawkins said “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”, but I’d argue that the god we are debating here is the most boring character imaginable — a cosmic Mary Sue, a paragon of hyperbole. Why argue about his existence? Why worship such a being? It won’t make any difference. It won’t change it’s opinion of you whether you’re a mass murderer or a saint. It just is, an inflexible and implacable entity that already has its mind made up, if it can be said to have a mind.

Now this is not an argument that such a being could not possibly exist, but only that it deserves no more reverence than the laws of thermodynamics … although, you know we can measure entropy and see the effects of those laws. We don’t worship Maxwell’s Equations, we don’t have priests of the church of Carnot wagging their fingers at us when we violate conservation of energy — we can’t, because it is a principle inherent in our universe. The omnipotent, omniscient god of Hendrick’s proposition is indistinguishable from an intrinsic property of nature, and cannot be a being with a mind, and cannot be the kind of deity people promote in their churches. If you want to appreciate that kind of deity, skip church and take a science class or study the humanities instead.

Finally, the burden of proof rests with the person who wants to claim the existence of something — I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see any demonstration of evidence in this auditorium tonight. Please do surprise me.

I didn’t transcribe our responses to each other. You’ll have to listen to the video for that.

That’s it. As I predicted, we spent a lot of time talking past each other, in part because Hendricks has a peculiar understanding of facts and evidence. “Evidence” consists of making a logical assertion, and then counting up the number of assertions made, and if the number of theistic assertions is greater than the atheistic ones, theism wins. On the other hand, he seemed irritated that I wasn’t providing what he considered adequate evidence for atheism — I had failed to prove a negative.

Oh well, it was a pleasant enough evening, other than the passing encounter with an audience member who demanded that I explain how things move without god and seemed quite angry that I thought his question was silly. There’s always one.

A thousand thanks to my Patreon supporters. These are the people who provided the money I used to buy the remote mikes, so without them, this video would be totally silent. And now I’m going to shut up and go away, because I have to write a couple of final exams to plague my students, some of whom were in the audience here.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    I have been quite vocal in my opposition to the utility of debates. As an excuse a result, I was asked by our students to do this…

    FIFY

  2. John Harshman says

    Here’s something I’ve wondered about recently. If God is indeed eternal, i.e. he has existed for an infinite time, why did he only create the universe 13 billion years ago (or 6000, depending on taste)? What was he doing in all the infinite time before that? What significance can any finite event, such as the existence of a universe, have for such a being?

  3. Walter Solomon says

    I’m surprised even undergrads care about debating the existence of God. I would’ve guessed evolution vs creationism would be the first choice.

  4. raven says

    I never find any of the arguments for the gods to be very convincing.

    Plantinga, one of the most famous of living theologians, is wrong about everything.
    They all rely on assertions without proof or data that may be dismissed without proof or data.
    And putting the conclusions into the premises of any logic sequences.

    Hendricks:

    First, I’ll argue that conscious agency is evidence for theism over atheism. Second, high level knowledge is evidence for theism over atheism. Third, moral knowledge is evidence for theism over atheism.

    These are all assertions without proof or data.
    They don’t prove anything.

    Why does it take a god to create conscious beings?
    Why does it take a god for us humans to know a lot about the real world?
    Natural explanations for these are simple and obvious.

    Why does it take a god for us to have a sense of morality?
    This is the old xian defender’s claim that you can’t have morality without religious beliefs.
    It’s empirically just wrong.
    The fundie xians are objectively less moral than the general population.
    And the prisons are full of xians, not atheists.

    Our morality comes from our evolutionary history as social omnivores and our common sense. It’s changing with time and for the better with our experience and ability to learn from our mistakes.

  5. raven says

    The fourth fact is this: the fact that there is something that is necessary (non-contingent) is evidence for theism over atheism.
    and
    Because the theistic hypothesis entails that there’s a thing (God) on which all contingent things depend. Whereas the atheistic hypothesis makes no such prediction.

    This is a restatement of an old fallacy.
    The prime mover, first cause, or some such.
    Why is there something rather than nothing.

    What does the Kalam cosmological argument state?

    D. William Lane Craig is the most recognizable contemporary defender of the kalam cosmological argument. The argument, in its simplest form, is that (i) Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence, (ii) The universe began to exist, and (iii) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

    What it does is put the conclusion into the premise.

    We don’t know that whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
    The universe or multiverse may have always existed.

    Or as some astronomers claim, absolute nothingness is less stable than something existing. This is what Lawrence Krauss said in his book.

    You can use the Kalam argument to prove the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

  6. Kagehi says

    Wow.. He actually, at the end, babbles about how throwing out “assertions” and having more of them, not evidence, not actual step by step processes, not linkable facts, that derive from each other, but just freaking “assertions”, that you personally think mean something, and somehow having more of them makes you the winner? lol

    Mind, even “logical assertion” is a stretch here, but its still just a freaking assertion. Insisting something is true, but not being able to show any of it to be true… it doesn’t f-ing work that way.

  7. Ed Peters says

    It’s as if theists never bother looking at actual atheist arguments. There are excellent atheist books they could read that would show them how ridiculous their facile assertions are. I’ve not seen a theist argument not answered by an atheist book. But they rarely do the homework. Because, IMO, the majority of them just refuse to think that deeply. It hurts and is frightening. So they latch onto silly stuff like the 1st 3 assertions above and pretend they are profound. Also, they know their audience doesn’t want to do the hard work either. Theists just want easily memorized specious pseudo-intellectual assertions. Contingency, First Cause, Ontological Argument. It all means the same thing – in the absence of real evidence, argue God into existence with a load of blather.

  8. Doc Bill says

    I read Hendrick’s first paragraph (he’s in the Third Grade, right) and felt a need to consult my Maker.

    Maker’s Mark, that is.

    My cat is conscious.
    My cat is good.
    I have a statue of Bastet in my living room.
    QED

  9. Dr. Pablito says

    @John Harshman, #2:
    “If God is indeed eternal, i.e. he has existed for an infinite time, why did he only create the universe 13 billion years ago (or 6000, depending on taste)? What was he doing in all the infinite time before that?”

    This used to be a real philosophical conundrum, long ago. We now know, thanks to 20th century physics, that there was not an infinite amount of time before the beginning of the universe! Time itself, along with space, began at what we call the Big Bang. Einstein opined, and experiments confirm, that space and time are intimately connected — they are very much the same thing. Spacetime itself began at the beginning. There was no time before. It’s very much like asking, “What is one mile north of the north pole?” or “What is the top edge of a circle?” — an ill-formed question. It’s very, very counter-intuitive.
    That said, we still do not have an answer to “Why did the Big Bang happen?” and there are many different ways of asking that question and there are many, many different theories to it. But “Why did Jehovah/Allah cause the Big Bang?” remains a gibberishy question that provides absolutely no help at all.

    As PZ points out, the typical kind of theist approach to these types of questions usually involves very different epistemology, i.e. what counts as evidence for what we can know to be true, and how do we arrive at that evidence. So while physics can pretty conclusively say that there was no “before the Big Bang,” that’s not often not convincing to theists, who want to philosophize about it without considering that some questions rest on unexamined assumptions about “common sense” geometry from Euclid, which are nice, but not applicable.

  10. skeptico says

    Unsurprisingly, these are all god of the gaps arguments from ignorance. Also inexplicably, but again not surprisingly, Hendricks is apparently a philosopher and yet he is unaware of this basic logical error.

    His fourth point is really just “why is there something rather than nothing” expressed in unnecessarily long and pretentious wording. And it can be refuted with three simple words: “what caused god?” The argument “the theistic hypothesis entails that there’s a thing (God) on which all contingent things depend” is just “god exists because I have defined it as the thing that must exist” – a combination of assuming the conclusion and special pleading. What a disappointment that this is the best a philosopher can come up with.

  11. wzrd1 says

    John Harshman @ 2, how can one count time, when existing beyond space-time and hence, time is meaningless, as is causality?

    Still, it’s like trying to explain why unicorn farts have no smell, without disproving the existence of unicorns first.

    raven @ 6, I’d still ask an astronomer or more precisely, an astrophysicist that states absolute nothingness is less stable than something existing to provide a sample of absolute nothingness to verify it with. Easy to do, step outside of the universe and…
    “So, I placed my experimental apparatus outside of the universe”.
    “What happened?”
    “I need to build a new experimental apparatus”.
    The math leads one to suspect they’re correct, alas, it’s utterly impossible to prove, for my joking example illustrates the problem. Placing something from within a universe with its laws outside of that universe and hence, where those laws don’t exist means that object will also cease to exist. Likely, to create its own big bang somewhere new, nearby, if distance had meaning outside of a universe…
    And mathematically proving it is just as problematic, given one cannot even name laws in operation at the moment of the big bang. If gravity was working, the entire universe would’ve instantly collapsed into a black hole.

  12. says

    There are excellent atheist books they could read that would show them how ridiculous their facile assertions are.

    I’m sure many theists have flat-out been forbidden, or have forbidden themselves, from ever reading such books or articles.

    You can use the Kalam argument to prove the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

    Actually, no, you can’t use it to prove anything about the actual nature of that “first cause”/”prime mover”/”uncaused cause” it supposedly proves. (Also, Kalam sounds like a Muslim name, which only raises more questions about which god he was allegedly proving.) Even if we accept every step of that argument at full face value, it doesn’t even prove that “first cause” thingie is a sentient being, let alone any of the gods or goddesses anyone has ever believed in.

  13. Jean says

    What these theists do, at best, is that they ‘prove’ that the universe exists then they abracadabra that into their omnipotent, omniscient benevolent being and with more incantations they turn that into the god for the religion they’ve been born in (or stumbled in for some). No actual evidence or proof, just some declarations and pseudo-logic with questionable, or obviously false, premises.

    Just having a universe we don’t fully understand (and probably never will) with no determined purpose is too scary for many so they need to create a being in their image (not the other way around as they claim) to make sense of their own life. It would just be sad if it weren’t for all the horrible things that are done in the name of their god as we keep seeing every single day.

  14. nomdeplume says

    Cats are evidence that the God of Mice doesn’t exist…

    I’m not sure why many Atheists stop at ‘“Does god exist?” with a simple answer, it would be “probably not.”’

    Of all the many things we know don’t exist (Santa Claus, Unicorns, Tooth Fairy, Ghosts) why not include “God”? The fact that not a scintilla of evidence for such a being has ever appeared in a scientific experiment or in a religious building or indeed in everyday life makes me absolutely confident he/it doesn’t exist.

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    @6

    The fourth fact is this: the fact that there is something that is necessary (non-contingent) is evidence for theism over atheism.
    and
    Because the theistic hypothesis entails that there’s a thing (God) on which all contingent things depend. Whereas the atheistic hypothesis makes no such prediction.

    This is a restatement of an old fallacy.
    The prime mover, first cause, or some such.

    The ‘prime mover’ fails in multiple ways.
    That a god is necessary to make something out of nothing is an unproven and unevidenced assertion.
    But also, even if we granted that ad arguendo, it would fail in the current debate because that only gets you to deism. There is no logical path from that to the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent theistic God that is the subject of the current debate.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Dr. Pablito @11:

    We now know, thanks to 20th century physics, that there was not an infinite amount of time before the beginning of the universe! Time itself, along with space, began at what we call the Big Bang.

    “We now know” no such thing. If you’re talking about the BGV theorem, it only excludes an infinite past in models which are, on average, expanding throughout their history. It is also based on classical GR, without possible quantum effects.

  17. raven says

    @wzrd1

    raven @ 6, I’d still ask an astronomer or more precisely, an astrophysicist that states absolute nothingness is less stable than something existing to provide a sample of absolute nothingness to verify it with.

    I occasionally read Cosmology and Advanced Physics.
    That doesn’t mean I understand them though.

    I read Krauss’s book in 2012.
    Among other things, It has to do with Vacuum Energy.
    There is no such thing as a vacuum.
    Even when there is zero matter, there is still energy in space-time, and it is full of virtual particles.

    Wikipedia Vacuum Energy:

    Vacuum energy is an underlying background energy that exists in space throughout the entire Universe.[1] The vacuum energy is a special case of zero-point energy that relates to the quantum vacuum.[2]

    The effects of vacuum energy can be experimentally observed in various phenomena such as spontaneous emission, the Casimir effect[citation needed] and the Lamb shift, and are thought to influence the behavior of the Universe on cosmological scales. Using the upper limit of the cosmological constant, the vacuum energy of free space has been estimated to be 10−9 joules (10−2 ergs), or ~5 GeV per cubic meter.[3]

    and

    Krauss’s significant scientific contribution includes the 1995 proposal that most of the Universe’s energy resides in empty space, confirmed in 1999 and awarded a Nobel Prize in 2011.

    Most of the energy of the universe is in vacuum energy. This is empirically confirmed.

    I can copy and paste this but what the deeper meaning of it is, I’m not sure. Someone else might know.
    I don’t see that this shows that the gods must exist.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    raven @19:

    Most of the energy of the universe is in vacuum energy. This is empirically confirmed.
    I can copy and paste this but what the deeper meaning of it is, I’m not sure. Someone else might know.

    Dunno about ‘deeper’, but it’s what we call dark energy.

  19. boba1 says

    Dr. Pablito @ 11: The Big Bang Theory results from looking at the present expansion and essentially running the tape backwards. It is only useful until our laws of physics breakdown, which they do when the Universe was very small. We don’t know what came before the Big Bang. The Universe could be infinite with infinite numbers of Big Bangs happening throughout it, or maybe not.

  20. Jim Brady says

    Everybody seems to pick on his argument #4, but it is his first arguments I find weirder. And it seems the word “good” is carrying a lot of weight here. As I see it “good” (and “bad” and “evil” for that matter) are context dependent but he is treating them as absolute. And if a good God would probably create things because they are good – why are there bad things (and why do some good things we can imagine not exist). The argument is just weird.

  21. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I think it’s great human beings (well, a few) use their what we call our “consciousness” this way, learning about things that we can be essentially certain have no bearing or effect on our lives. like the age and origin of the universe or the purpose of… ANYTHING.

    That said, it’s also a certainty that some vicious asshole will find a way to use many of these wonderful, partial insights into the mechanics of the universe we can find ways to perceive, and of indirectly examining the bizarre feature of “consciousness” itself to generally bad ends, both for immediate profit and power and to gain a measure of what they consider to be relative immortality.

    Our consciousness (unlike our conscience) is limited and will remain limited, even if we develop bigger, more complex brains out of Star Trek or The Outer Limits. If more than that happens, we of course won’t be human any longer.

    We’re limited and will remain so. That anyone, even the (apparently) nicest and most self-assured theist, believes they can understand, even commune, with something vaster than the entire universe (or multi-multi-multi-verses) is just pitiful.

    Worse – it’s either useless or a tool to do harm for one’s selfish benefit.

    Worst – it’s dishonest.

    And yes, I’m aware of the contractions implicit in bothering to talk at all about this, at least this way: dogs and Buddha nature and all.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    Jim Brady @ 22
    Yes, the art-school reject from Austria had a lot of followers who considered his policies “good”.
    So had Stalin and Mao.
    And don’t get me started on what was considered “good’ during the colonial era. Or what the slave owners considered good.

  23. outis says

    Sorry, I stopped reading Hendrick’s statement after those four “facts”.
    Load. Of. Codswallop. None of which he can ever prove, it’s just a statement of his personal tastes.
    You are a better man than me, Professor. I would have flown the coop after one minute of that, if not sooner.

  24. tacitus says

    #2: Here’s something I’ve wondered about recently. If God is indeed eternal, i.e. he has existed for an infinite time, why did he only create the universe 13 billion years ago (or 6000, depending on taste)?

    Regardless of whether time exists outside of the context of the Universe, the best theists can do here is a battle to a draw. Whether something always existed or came into being from nothing doesn’t help us identify the first cause, and the claiming that it is an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, perfect mind only makes the problem many orders of magnitude more difficult to explain.

    All the theists are doing are gathering up all the extremely difficult fundamental questions about existence into a single pot and calling it God. Very convenient, but it only takes us farther from the answer, not closer to it.

    I like physicist Sean Carroll’s take on this issue. Why assume that “nothing” is a more basic state of existence than “something”?

  25. Deanna Gilbert says

    #11: We don’t actually know that time began 13.7 billion years ago. What the Big Bang theory states is that 13.7 billion years ago everything in the universe was in an incredibly dense and small space-time about 1.5 meters across. We don’t actually KNOW what happened before that. It’s like with evolution…we know how life has evolved once evolution started…but we don’t know how life itself started.

    We do have an hypothesis (cosmic inflation) which deals with a segment of time before that which IMO seems to have some pretty good support to it. However, the problem is that we don’t know how long cosmic inflation took place, and when IT started. We can assume you then count back the incredibly small amount of time and say “here is t=0” but we don’t actually know that there WAS a t=0. It’s also possible that cosmic inflation is just the big rip of a “previous universe”. In which case, time could easily end up going back to infinity.

    It is an unstated assumption that rarely gets mentioned.

  26. John Morales says

    Shame Perry shan’t be here in the comments; I could have quite the bit of fun responding to such vacuous piffle.

  27. chrislawson says

    Epicurus’s paradox, unanswered by apologists since 300 BC.

    (NB: Epicurus was a theist, just not a simple-minded one. He believed in gods but insisted they were perfect abstractions, not remotely human and did not answer prayers or supplications or have the slightest interest in human affairs.)

  28. cheerfulcharlie says

    @John Harshman
    “What was he doing in all the infinite time before that? ”

    “Preparing hell for people who ask such quesions”
    – Augustine

  29. John Morales says

    cheerfulcharlie, Steve Morrison, cute quip, but thing is, this (ahem) philosopher has explicitly defined their deity as “an omniscient, omnipotent benevolent being”.

    It could not be more obvious that there is nothing benevolent about Hell.

    I do like the little evasion there, but. Back when I was young, the concept was “an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being” — heck, maybe it still is, but in this dude’s formulation, God is merely benevolent. Bugger the ontological argument, eh? ;)
    But it has the virtue of debouching from the fetid bog of theodicy, so that’s probably the basis.

  30. Jazzlet says

    xohjoh2n @32
    Ooof. She certainly did speak her mind, and good on her for doing so with such detail. But oh her poor daughter . . .

  31. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    (12:12): moral knowledge […] mind-independent moral truths […] even if everyone believed that you should set cats on fire, you know, they’d be wrong. You shouldn’t do it. […] We know things like slavery are wrong
    […]
    If you don’t have moral knowledge, you aren’t morally responsible for the way you act.
    (51:00): it wasn’t that we need god to explain morality […] moral knowledge is more likely given theism than given atheism.
    (52:47): it is possible that evolution produces those

    Perry declared morality to be independent truth. He gave examples that he knows some, so confident he made his knowledge an argument for a god. So a Bible god that repeatedly commanded followers to act against that moral knowledge, to take slaves, could not be good then.

    * Animal cruelty is another awkward angle considering Yahweh’s fondness for burnt offerings. Blessed Samson burned hundreds of foxes alive during one of his murderous rampages.

  32. unclefrogy says

    I think the reason theists arguments are so repetitive, predictable and shallow in the end may be because the fundamental nature of theism is “belief” in god it is seldom if ever arrived at by reason and investigation of the world and existence at all. When they are engaged in debate they seem to try very hard to avoid the concept of belief or faith but it is implied never the less.
    Our understanding of time is influenced by our very limited experience of it which is defined by our physical existence our bodies and their senses. We have derived instruments to measure its passing based our life experience and have just discovered that it is not the same everywhere
    “I really don’t clouds at all”

  33. StevoR says

    @33. cheerfulcharlie :

    @John Harshman
    “What was he doing in all the infinite time before that? ”

    “Preparing hell for people who ask such quesions”
    – Augustine

    (Italics added for clarity.)

    Yup. Despite supposedly knowing infinitely long in advance that we’d ask such questions (omnipotent & precognition) and having given us our curiosity (same as his curiosity – made in his nature?) its eternal torment as punishment for asking those questions. Sweet huh? (Does that really need a sarc tag?)

    I don’t think Augustine’s answer there is as good as i guess he thought it was..

  34. StevoR says

    ^ On further reflection, as typical, occurring about a minute after posting, Augustine is demonstrating that his god is sadistic and malevolent rather than benevolevent by that answer. Would not a benevolent god rejoice in and seek tosatisfy the question of his questioner? Give god another chance to show off and further impress his worshippers (worship which is needed becoz why?)

    Of course, the very idea of a permanent unceasing hell rather than almost some sort of Karma and limited purgatory and the idea of delighting in it a s Christians think their god(s) does and do themselves is fairly convincing proof of malevolence.. As I read isaac Asimov pointing out many decades ago :

    If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul. I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of Hitler. Besides, if most human governments are civilized enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God? I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.

    Source : https://www.reddit.com/r/asimov/comments/zhc44l/what_is_your_favorite_asimov_quote/

    Pretty sure that was from I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994, Doubleday)

    Pity Asimov was such a douche & sleaze with women.

  35. John Morales says

    Um, StevoR, that was a joke reply about Hell, though I seemed to take it seriously (because the concept was taken seriously).

    Augustine actually held that time and space were part of creation, and that God is timeless (eternal).

    Here is an actual quotation (well, translated, but still):
    “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”

  36. fishy says

    Yet here we are, discussing a deity that has no beginnings, is omnipotent and omniscient for eternity, who shows no progress, who is claimed to be benevolent but without any motivation, any reason for his being.

    I think we’re on the same page here.
    My thoughts travel to the uselessness of prayer. You are asking a perfect being to alter perfection because it doesn’t meet your standards.

  37. Jim Balter says

    because they are good kinds of things, and if God exists, he would (probably) ensure that good kinds of things exist. But these facts aren’t likely to come about just given the truth of atheism.

    This guy is an intellectually dishonest imbecile. The world is just the sort of place we might expect if there is no god, but not at all the sort of place we might expect if there is one. By his own argument we should expect only good things, or at least a preponderance of good things, but that’s not what we see at all.

    As for “likely to come about” — these specific things aren’t likely to come about given atheism (but they did), but neither are these specific good things — a benevolent god could have brought about a very different (and more complete) set of good things.

    It’s evident from this argument alone that he is an intellectually corrupt gaslighting sophist who cherry picks to death in order to support his desired conclusion. This isn’t philosophy, it’s apologetics–the most dishonest human enterprise ever invented. I would have taken the offensive by calling him out on it and making my contempt for such trash evident.

  38. Jim Balter says

    Step 1: contingent things (i.e. things that don’t have to exist) exist: there are phones, people, trees, and so on. These things are all contingent. Step 2: all contingent things depend on something beyond themselves (e.g. I depend on my parents in order to exist, a phone depends on the materials extracted from the earth (among other things) in order to exist, and so on). Step 1 and Step 2 entail that something necessary must exist (think: the set of all contingent things is itself contingent, and so it must depend on something beyond itself).

    No they don’t entail that, Hendricks you moron.

  39. Jim Balter says

    On why there is something rather than nothing: there is an infinity of different states of affairs–laws of physics and entities that obey them–each of which is a possible world. But there is only one possible world in which there is nothing—all possible worlds in which there is nothing are equivalent; they are the same possible world. Therefore the probability of there being nothing is 1/infinity = 0, and the probability of there being something is (infinity-1)/infinity = 1

  40. Jim Balter says

    there is an infinity of different states of affairs

    Make that “there is an infinity of different possible states of affairs”

    @13

    The math leads one to suspect they’re correct, alas, it’s utterly impossible to prove

    Science is based on inference to the best explanation, not on proof. And you don’t have to be there or “provide a sample” in order to reach a scientific conclusion … that’s the sort of argument that Creationists make: “No one was there to see it”.

  41. Rob Grigjanis says

    cheerfulcharlie @33 and StevoR @41: Apparently neither of you saw Steve Morrison‘s #26. Augustine wrote that he had heard that someone had said that, and that would not be his answer.

    Funny how sloppiness can lead to beliefs that aren’t true, innit.

  42. Pierce R. Butler says

    fishy @ # 44: … prayer. You are asking a perfect being to alter perfection because it doesn’t meet your standards.

    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911):

    Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in [sic] behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

  43. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 14: … Kalam sounds like a Muslim name…

    Kalam:

    Kalam is an Arabic term for speech, and has several other, related, technical connotations in Islamic religious thought. … Kalam, in Islam, speculative theology. In its early stage, it was merely a defense of Islam against other religions. It eventually adopted the dialectic of the Greek skeptics and stoics. …

    Abdul Kalam:

    Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam BR was an Indian aerospace scientist and statesman who served as the 11th president of India from 2002 to 2007. … He was known as the ‘Missile Man of India’ for his work on ballistic missile technology and nuclear tests…

  44. cheerfulcharlie says

    @Rob Grjanis
    “Augustine wrote that he had heard that someone had said that, and that would not be his answer.”

    And Augustine considered the question. His answer was that God was incomprehensible. Augustine on several occasions when faced by difficult questions, often posed to him by various monks, used that dodge. It is a big God of the gaps dodge. Still used today by some apologists. William of Okham stated explicitly God is incomprehensible. All we can know about God is from God’s revelation to us, the Bible.

  45. cheerfulcharlie says

    Ezekiel 36
    25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
    26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
    27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

    See also Ezekiel 11, Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8 and 10. Much ignored verses of the Bible. With the Great Commision to preach Christianity to the whole world, we must ask, why did not God put his laws and statutes into the hearts of all mankind? There would no longer be moral evil committed, no false religions, religious skepticism, no need for hell. And so much for theist arguments God must grant us free will.

  46. says

    In multiple debates on this subject, I’ve noticed that my opponents can’t resist the temptation to defend the most grandiose, most extravagant, most extreme version of a god they can imagine — no petty little local storm god with some impressive tricks for them. Their god must be the mightiest god of them all, the god who can beat up your god. Guys, it’s not a competition. If you can show me any kind of god, like the god of mice, the god of lost car keys, the god of curing hangnails, I’ll be impressed. But nooo, it’s always the god who knows everything and can do anything — they set the bar impossibly high, as if it’s a contest in who can invent the most superlatives.

    Thank you for this paragraph!

    I grew up in the liberal sects of Judaism (a mix of Reformed and Conservative). My mom is also a big fan of mythology, so she had me read about Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Norse myths as a kid. I found those way more fun than the stories in the Torah, even as my mom told me the Torah stories were supposedly part of “my” religion while the others weren’t. I could also quickly see parallels between myths in the Torah and those of other religions: I think my favorite example is the similarity between the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the Binding of Issac.

    Jewish mythology had another issue that was readily apparent to me as a kid: the god character depicted in the Torah, whom I call “Torah God,” is obviously a different character than the god of Reformed or Conservative Judaism, whom I tend to call “Reformed/Conservative Jewish God,” or just “Reformed Jewish God” if I want brevity.

    The Reformed Jewish God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. The political leanings of the Reformed/Conservative Jewish God reflects that of their followers: they generally support equal rights for people of all genders, races, and sexualities, although they haven’t actually be able to alter society to give everyone rights despite being omnipotent. The Torah god is none of those things. He’s not omnipotent, he’s not omniscient, he’s not benevolent at all, and he’s a big fan of slavery, misogyny, racism, and genocide.

    While I don’t currently believe in any of those gods, I think that if you were to try to convince me that a god is real, the existence of the Reformed Jewish God seems like a way more difficult claim to argue for than other possible gods. Many other mythologies have gods that are essentially humans with a few neat magic tricks. Even the Torah God is sometimes a human with a few tricks: in the Garden of Eden story, for example, Torah God is afraid that humans will become as powerful as Torah God: all they have to do is eat two fruit, and they’ve already eaten one of them.

    It seems to me like it ought to be easier to find evidence for human-like alien with a few extra tricks than evidence for an omnipotent omnibenevolent entity. I’ve periodically wondered whether, if I had grown up in a society with a dominant polytheistic religion, would I have still become atheist? I have yet to be convinced of the existence of (for example) Odin, but no one has ever seriously tried to convince me of his existence. Instead, the theists who are willing to debate always want to argue for the most outlandish and implausible god, and they can’t account for the problem of evil.

  47. Rob Grigjanis says

    chrflchrlie @52: So you fucked up with your quote, but that’s OK because Augustine was a slippery chap?

  48. Jim Brady says

    People it seems have misunderstood my comment about “good” being context dependent. Just think of consciousness. Consciousness is not good if you are being tortured. You can do this with any “good”.

  49. John Morales says

    Jim Brady, good point.

    For a cat, it is good it gets to torture a mouse. For the mouse, not-so-much.

    (Yes, I anthropomorphise)

  50. cheerfulcharlie says

    Augstine, Confessions, Book 11

    Behold, I answer to him who asks, “What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” I answer not, as a certain person is reported to have done facetiously (avoiding the pressure of the question), “He was preparing hell,” says he, “for those who pry into mysteries.” It is one thing to perceive, another to laugh—these things I answer not. For more willingly would I have answered, “I know not what I know not,” than that I should make him a laughing-stock who asks deep things, and gain praise as one who answers false things…

  51. cheerfulcharlie says

    Isaiah 11
     The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
    7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
    8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

    See also Isaiah 61 and Genesis 1.
    29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
    30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

    God created every creatue a vegetarian. And could banish animal predation if God desired. If cats torture and kil mice, it is only because God commands it be so. The bible tells us God is merciful and compassionate. That does not seem to be true. And claiming it is because we introduced original sin into the world, as some apologists do still does not make sense.

  52. John Morales says

    Um, still don’t know the result.

    Who “won” the debate?

    (Or is it the type of debate that is not assessed as having a “winner”?)

  53. says

    @16

    Cats are evidence that the God of Mice doesn’t exist…

    I’d go in the other direction and say Yaweh as understood by present-day theists was made in the image of a cat.

    1)Yaweh never tells you want he wants directly. A cat never uses their words to tell you what they want, instead making Their will known with mysterious ways such as purrs and head-rubs.
    2)Yaweh wants you to dedicate your entire life to him, and gets angry when you do something that isn’t for him. My cat gets irritated when I do something that she can’t immediately tell is for her, such as work, or go for a walk, or use my computer.
    3)If you don’t obey Yaweh he will punish you with either death (Judaism) or eternal damnation (Christianity/Islam). If you don’t obey a cat they will punish you with bites or scratches. Mine in particular will only bite, not scratch, because she’s loving and benevolent.

    There are nonetheless some differences. Notably:
    1)Cats demonstrably exist.
    2)Biting or scratching is quite a bit less extreme than murder or eternal damnation.
    3)While cats’ methods of communication are less precise than human language, it’s still a lot easier to figure out what a cat wants than what an unobservable unverifiable god wants. I can empirically test which food or treats my cat likes. I can’t empirically test what God wants.

  54. says

    But the God of Mice very well might exist, even allowing for the existence of cats…

    …so long as one does not assume that the God of Mice is benevolent toward any particular mouse. Or any mice. Or in any sense at all.

    Which exposes the other problem with theism: The assumption that even if a supernatural being exists, he/she/it/they/whatever merit(s) worship. Or praise. Or acknowledgment as other than an asshole who/that can’t be bothered to play by the same “moral” rules imposed on the worshippers. (Unless it’s Mammon, but we have an unholy proportion of worshippers of Mammon in present society, so even without the sarcasm inside the inquiry it’s rather despairing.) The concept of the “sin of omission” leads to rather interesting inquiries when applied to any purportedly omniscient and/or omnipotent being — or even just a highly-knowledgeable/powerful one.

    Boundary conditions matter, and not just in abstract math. And they are seldom truly one-tailed (one can no more have a probability greater than one than less than zero).

  55. StevoR says

    @49. Rob Grigjanis :

    cheerfulcharlie @33 and StevoR @41: Apparently neither of you saw Steve Morrison‘s #26. Augustine wrote that he had heard that someone had said that, and that would not be his answer.

    Ah. Okay, yes, you’re right – I hadn’t seen that.

  56. KG says

    Why think that these first three facts are evidence for theism over atheism? Briefly, because they are good kinds of things, and if God exists, he would (probably) ensure that good kinds of things exist.

    And also, of course, that bad things don’t. That they do is hence strong evidence against the existence of Hendricks’ God, but of course he decides that it doesn’t count, because God might have good reasons for allowing them which we can’t understand. But allowing only evidence on one side of a question to count is transparently dishonest – it could be taken as the definition of intellectual dishonesty.

    Jim Balter@47 (on why there is somethnig rather than nothing),
    Technically, assigning probabilities in cases where the set of alternatives is infinite <A href=”https://www.britannica.com/science/probability-theory/The-strong-law-of-large-numbers#ref4074282>gets tricky, and perhaps particularly so when the cardinality of the infinite set is unclear (for a start, is the number of possible worlds countable or uncountable?). In general, not every possible subset of alternatives can be given a probability, but AFAIK, whatever type of “measure space” you choose to extend from finite to infinite sets, a subset containing just a single element of an infinite set will indeed have measure 0.

  57. Doc Bill says

    @64 Perry Hendricks!

    Yes, fruitful as a carrot seed, indeed, as a carrot seed will grow into a luscious, yummy, nutritious carrot AND provide seeds for more carrots.

    Unlike your meritless, dead and dusty apologetics, devoid of calories. In fact, a person of letters such as yourself should take to heart the observations in the comments that your apologetics that you attempt to foist off as “philosophy,” in air quotes, are as obsolete as that put forth by Thomas Aquinas. (And, at least, he got a sainthood for his efforts!)

    The most you demonstrated, and I’m being both restrained and generous, is that theology is useless. To put theology in perspective of its usefulness in explaining the World, Leplace said it best: Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.

    Try planting your carrot seed, Perry, and nurturing its growth rather than mocking its size, you know, mote and all that jazz.

  58. cvoinescu says

    nomdeplume @ #16:
    I think one of the many disconnects in our communication is what “probably” means in this context. Does god exist? In layperson’s terms, no, absolutely not, and we’re super-duper sure of that. As scientists, the technically correct answer is “probably not”, but it means the same thing.

  59. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @66: Regarding Jim Balter’s @47: I assumed it was a joke. If not, there are additional wrinkles. What is “a world in which there is nothing”? Does that mean no spacetime, no fields? In what sense is that a possible world? I’m not saying it’s not possible, just asking how. And if possible (in some as yet unspecified sense), why is it necessarily unique? Is a universe with our particular laws of physics, fields, values of parameters, etc necessarily unique? If so, why? And so on…

    Fancy word games with no solid referents, or ill-defined, or undefined ones. Situation normal!

  60. says

    Who won the debate? Nobody.

    Although if it makes you feel better, the moderator asked people to vote by leaving through the left exit if they thought I won, right exit if they thought Perry won. Left exit was pretty well choked. Take it with a grain of salt, though, I had the home court advantage, and many of the students in attendance I knew from classes.

  61. says

    I don’t get the reference, “fruitful as a carrot seed.” Is that a negative or positive comment? Do carrot seeds have some property that makes them unusual relative to other plants?

  62. raven says

    Do carrot seeds have some property that makes them unusual relative to other plants?

    Strangely enough, carrot seeds do indeed have some unusual and useful properties.

    They contain phytoestrogens.
    That means they can and have been used for birth control.

    A number of medicinal plants with estrogen content have been used to reduce female fertility, and carrot seeds are one of the most important sources of phytoestrogens, and their flavonoid compounds and oils have been used as contraceptives (Clark and Willson, 2003) The carrot plant is one of the widely used medicinal …Mar 1, 2023

    role-of-carrot-seed-extraction-as-contraceptive-and-embryo …
    MINAR International Journal of Applied Sciences and Technology
    https://www.minarjournal.com › dergi › role-of…

    I going to have to expand on this a little before someone tries it and gets pregnant.

    .1. The best source is actually wild carrots, the parent of garden carrots. This is a common weed worldwide sometimes called Queen Anns Lace.
    I have a lot growing in my lawn and pull them up every summer.
    .2. This property of carrot seeds has been known for centuries and been used by some ancient cultures for birth control.

    These phytoestrogens are common in the carrot family seeds, Umbelliferae. A related plant, a wild fennel from North Africa, was widely used and highly valued for birth control by the Romans.

  63. cheerfulcharlie says

    Presuppositionalism. God creates all including logic and mathematics. Descartes in a letter to Marin Messenes claimed God created mathematics. If so God could have made 1 + 2 not equal 3. Descartes noted he could not imagine mountains without valleys. But that did not mean mountains without valleys was impossible. It simply meant his mind was create to not be able to imagine that. But that it would be rash to imagine God could not create such things.

    If God creates all metaphysical necessities, and is perfectly good, why is there moral evil? God could create all mankind with free will whom all freely choose to do no moral evil. So the idea that God might have some mysterious reason to tolerate moral evil is obviously false. And implies that there is some logical reason God cannot banish moral evil? And what logic beyond God’s control could that be? And where does logic come from if not God? And if metaphysical necessities like math and logic are outside of God, and limits God, why do we need to consider God at all?

    Plant this little carrot seed.

  64. John Morales says

    I didn’t transcribe our responses to each other. You’ll have to listen to the video for that.

    The YouTube video linked in the OP has an auto-generated transcript — a bit shit, but for all that remarkably good. Nice feature, that.

  65. eliza422 says

    I watched the whole debate (from the cell phone video), and it was awful to hear him just brush aside the problem of evil – “secondary goods”? Evil is there for building courage? Talk about speaking from a position of privilege!

    I think the problem of evil is one of the strongest arguments against a god, especially the personal type of god most major religions believe in.

    I also hate when god has to be philosophized into existence. If nothing tangible comes from believing in a god, then who the f*** cares if one exists?

  66. cheerfulcharlie says

    Hick’s character building argument inspired by Ireneus. So does that mean those who suffered horrendously get more character than those who only suffer from First World Problems? “Damend store was out of my favorite ice cream!” If God could banish all moral evil by creating all mankind to have free will and to choose to do no moral evil, is that not better than proposed secondary goods? Why not make all mankind maximally courageous?

    See my post above. Jeremiah 31:33-4, Ezekiel 11:14, Ezekiel 36:26, 2 Chorinthians 3:3, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16.

  67. John Morales says

    cheerfulcharlie, don’t you get the god-concept at hand? Omni this, omni that. Ineffable.

    God knows better than you.
    God knows more than you could ever know.
    God gets what you don’t get.

    So, when you ask such as “Why not make all mankind maximally courageous?”, you are asking a silly question because you asking from a position of ignorance, an ignorance that can’t be overcome because of your limited nature as a creature. Basically, God knows better, but you can’t get why.

    (Pangloss explains it better)

  68. John Morales says

    PS no point just quoting the Babble. The Quran and the Bible are there, too, with the omnis.

    (This version of a monotheistic deity is Abrahamic)

  69. Rob Grigjanis says

    eliza422 @75:

    If nothing tangible comes from believing in a god, then who the f*** cares if one exists?

    Strangely enough, a lot of people do seem to care, so presumably they see something tangible, even if you don’t.

    I’ve been totally comfortable with my atheism since I was about 10 (so about 60 years). And I’ve met plenty of smart theists who pretty much share my worldview apart from the existence-of-a-deity thing (socialist, pro-choice, LGBTQ or LGBTQ-positive, etc). Frankly, I feel more at ease with those people than I do with antitheists who rattle on about theists being stupid, or intellectually lazy, or having an obligation to prove their beliefs (I’m not assuming you’re one of them).

    I don’t pretend to understand why people believe some of the things they do (there’s nowt as queer as folk), but neither do I feel inclined to berate or mock people when the rubber hits the road. My trenches, and hills to die on, include many theists and deists.

  70. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Rob, you are being unfair in my estimation. Two sentences, one proposition.

    The actual quotation at hand was “I also hate when god has to be philosophized into existence. If nothing tangible comes from believing in a god, then who the f*** cares if one exists?”.

    That’s a conditional (‘when’) form, but you’ve addressed the universal case instead.

  71. Rob Grigjanis says

    Once again, John, you’re being almost clever. Still, I would welcome you into my trench, or onto my hill. Reciprocation not required.

  72. cheerfulcharlie says

    The Quran starts every sura will Allah, the merciful, the compassionate. But the Quran also claims Allah leads who he leads and leads asray who he will lead astray. I found 28 similar assertions in the Quran. So to lead men astray and send them to hell is not merciful nor compassionate. And the Quran has numerous verses that claim we have fre will. Contradiction. Sura 4 asserts we will find no contradictions in the Quran, thus can demonstrate the Quran is a true revelation from Allah.. Qadar. Islamic theologians have spent centuries trying to explain this all away and ignore the obvious. Reading the Quran is a hoot if you pay attention carefully while doing so.

    Many of our Islamic friends insist we can find modern science in the Quran. Proof and everything.

    Allah sits on his throne in the seventh heaven and creates comets to chase evesdropping djinns away from Allah’s throne. It’s science you infidels! Read the Quran someday. Tis a silly book.

  73. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Come to think of it, “conscious agency” is questionable, too. Humans dissociate when they’re bored or stressed, to say nothing of how poorly they make decisions. If that was an omnipotent designer’s goal, it falls short of expectations.

  74. Perry Hendricks says

    To clarify, PZ: while I’m not expert on plants, the last I checked, carrots aren’t fruit. And so a carrot seed produces no fruit.

    Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.

  75. John Morales says

    Perry, I applaud your bravery.

    So:

    To clarify, PZ: while I’m not expert on plants, the last I checked, carrots aren’t fruit. And so a carrot seed produces no fruit.

    Hm. Better fix Wikipedia, then, since it indicates a carrot seed produces a carrot plant which has carrot flowers which produce carrot fruit which have carrot seeds:
    “The fruit that develops is a schizocarp consisting of two mericarps; each mericarp is a true seed. ”

    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot#Description)

    Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.

    Way to evade the weight of my #34, O brave Sir Robin.

  76. StevoR says

    @73. cheerfulcharlie :” Descartes noted he could not imagine mountains without valleys. But that did not mean mountains without valleys was impossible. It simply meant his mind was create to not be able to imagine that. But that it would be rash to imagine God could not create such things.”

    Isolated volcanoes? Central peaks in meteorite craters?

  77. StevoR says

    Mt Kilamanjaro maybe?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kilimanjaro

    Although I guess that counts as an isolated volcano but as a specific case of mountain without valley here. Does the singular case disqualify it and those – like are we talking specifically mountain ranges?

    How about “mountains” on asymetrical asteroids or comets like Churymov-Gerasimenko :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/67P/Churyumov%E2%80%93Gerasimenko

    Or seamounts including ones that breach the surface and produce coral atolls?

    Do the structures inside donut shaped Bell E crater (https://www.lroc.asu.edu/posts/1151 ) count as mountains without valleys?

    Similarly does Ahuna Mons on Ceres count?

    If we have bilobial morphology on an asteroid with symetrical peaks like a, what’s that sewing thread thingammy shape with two cones put end to end / back to back make that two mountains if sizeable enough – and no valleys?

  78. StevoR says

    @85. Perry Hendricks : “Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.”

    So what are your thoughts on Ken ham’s views on evolution?

    Also on what the point of the Jesyus curses a fig tree that wan’t fruiting in not-fig season story?

  79. StevoR says

    ^ Thinking fruit and religion :

    https://thebrickbible.com/legacy/the_life_of_jesus/jesus_curses_a_tree/mk11_12-13.html

    (Mark 11:12-13 to Mark 11:21.)

    Plus some possible ideas on the symbolism here on wiki :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursing_of_the_fig_tree

    which Perry Hendricks may or may not agree with :

    Reckon he was just in a waspish mood that day?

    Specifically revenge for the weird and to us gross wasp lifecyle as noted here – tephen Hawking’s 80th Birthday

  80. cheerfulcharlie says

    I think destroying a fig tree for having no figs is stupid. A real miracle working Jesus, if he was smart, would cause the tree to bear figs overnight instead. And for trinarians, Jesus is God. This smacks of being an incompetent oriental tall tale teller’s oriental tall tale.

  81. says

    Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.

    So go ahead and show us where we’re wrong. We’re waiting (and laughing)…

  82. eliza422 says

    Rob @79

    “Strangely enough, a lot of people do seem to care, so presumably they see something tangible, even if you don’t.”

    I think I was focused on this philosophical version of a god, not the personal type from a specific religious tradition that I think most people think of that has “tangible” affects on their world. At least they have a book or cultural tradition to fall back on to define their terms.

    It’s the god derived from the arguments like Perry had – which I freely admit I don’t really understand – that is a pointless sort of god. Because things (I think are) good exist, therefore it’s more probable there is a god??? That’s not evidence at all.

  83. raven says

    Hendricks:

    Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.

    This is a slighly less than blatant insult to the commenters here.
    I don’t think Argument from Insult even rises to a fallacy.

    It’s also yet again, another statement without data or proof and may be dismissed without data or proof. You are wrong.
    As Raging Bee points out, you really have to be more specific than making a claim without providing any evidence.

  84. ajbjasus says

    I hope the drivel isn’t indicative of the conten5 of his PhD.

    Even the crudely strung together assertions were riddled with holes.

  85. George says

    Always the same tiresome arguments. Just once it would be fun to hear something that isn’t just circular arguments where people are simply justifying what they already believe.

  86. Doc Bill says

    Perry Hendricks steps up to the plate, taps his shoe with his bat and glares at the pitcher. The count is one strike, no balls.

    There’s the pitch, a fast ball right over the plate, Hendricks swings annnnnnnnnd, Strike Two!

    “Here’s another take on it: most of the comments here look to be about as well thought out as Ken Ham’s views on evolution.”

    Typical of theologians, they know less of their own subject than the layman does about carrot seeds. Ken Ham doesn’t have any views on evolution other than it’s not the Biblical “worldview,” whatever that is. Old Hambo has no opinion about human chromosome #2 or anything else specifically for that matter. All Hambo does is hold up his Bible and say, “I have my book!” As he told Bill Nye over and over and over again. However, the commenters here who have more PhD’s than carrots have seeds totally demolished your simple apologetics. Do better, man.

    In fact, Perry, if you ever decide to actually study anything other than the lint in your navel you will learn that the Ayatollah of Appalachia fully embraces dinosaurs; loves dinosaurs, can’t get him enough dinosaur.

    But, please, please, please step up to the plate again with another pithy, insightful comment. The crowd is cheering!

  87. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@69,
    Jim Balter@47 said (my emphasis):

    But there is only one possible world in which there is nothing

    I take the meaning of “possible” here to be “logically possible”, i.e., capable of being described without self-contradiction. I recommend Bradley and Swartz Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and its Philosophy (1979), which is now available free online. There is as far as I can see nothing logically problematic in assuming that there might have been nothing at all – and yes, that means no particles, no fields, no spacetime, no physical laws (and of course, no God). If any of the various forms of the ontological argument were sound (they are not), that would not be a logical possibility. But there is indeed only one logically possible world in which there is nothing at all, since if we assume there are two (or more), it turns out that there is no way to distinguish them from each other. So whether Jim Balter meant it as a joke or not, I suspect there’s something in it. Another way of looking at it is to ask whether there are truths which have a status somewhere between necessary and contingent (Hendricks’ talk about things being contingent is pseudo-philosophical drivel). One possible candidate is “Something exists”, which would be true in all but one logically possible worlds – and of course, it would be (logically) impossible for it even be formulated in that sole exception.

  88. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @8:

    I take the meaning of “possible” here to be “logically possible”, i.e., capable of being described without self-contradiction…There is as far as I can see nothing logically problematic in assuming that there might have been nothing at all – and yes, that means no particles, no fields, no spacetime, no physical laws (and of course, no God).

    The only ‘description’ I’m seeing is words strung together without any perceptible meaning. A world with nothing at all, except the property of being a world, whatever that means. Gibberish. BTW, your use of ‘might have been’ suggests (correct me I’m wrong) that you’re talking about our universe in the past.

    But there is indeed only one logically possible world in which there is nothing at all, since if we assume there are two (or more), it turns out that there is no way to distinguish them from each other.

    So there is only one electron (actually only one of every fundamental particle)? John Wheeler actually proposed this to Richard Feynman in 1940 as an explanation for electrons all having identical properties, but the advent of quantum field theory obviated that view.

  89. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@99,
    You’re misunderstanding the meaning of “possible world”; it just means “how everything might be”. So it does not imply “the property of being a world, whatever that means”. And no, I’m not talking about the past. Do you deny that it’s logically possible that there might never have been anything at all? If so, on what grounds? As for there being only one such possible world, think of the empty set: there’s only one, or to put it another way, “any two” empty sets are the very same mathematical entity.

  90. John Morales says

    There is as far as I can see nothing logically problematic in assuming that there might have been nothing at all – and yes, that means no particles, no fields, no spacetime, no physical laws (and of course, no God).

    Natural language is very imprecise.
    If something isn’t there, we often say that there is nothing, as if nothing were something, rather than saying that there isn’t something, for any value of something.

    The logically problematic aspect is that if nothing exists there is no world, logical or otherwise.
    In short, it’s not a possible world. It’s the null set.

    (∃x: x ∈ ∅ ≡ ¬∃x)

  91. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @101:

    Do you deny that it’s logically possible that there might never have been anything at all?

    No, because I can’t disprove it. Just as I can’t deny the logical possibility of a creator deity or deities. I just treat both questions with the (same) seriousness they deserve.

  92. KG says

    John Morales@102,

    In short, it’s not a possible world. It’s the null set.

    It’s the null possible world, which is a possible world just as much as the null set is a set.

    Rob Grigjanis@103,
    OK, you’re not interested in the philosophy of logic. Some of us are.

  93. John Morales says

    KG, same error. You are essentially claiming nothing is something, instead of the lack of something.

    It’s the null possible world, which is a possible world just as much as the null set is a set.

    No. It is the lack of a possible world — the null set is the empty set, the set with no elements.

    The cardinality of the null set is zero — and so if it is the set of possible worlds, an empty set represents an absence of any possible worlds, but is not in itself a possible world; remember, when you talk about possible worlds, you are not talking about the set of possible worlds, but about the elements of that set.

  94. StevoR says

    Is a universe without spacetime still a universe? Is there an alternative to spacetime that’s still something and, if so, what would that alternative be?

  95. John Morales says

    StevoR, depends.

    Out of all possible bicycles, is a bicycle without a frame, without wheels, without pedals, indeed without anything at all still a bicycle? If so, it is the null bicycle.

    Or, say, out of all the possible states of happiness, the state without any actual elements of happiness might still be the null happiness.

    After all, those are the same as the universe without extent in any dimension — the null universe.

    (Like the circle without a radius — the null circle. Or, as some might call it, the degenerate case)

  96. John Morales says

    PS I got curious.
    I saw this right away (despite Google): https://arxiv.org/abs/1001.2485
    (No, I have not actually read it, but it was the first thing I searched for. Sideways, like)

    Physics With Two Time Dimensions
    Jacob G. Foster, Berndt Müller

    We explore the properties of physical theories in space-times with two time dimensions. We show that the common arguments used to rule such theories out do not apply if the dynamics associated with the additional time dimension is thermal or chaotic and does not permit long-lived time-like excitations. We discuss several possible realizations of such theories, including holographic representations and the possibility that quantum dynamics emerges as a consequence of a second time dimension.

  97. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @StevoR #106:

    Is a universe without spacetime still a universe?

    Stanford Encyclopedia – Nothingness
    § Is there at most one empty world?

    Aristotle’s world is self-governed. Objects have powers that collectively explain the order of the universe. Thinkers in the Abrahamic tradition replaced Aristotle’s invisible hand explanation with God’s hidden hand. God dictated laws of nature to which He made periodic adjustments (like clockmakers who regularly serviced their creations, correcting the accumulating errors). Focus on God’s perfection made attributions of divine intervention resemble left-handed compliments to God’s Intelligence. After the attributions of miracles were retracted, God Himself was retired. What was left were relic “laws of nature”.
    […]
    If variation in empty worlds can be sustained by differences in the laws that apply to them, there will be infinitely many empty worlds.

    John Heil (2013) is bemused by this War of the Possible Worlds. Having dispensed with the Law Maker, we should repudiate the Laws of Nature.

    § The restriction to concrete entities

    Van Inwagen’s answer is that we are actually interested in concrete things.
    […]
    Absolutists think of the framework as existing independently of what it frames. For instance, Newton characterized space as an eternal, homogeneous, three dimensional container of infinite extent. He believed that the world was empty of objects for an infinite period
    […]
    Others think the framework depends on what it frames. Like Leibniz, Albert Einstein pictured (or “pictured”) space as an abstraction from relations between objects. Consequently, space can be described with the same metaphors we use for family trees.

  98. John Morales says

    Interesing, but also primitive.

    Consider “Absolutists think of the framework as existing independently of what it frames.”

    The tiniest bit of thought should make it evident that a framework is something, that is, it is other than nothing. It could be the case that there is no framework, for example.

    As KG put it (my emphasis): “There is as far as I can see nothing logically problematic in assuming that there might have been nothing at all – and yes, that means no particles, no fields, no spacetime, no physical laws (and of course, no God).”

    Of course.
    Spacetime is something — in this case, the framework wherein mass-energy struts its stuff.

    PS it amused me when having a look through that article how I thought of Russell’s Paradox, and then it mentioned that very same thing in a different context. But that’s going a bit into the weeds.

  99. KG says

    John Morales@105,
    You’re talking nonsense, because you don’t understand the terminology of “possible worlds”, which I explained to Rob @100. To take this a bit further, a “possible world” can be equated with a set of statements about that world, not with some set of things in it. The “null world” can be described in FOPC with equality by the single statement:

    ¬∃x: x=x

  100. John Morales says

    KG, a null world is like a null bicycle. Or a null pleasure.

    To take this a bit further, a “possible world” can be equated with a set of statements about that world, not with some set of things in it.

    Statements about nothing mean nothing.
    Before you can make statements about something, that something must exist.

    Again, you keep thinking about nothing as something, instead of as the lack of anything.

    The “null world” can be described in FOPC with equality by the single statement:

    ¬∃x: x=x

    Dunno who you are supposedly quoting (not me), but that’s silly.
    Nothing equals itself, is what that says.

  101. KG says

    John Morales@114,

    Statements about nothing mean nothing.

    That’s a statement about nothing. It’s false, but it’s not meaningless.

    Before you can make statements about something, that something must exist.

    Utter nonsense. Consider:
    Statements about fictional entities:

    Gandalf is a wizard.

    Statements about things known not to exist:

    Even prime numbers greater than 2 do not exist.

    or for that matter:

    Even prime numbers greater than 2 are divisible by 7.

    Statements about things whose existence remains unknown:

    If there is an odd perfect number, it must be greater than 1 trillion.

    Or:

    If there is life on Mars, it will be carbon-based.

    There’s plenty (indeed, infinitely) more examples I could provide.

    Dunno who you are supposedly quoting (not me), but that’s silly.
    Nothing equals itself, is what that says.

    I wasn’t quoting, simply setting off a formula in FOPC with equality, which you clearly don’t understand. A more explicit translation into natural language (but yours will do) would be: “There does not exist an x such that x equals itself”. Since it’s an axiom of FOPC with equality that:

    ∀x: x=x

    (i.e. for all x, x equals x), the formula I gave implies that nothing exists. Hence, it’s a description, and an adequate one, of the null possible world.

    Stop digging, John, you’re just displaying your ignorance.

  102. John Morales says

    That’s a statement about nothing.

    Nope. It’s a statement about statements about nothing.

    Utter nonsense. Consider:
    Statements about fictional entities:

    Good grief. They exist in the abstract. They are fictions, and a fiction is something.

    […] the formula I gave implies that nothing exists.

    Well, it literally says nothing equals itself, and you take that to mean nothing exists based on the implicit (and hidden) premise that for something to exist it must equal itself.
    The law of identity is not obscure, it’s axiomatic.

    But that’s not a null world, is it?
    Again, for something to be a possible world (a state of affairs), there must be something.

    An absence of everything is not a state of affairs, and thus is not a world.

    Stop digging, John, you’re just displaying your ignorance.

    It’s a null shovel that digs through the bullshit, KG.

    I get this a lot, the claim of my ignorance.
    I disagree with some proposition, and so people think I don’t understand that proposition thereby, when it is they that don’t understand my objection.

    But fine. The null world, in your estimation, is where nothing exists that equals itself.

    (That, of course, says nothing about whether anything actually exists — I mean, now that we’ve dispensed with one axiom of FOPC, it may be that things exist that don’t equal themselves)

  103. John Morales says

    [aside]

    Actually, I vaguely recall arguing with maybe you (KG), and probably SGBM and Owlmirror and sundry others back in the days when goddists would grace this blog and the topic came up, and noting there were two stances, one of which which one was that even omnipotence was limited by the laws of what was logically possible (you mob) and another was that omni by damn means omni and therefore such a deity could create a different reality where logic worked differently. Same sorta thing here, I reckon. :)

  104. John Morales says

    Heh. Software with bugs exists, so why can’t the Universe have bugs?
    What’s the biggie? Sorta kinda works most of the time, and when it crashes, just turn it off and on again.

  105. Rob Grigjanis says

    StevoR @106: Is a universe without spacetime still a universe?

    John @107: After all, those are the same as the universe without extent in any dimension — the null universe.

    A universe without spacetime is not necessarily a null universe. It may well be that spacetime is an emergent property of “something else”. An analogy; a painting on canvas. Was there in any sense nullity before the canvas, or paints, were made? Of course not. There were the materials from which they were made, not recognizable as their final products. BTW, I’m not suggesting a Designer here (the craftspeople who made the canvas, etc, or the artist).

    There is ongoing research on emergent space and/or spacetime.

  106. John Morales says

    A universe without spacetime is not necessarily a null universe. It may well be that spacetime is an emergent property of “something else”.

    Whether or not spacetime is an emergent or intrinsic property is irrelevant when there is no spacetime, but I suppose one could imagine stuff existing outside any such manifold.
    No location, no extent in any timelike or spacelike dimension.

    Not sure I can do that.

  107. Rob Grigjanis says

    Of course we don’t have the intuition, or the language, for such a universe. But it’s misleading (a category error, I think) to say “no extent in any dimension”. “dimension” simply doesn’t apply, as in the example of the canvas.

  108. KG says

    John Morales@116

    It’s a statement about statements about nothing.

    A nice try, but it doesn’t work. It’s still a statement about nothing, because it purports to tell us somethnig about nothing. Just as if I say:

    Some statements about the natural numbers are unproveable

    I’m telling you something about the natural numbers.

    They exist in the abstract. They are fictions, and a fiction is something.

    Really tying yourself in knots here, John. Yes, a fiction is something, but the things it describes need not exist – like Gandalf. Your claim @114 was that:

    Before you can make statements about something, that something must exist.

    Gandalf doesn’t exist. But maybe this is disappointing news to you.

    Well, it literally says nothing equals itself, and you take that to mean nothing exists based on the implicit (and hidden) premise that for something to exist it must equal itself.
    The law of identity is not obscure, it’s axiomatic.

    Of course it’s axiomatic, as I said explicitly @115 (try reading it again). That’s why the formula I gave logically entails that nothing exists, and as I said, possible worlds are defined by statements about them. Incidentally, your #102:

    ∃x: x ∈ ∅ ≡ ¬∃x

    isn’t even a well-formed formula of first-order logic, and so means nothing. Look it up. And contemplate the extent of your ignorance.

    The null world, in your estimation, is where nothing exists that equals itself.

    (That, of course, says nothing about whether anything actually exists — I mean, now that we’ve dispensed with one axiom of FOPC, it may be that things exist that don’t equal themselves)

    This is just drivel. I didn’t dispense with any axiom of FOPC – I rely on the axiom of equality (strictly speaking, it’s an axiom of FOPC with equality), as I explained @115. With this axiom, but only with this axiom, the formula:

    ¬∃x: x=x

    entails that nothing exists. (You couldn’t just use “¬∃x” because by the syntactical rules of FOPC, a quantifier must be followed by a formula for the whole expression to be well-formed. That’s what’s wrong with your pseudo-formula from #102.) And no, things that are not equal to themselves don’t and can’t exist – it’s just a misunderstanding to think that you could have a reality where “logic works differently”, confusing the formal systems which we invent, with what they describe.

  109. John Morales says

    Yes, a fiction is something, but the things it describes need not exist – like Gandalf.

    If a fiction is something, it exists as an abstract entity.
    Abstract things can exist, but they can also not exist.
    If nobody has ever thought of a particular idea, does that idea exist? I think not.

    Incidentally, your #102:

    ∃x: x ∈ ∅ ≡ ¬∃x

    isn’t even a well-formed formula of first-order logic, and so means nothing. Look it up. And contemplate the extent of your ignorance.
    […]
    (You couldn’t just use “¬∃x” because by the syntactical rules of FOPC, a quantifier must be followed by a formula for the whole expression to be well-formed. That’s what’s wrong with your pseudo-formula from #102.)

    If you think it’s meaningless, then for you it is.

    And no, things that are not equal to themselves don’t and can’t exist

    Not in this world, obs. Not in any possible world, well, depends on what you think of as a possible world.

    it’s just a misunderstanding to think that you could have a reality where “logic works differently”, confusing the formal systems which we invent, with what they describe.

    If you want to assert that logic necessarily works the same in every possible world, feel free.
    Not like we have access to other possible worlds in order to test that, is it? We’re stuck in this reality.

  110. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @101: You didn’t address a point I made in #99. If there is no way to distinguish between two (or more) electrons, does that mean there is only one electron?

  111. Rob Grigjanis says

    Lest you invoke the Pauli exclusion principle, it should be noted that it applies only to fermions (half-odd-integer spin, so including electrons). An infinite number of bosons (integer spin particles) can occupy the same quantum state. So if there is only one boson of a particular species, we have the interesting result that 1=∞.

  112. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @John Morales:

    [attributed to someone in another thread]: omni by damn means omni and therefore such a deity could create a different reality where logic worked differently.

    If you want to assert that logic necessarily works the same in every possible world, feel free.

    Formal logic is merely a language game that shuffles symbols while maintaining consistency, rephrasing statements in a way that makes humans playing it more aware of implications.

    There are house rules that can be omitted. There are variations, extensions and “deviant logic”, with markup to track degrees of uncertainty, etc., yielding vaguer results. If a game abandons consistency altogether, it ceases to be logic. Paraconsistent logic tries to tolerate a little.

    Still wouldn’t make an incoherent or self-contradictory proposal viable.

    why can’t the Universe have bugs? What’s the biggie? Sorta kinda works most of the time

    An unstable world would make it more difficult to form predictions or reason from past knowledge. Physics may work differently. Logic would operate the same with different premises, including which measurements are unreliable.

  113. John Morales says

    CA7746,

    Still wouldn’t make an incoherent or self-contradictory proposal viable.

    So the logic that applies to this world must apply to all possible worlds (even the null world KG imagines is an actual possible world), that being a foundational axiom for you. I know.

    Again, we only know our world.
    But fine, you reckon there are baseline rules that necessarily apply to any possible world.
    Any other position would be incoherent and self-contradictory, based on logic. Our world’s logic.

    BTW, this is maybe a decade and a half ago, not a recent discussion.
    About ‘omnipotence’, which is a real idea of the incoherent and self-contradictory variety, in this very world.
    A supposed attribute of the deity featured in this debate.
    One that has been etiolated from being able to do anything at all (that’s the omni bit) to being able to merely do what we humans consider logically possible. Basically, restricted to creating realities where logic functions exactly the same as in ours, because it’s the one and only possible logic, and because otherwise the world would be incoherent and not consistent or predictable.
    More like tuning a few knobs than like poofing an entire universe into existence.
    That’s why I’m a bit glib and sardonic about it.

    (I’m a bit godlike, myself. I create null worlds all the time — I mean, there’s nothing there, but that’s what a null world is. Nothing at all, that which for some is a thing in itself)

    An unstable world would make it more difficult to form predictions or reason from past knowledge. Physics may work differently. Logic would operate the same with different premises, including which measurements are unreliable.

    Um, that was a joke.

    Unless, of course, those who think we live in a simulation have it right, then the joke is on me. :)

  114. John Morales says

    Anyway.
    I’m pretty darn sure the Abrahamic omni type god template isn’t constrained by the laws of logic, never mind of what is possible. Not that puny.

  115. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @John Morales #127:

    But fine, you reckon there are baseline rules that necessarily apply to any possible world.

    Logic is rules for forming statements. Tic-tac-toe would operate the same because we make up the rules and play them anywhere.

    incoherent and self-contradictory, based on logic. Our world’s logic.

    Based on the central purpose of logic games themselves, whatever their specific rules or premises. You could invent a language game around gibberish, but is wouldn’t be ‘logic’, and it wouldn’t say anything about any world. Logic can only potentially speak of our world because it echoes back what we feed it, if we feed it info about our world.

    More like tuning a few knobs

    Then that would be a premise to feed in, something variable instead of presumed constant. If it’s different today than yesterday, so be it. Any model of a world with miracles would have either cope with a causality blindspot or have to model the ‘god’ coherently.

  116. John Morales says

    Ah well, might as well indulge and belabour the point.

    cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox

    The best-known version of the omnipotence paradox is the paradox of the stone: “Could God create a stone so heavy that even he could not lift it?”

    So, in my personal estimation, goddists who thus limit their deity are intellectual cowards and hypocrites.
    They only care to apologise about the puny version of their supposed God. Futile, of course.

    cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox#Omnipotence_does_not_mean_breaking_the_laws_of_logic

  117. John Morales says

    CA7746,

    Logic is rules for forming statements. Tic-tac-toe would operate the same because we make up the rules and play them anywhere.

    Could play them in all possible worlds, right?
    Well, except the null world, because there are no tics, no tacs, and no toes there. Or players.
    Or a place to play. Or anything else.

    Logic can only potentially speak of our world because it echoes back what we feed it, if we feed it info about our world.

    Interesting insight. So, maybe something other than logic does the job in one of those other possible worlds that logic does in ours. That’s the spirit!

    Any model of a world with miracles would have either cope with a causality blindspot or have to model the ‘god’ coherently.

    Why? By definition, a miracle is… ah, never mind. I’m as literal about that as about the omni.

    Same as with this discussion about omnipotence, I’ve had discussions about what constitutes a miracle, and it goes in a similar vein.

    Modern apologists generally defend a puny type of god that can work ineffably, such that a miracle is basically any event that is particularly helpful or particularly unusual. And miracles are restricted to good type events (like the crash someone escapes uninjured) instead of the other type (oops… fell into the boiling mud pit. Ouchies!).

    Cowards, they. A proper miracle is something like the Flood, or the parting of the Red Sea.

    (I seen it! Courtesy of Cecil B. DeMille)

  118. John Morales says

    Oh, right. And the particular god-construct at hand is not even omnibenevolent.

    That is to say, by the same sort of rules of puniness — and I mean, logical rules, physical rules, none can be breached by the puny deity — it is quite benevolent. But only as benevolent as reality allows it to be.

    That particular aspect amuses me the most.

    (Me, I’m benevolent too. And, also, I’m not omnibenevolent. So that again is something I share with that god)

  119. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit

    In philosophy […] the term “bullshit” is sometimes used to specifically refer to statements produced without particular concern for truth, clarity, or meaning […] the liar tells untruth, the bullshitter aims to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true

  120. John Morales says

    In philosophy […] the term “bullshit” is sometimes used to specifically refer to statements produced without particular concern for truth, clarity, or meaning

    <snicker>

    In this reality, sure. In our world.

    But what about every single possible world, including the world without anything at all?

    I mean, once we’ve entered the territory of ‘possible worlds’, we’re in the Bog of Confusion.

  121. says

    Geez, John, willya give it a rest already?! Some of us are waiting for Perry Hendricks to come back and show us all where we and PZ are wrong. We’re sure he’s gonna show up any day now, and we wouldn’t want his gems of wisdom to be buried among your endless comments, would we? /s

  122. says

    Oh wait, a universe where Christian apologists can show us where we’re wrong is probably one of those “counterfactual worlds” you’re talking about. Sorry, I criticized you in the wrong universe. Carry on then…

  123. says

    On second third thought, isn’t this supposed to be The Best of All Possible Worlds? And in The Best of All Possible Worlds, wouldn’t Christian apologists be totally able and willing to show exactly how atheists are dead wrong about the all-wise Creator of The Best of All Possible Worlds? So this SHOULD be the right universe to expect Perry Hendricks to show us where we’re wrong, right?

  124. KG says

    John Morales@123,
    Whatever you say, Gandalf doesn’t exist. When mythicists claim Jesus didn’t exist, they don’t mean no-one ever thought about such a person, do they? You could have just admitted: “OK, my claim that for anything to be said about something, it must exist” was too simple, and refined it, but no, you had to double down, perhaps because you recognised that that would mean admitting that since people have conceived of the possibility that there might be nothing at all, one can indeed say something about that possibility.

    If you think it’s meaningless, then for you it is.

    More drivel. The point is that if you want to use a formal language, you need to use it correctly if the expression you use is to mean anything. You wanted to show off by using FOPC (with equality), but you got it wrong.

    If you want to assert that logic necessarily works the same in every possible world, feel free.

    You just don’t understand the relationship between formal logics (there’s no such thing as “logic” in the sense you require for your assertion to make sense) and what could exist. The former don’t “work” in the sense of making things possible or impossible, sound logics (those which are truth-preserving) describe what is possible or impossible, more or less adequately.

    Rob Grigjanis@124,
    I didn’t address your point because it’s irrelevant to what I’ve been saying. But if you insist: electrons can be distinguished by where and when they exist, i.e. by their spatio-temporal relationships. Possible worlds can’t, although they could be distinguished by whether they include space andor time and if so, what the properties and relationship of these are.

  125. KG says

    Incidentally, John, fictional entities are not the same as abstract ones. Numbers and other mathematical entities are abstract, but they are not fictional. What actually exists in the case of fictional entities are simply the descriptions of those entities, which have sense but no reference. But these descriptions are not abstract: they are created at specific times and places, in a particular language, and with other contingent properties.

  126. KG says

    Anyway.
    I’m pretty darn sure the Abrahamic omni type god template isn’t constrained by the laws of logic, never mind of what is possible. Not that puny. – John Morales@128

    Of course – because it’s a fictional entity. All that exists are the descriptions of it, and these are not constrained to be free of self-contradiction, because they have no referent. (Possible worlds can be regarded as a subset of existing or potential fictional entities – those which are free of self-contradiction. So there is no possible world in which the Trinity exists, or in which Jesus was “wholly God and wholly man”.)

  127. John Morales says

    Whatever you say, Gandalf doesn’t exist.

    Yet the idea of Gandalf exists, whatever you say.

    The point is that if you want to use a formal language, you need to use it correctly if the expression you use is to mean anything. You wanted to show off by using FOPC (with equality), but you got it wrong.

    Either it’s meaningless or it’s wrong. Can’t be both.
    More to the point, I wanted to make a point without using natural language; whether it was a well formed formula or not.

    You just don’t understand the relationship between formal logics (there’s no such thing as “logic” in the sense you require for your assertion to make sense) and what could exist.

    You, however, “understand” that logic is the very same in all possible worlds, since it could not be any other way in any other world. Fine. So much for the idea that different worlds will be different.

    (Is logic the same in the null world you think qualifies as a world?
    After all, there is nothing there that equals itself, there being nothing there)

    Incidentally, John, fictional entities are not the same as abstract ones.

    They only exist in as an idea. That much is the same, and the concept at hand is existence.

    (Does kjryew mubed exist?)

    Numbers and other mathematical entities are abstract, but they are not fictional.

    You’re a devotee of “it from bit”, are you?
    If you want to dispute me, you should show why you think fictional things are not abstract things, or don’t exist.

    Of course – because it’s a fictional entity.

    So, it exists as a fiction. An idea.

  128. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @139:

    electrons can be distinguished by where and when they exist, i.e. by their spatio-temporal relationships.

    There’s a reason fundamental particles are called indistinguishable. If a system of n electrons (which are fermions) is described by a wave function Ψ, the wave function is antisymmetric under exchange of any two electrons. A sign change is not observable. So all the electrons in the system are, indeed, indistinguishable.

    As I noted earlier, the situation for bosons is even clearer. One can have a system of n bosons in which all n are in the same quantum state. So you don’t even have the (invalid) “distinguished by their spatio-temporal relationships” argument in this case.

  129. KG says

    John Morales@142,

    Yet the idea of Gandalf exists, whatever you say.

    I have not, of course, denied it. But the idea of Gandalf is not Gandalf, and Gandalf doesn’t exist. Tell me, do you think the idea of Donald Trump is Donald Trump?

    Either it’s meaningless or it’s wrong. Can’t be both.

    Saying “you got it wrong” meant you got your attempt to show off by using a formal language wrong, not that the content of your pseudo-expression was wrong – because it didn’t have any.

    More to the point, I wanted to make a point without using natural language; whether it was a well formed formula or not.

    And you failed. What you produced was just a meaningless sequence of symbols.

    You, however, “understand” that logic is the very same in all possible worlds, since it could not be any other way in any other world.

    You persist in your erroneous belief that there is something called “logic” which if it was different, might allow the existence of things which are not equal to themselves. There isn’t. Your problem here is one of reification. There are specific formal logics, and there is “logic” as a domain of enquiry, which didn’t exist until there were people to undertake it. That’s all.

    Fine. So much for the idea that different worlds will be different.

    Er… what? Possible worlds can differ from each other in infinite, perhaps uncountable ways. But I think you’re just being silly because you know you’ve lost the argument.

    If you want to dispute me, you should show why you think fictional things are not abstract things, or don’t exist.

    I already have, @140. That you’re too stubborn to admit you understand the point is not something I can do anything about.

    Rob Grigjanis@143,
    So you’re claiming one can’t distinguish an electron, or boson, on Earth from one on Mars by the fact that one is on Earth and the other on Mars?

    So you don’t even have the (invalid) “distinguished by their spatio-temporal relationships” argument in this case.

    On what grounds do you claim this is an invalid way of distinguishing things?

  130. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @144:

    So you’re claiming one can’t distinguish an electron, or boson, on Earth from one on Mars by the fact that one is on Earth and the other on Mars?

    Yes. If you exchanged the two electrons, you would have the same state, to within an unobservable sign. But never mind that. All I need is two bosons in exactly the same state to make nonsense of the argument that indistinguishability implies uniqueness.

  131. John Morales says

    KG:

    I have not, of course, denied it. But the idea of Gandalf is not Gandalf, and Gandalf doesn’t exist.

    You’re just going in circles. Things that exist in our imagination exist, was the point.
    The idea of KG is not KG, but KG does exist.

    Saying “you got it wrong” meant you got your attempt to show off by using a formal language wrong, not that the content of your pseudo-expression was wrong – because it didn’t have any.
    […]
    What you produced was just a meaningless sequence of symbols.

    Fine, let’s see if I can get the parser happy, by using its own suggestion:
    (∃x: x ∈ ∅) ≡ (¬∃x: x=x)

    You persist in your erroneous belief that there is something called “logic” which if it was different, might allow the existence of things which are not equal to themselves. There isn’t.

    Logic is an idea. A set of axioms and a set of inference rules. And, however much you say otherwise, ideas exist as abstractions. And ideas include numbers, and sets, and other such concepts.

    There are specific formal logics, and there is “logic” as a domain of enquiry, which didn’t exist until there were people to undertake it. That’s all.

    In our reality. Who knows about other possible worlds?

    (Well, except the null world, no domain there about which to inquire)

    Er… what? Possible worlds can differ from each other in infinite, perhaps uncountable ways. But I think you’re just being silly because you know you’ve lost the argument.

    Hardly. It’s just that you think it can only be a possible world if it makes sense according to what you know of our own world.

    I already have, @140. That you’re too stubborn to admit you understand the point is not something I can do anything about.

    Nope; you got confused and wrote “Incidentally, John, fictional entities are not the same as abstract ones.” to try to dispute my “If a fiction is something, it exists as an abstract entity.”
    You could try to understand my point, which was not that all abstractions are fictions, but that all fictions are abstractions. Though I could argue that point, too.

  132. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@145,

    If you exchanged the two electrons, you would have the same state, to within an unobservable sign.

    And how would you go about that? If all the particles on Mars are indistinguishable from particles on Earth, how is it that Mars and Earth are in different places?

    All I need is two bosons in exactly the same state to make nonsense of the argument that indistinguishability implies uniqueness.

    Ah! Now I understand what you’re getting that. But this goes to why I said your point @99 was irrelevant. Possible worlds are abstract entities, specified by a set of propositions, not concrete ones like particles. So any “two” possible worlds specified by exactly the same (complete*) set of propositions are actually one. As I said @101:

    As for there being only one such possible world, think of the empty set: there’s only one, or to put it another way, “any two” empty sets are the very same mathematical entity.

    Or do you believe your boson example proves there are multiple empty sets? If so, you should publish!

    *Generally, a set of propositions will specify a set of many distinct possible worlds, because it will leave room for more propositions to be added in different ways. But in the case of the null possible world:

    ¬∃x: x=x

    leaves no room to add anything more.

  133. John Morales says

    But in the case of the null possible world:

    ¬∃x: x=x

    leaves no room to add anything more.

    ∃x: x ∈ ∅

    (The null world is the same as the null set is the same as the bicycle without a bicycle)

  134. KG says

    You could try to understand my point, which was not that all abstractions are fictions, but that all fictions are abstractions. – John Morales@146

    I’ll concede that point, but it’s a side issue. Here’s my fiction about the null possible world in natural language – the FOPC with equality expression repeated @148 is clearer:

    Nothing has ever existed or happened, nor ever will. The End

    Otherwise, you’re just repeating the same nonsense, so I’ll leave the discussion with you at this point.

  135. KG says

    John Morales@151,
    You really should give up trying to use formal languages, because you’re crap at it.

    ∃x: x ∈ ∅

    is necessarily false, while:

    ¬∃x: x=x

    is contingent – true in one possible world, false in all the rest.

  136. John Morales says

    Well yes, KG. That was the point.
    The expression is necessarily false indeed, and so it follows that no such x exists.

    (In our world, anyway)

    the FOPC with equality expression repeated @148 is clearer:

    Nothing has ever existed or happened, nor ever will. The End

    Otherwise, you’re just repeating the same nonsense, so I’ll leave the discussion with you at this point.

    Right, right. It could not be the case that in some possible world, some things do not equal themselves unless that is a non-world with nothing as its distinguishing feature, because the law of identity most definitely (by definition, even!) applies to all possible worlds.

    Indeed, been through all this.

    And yes, we’re both repeating ourselves. :)

  137. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @148:

    And how would you go about that?

    It’s a mathematical (abstract, if you like) relationship. The spin-statistics theorem says that the wave function of a system of identical integer-spin particles has the same value when the positions of any two particles are swapped, while the wave function of a system of identical half-odd-integer–spin particles changes sign when two particles are swapped.

    Possible worlds are abstract entities, specified by a set of propositions, not concrete ones like particles.

    Ah, so possible worlds don’t include possible concrete worlds. My confusion goes back to your #98 (my bolding):

    There is as far as I can see nothing logically problematic in assuming that there might have been nothing at all – and yes, that means no particles, no fields, no spacetime, no physical laws

    That “there might have been” seems to be pointing at some sort of…concreteness?

  138. John Morales says

    Something else I perceive: people imagine the “laws” of logic(s) are somehow more basic than physical laws.
    Or, some hold both these views simultaneously:
    (1) miracles that change tangible reality and counterdict physical law? No worries.
    (2) miracles where the law of logic or of math is breached? Nah. Not doable.

    And so, let’s go back to simpler times:


  139. John Morales says

    [ack! Not a well formed abbreviation tag. Perhaps oddly to some, it clearly was wrong but yet not meaningless]

  140. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @156: I’ve always found Feynman’s lecture style annoying. He obviously has the main themes written down, but most of the spoken words are off the cuff, and he’s not very good at that. It affects how well he gets ideas across.

  141. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@155,

    It’s a mathematical (abstract, if you like) relationship. The spin-statistics theorem says that the wave function of a system of identical integer-spin particles has the same value when the positions of any two particles are swapped

    But you can’t actually do it – so wouldn’t one of the particles would still be on Mars, the other on Earth? One would be part of systems of particles including only particles on Mars, the other part of systems of particles including only particles on Earth, in addition to the system(s) they are both part of.

    That “there might have been” seems to be pointing at some sort of…concreteness?

    No. The null world is a logical possibility, i.e. conceivable without self-contradiction. A “world” where 4 is a prime number is not. I’m not sure about one where John Morales talks sense.

  142. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @159:

    But you can’t actually do it – so wouldn’t one of the particles would still be on Mars, the other on Earth?

    Yes, but a “possible world” in which two of the particles were exchanged (I can conceive that without self-contradiction, right?) would be indistinguishable from this one.

    I think the issue might have to do with the logical rules you are using being classical ones. There are statements which are true classically, but not (necessarily) true in quantum logic.

    So, the idea that two objects cannot be identical is a classical one (e.g. they can’t be in the same place at the same time, etc).

    For example, the propositional distributive law

    A and (B or C) = (A and B) or (A and C)

    can be false if the propositions involve quantum properties.

    See also Bell inequalities, which are satisfied in classical logic, but not necessarily in quantum mechanics.

  143. John Morales says

    The null world is a logical possibility, i.e. conceivable without self-contradiction.

    No, it isn’t. Well, not any more than a bicycle without wheels or frame or anything at all.
    Been through all this already.

    (Nothing is not something, and not existing is not a form of existence)

  144. KG says

    John Morales@161,
    The fact that you can’t conceive something doesn’t imply that it’s inconceivable.

  145. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@160,

    Yes, but a “possible world” in which two of the particles were exchanged (I can conceive that without self-contradiction, right?) would be indistinguishable from this one.

    Since exactly the same propositions would be true in that possible world as in the actually existing one, I think that possible world would not be distinct from the possible world instantiated in the actually existing one.

    As for quantum logic, it seems still to be a matter of debate whether such a thing is actually necessary or useful:

    If we put aside scruples about “measurement” as a primitive term in physical theory, and accept a principled distinction between “testable” and non-testable properties, then the fact that L(H) is not Boolean is unremarkable, and carries no implication about logic per se. Quantum mechanics is, on this view, a theory about the possible statistical distributions of outcomes of certain measurements, and its non-classical “logic” simply reflects the fact that not all observable phenomena can be observed simultaneously. Because of this, the set of probability-bearing events (or propositions) is less rich than it would be in classical probability theory, and the set of possible statistical distributions, accordingly, less tightly constrained. That some “non-classical” probability distributions allowed by this theory are actually manifested in nature is perhaps surprising, but in no way requires any deep shift in our understanding of logic or, for that matter, of probability.

    However, if we do accept the need for a “quantum logic” it would seem to be strictly weaker than classical logic, e.g. if you cannot deduce from A and (B or C) that (A and B) or (A and C). If that is so, any possible world permitted by classical logic would be permitted by quantum logic (which doesn’t mean it would be permitted by quantum field theory, which is a theory about the physical world, not about what sets of propositions are free from self-contradiction). So the “null world” would not fall foul of quantum logic.

  146. John Morales says

    John Morales@161,
    The fact that you can’t conceive something doesn’t imply that it’s inconceivable.

    You forgot the conditional bit: “without self-contradiction”.
    You talk about a possible lack of anything as something: a world, in this case.
    That’s pretty darn contradictory, though you don’t get that.

    Again: in what sense can a world without anything (existence is something) exist?
    Or: How is it any different from anything else that does not exist?

    The fact that you can’t get what I’m expressing does not mean it’s meaningless or even wrong.

  147. KG says

    Jesus wept John, you really are being considerably more stupid than usual. I understand what you are saying perfectly well, but it’s just confused, because you obstinately insist on misunderstanding what is meant by “possible world”, and don’t know how to use FOPC.

  148. John Morales says

    you obstinately insist on misunderstanding what is meant by “possible world”

    As with all such philosophical abstractions, there is a range of views about the concept.

    and don’t know how to use FOPC

    And yet I got a distinction in that module, back in the day. Crank the handle, get the answer, was great!

    You keep thinking I tried to write some sort of well formed formula as part of some argument, where it was about expressing ideas outside normal language and therefore less ambiguously, and stayed hung up on that.

    Jesus wept John, you really are being considerably more stupid than usual.

    Such a disappointment I am! Heh.

    In passing, “The IEEE floating-point standard requires that NaN ≠ NaN hold.”, quoth Wikipedia.

    (For fun)

  149. says

    Still waiting for confirmation as to whether we’re in The Best of All Possible Worlds. Oh well, happy Winter-Solstice-Adjacent-Holiday of y’all’s choice, whether or not it makes any difference in your specific reality…

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