Science proves it all?

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Science proves it all?

Postby Mu » Mon Feb 19, 2007 9:19 pm

In the Atheism vs. agnosticism thread I found this a very well written statement that I think nevertheless misses the point. I moved it here since I didn't want to derail the thread.

Kazim wrote:As a scientist, I have devoted my career to mastering the only reliable way we have of knowing the universe: the empirical method, the combination of theory and observation propounded by 17th and 18th Century philosophers like Galileo, Locke, Newton, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and their successors. We construct our understanding by working from the simple to the complex. We understand atoms in terms of elementary particles and their forces, such as quarks, leptons, gluons, and photons. We understand molecules and chemistry in terms of atoms and their interactions. We understand biology in terms of the underlying chemistry and its emergent properties. We understand intelligence in terms of the complex interactions of the underlying neurological or electronic substrate.

Of all the things we know of in the universe, the most complex is intelligence. To posit an intelligence as the creator and driving force of everything else makes no sense, since it would itself require explanation in terms of simpler underlying entities. It makes no more sense than 2 + 2 = 5. It is not incombent upon a reasonable, fair, open-minded person to remain agnostic on that point.


While it's true we understand nearly everything in the atomic and subatomic range, we have huge problems in understanding the macroscopic world. The last article I read postulated a whopping 99.6% dark matter in the universe, something we don't know anything about other than "it has to be there or our model fails and the galaxies fall apart", and mainstream seems to be aroun 70 - 90 %.
As a scientist, I find any approach that that requires a fudge factor of that magnitude highly debatable, and definitely not something I'd take as a reasoning to "deny with certainty" the existence of something out there.
I used to have the famous poster of "and God said "let there be light" followed by the Maxwell equations on my office wall. Was a great conversation starter and joke, till I realized that actually that was the one thing I didn't know how to disprove. After all, science confirms it all started with a big bang, in a flash so to say.
Combine that with the notion that the whole structure of the universe today, from the imbalance between matter and anit-matter to the formation of galaxy clusters and differences in the cosmic background radiation, is deducted from "anisotropies" in the first moments of existence and you end up with really not needing much of a "creative influence" to have set all that what we can prove today in motion. Some invisible influence. not being discernible from the effect of something as postulated as dark matter. Somehow I find the argument of "we know the gravity that hold the galaxy together is so and so, and we only should have such and such from visible matter, so there HAS to be dark matter we don't understand yet" not any more convincing as a "that's God's influence holding the universe together". Both lack a substantial amount of proof.
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Re: Science proves it all?

Postby Sans_Deity » Tue Feb 20, 2007 4:21 pm

Mu wrote:In the Atheism vs. agnosticism thread I found this a very well written statement that I think nevertheless misses the point.


I'm not sure where you think the quoted passage misses the point. I didn't find anything in your response that identifies a flaw in what you quoted. What you seem to have done is simply re-frame the question of explaining origins in terms of what we don't know and can't disprove - which, to me, seems very un-scientific:

Mu wrote:I used to have the famous poster of "and God said "let there be light" followed by the Maxwell equations on my office wall. Was a great conversation starter and joke, till I realized that actually that was the one thing I didn't know how to disprove.


That is the beginning of an argument from incredulity and you touch on this again near the end of your post, but I'll address that a bit later. You do make some fine points that need to be addressed, though I think they have little to do with the point Kazim's passage made...

You're not alone in you concerns about dark matter and, while I'm no expert, you seem to have described the issue fairly and included a fair objection:

Mu wrote:As a scientist, I find any approach that that requires a fudge factor of that magnitude highly debatable,...


But you make a huge mistake by adding to that objection:

Mu wrote: and definitely not something I'd take as a reasoning to "deny with certainty" the existence of something out there.


This addition (continuing the formation of your argument from incredulity) implies that unless we're absolutely certain of answer X (scientific explanation), we're wrong to deny answer Y (God did it). It also misrepresents two very important points:

1. You imply, by the phrase "deny with certainty" that we're talking about absolute certainty - we're actually talking about some "degree" of certainty

2. I don't know any atheists who use dark matter as the hinge-pin justification for their disbelief. It's certainly not the justification in the passage you quoted. Your appeal to the dark matter issue seems to be a red herring - a specific example of the more general issue: a gap in our knowledge

Mu wrote:Somehow I find the argument of "we know the gravity that hold the galaxy together is so and so, and we only should have such and such from visible matter, so there HAS to be dark matter we don't understand yet" not any more convincing as a "that's God's influence holding the universe together". Both lack a substantial amount of proof.


Lacking substantial proof doesn't make two things similarly implausible. You have no proof that I have $20 in my wallet and no proof that fairies exist - but that doesn't making them similarly plausible/implausible. The nature of the claim is relevant, in addition to the evidence.

The dark matter answer may require sufficiently more evidence to be convincing, to you - and I applaud (and may even share) that skepticism. However, in my opinion, you're missing the point of the passage you quoted and taking quite a leap by asserting that the 'dark matter' claim and the 'God's influence' claim are similarly implausible.

First of all, the dark matter explanation relies on observation, evidence, mathematics and natural explanations that adhere to our understanding of how the universe works; an understanding that continually proves reliable by independent confirmation. While it may be positing things that are poorly understood, it's doing so within the framework of things that are pretty well understood. It may also wind up being completely wrong - and that won't make the 'god-answer' any more correct.

The God hypothesis is simply a non-answer that violates that understanding - by appealing to the incredible and supernatural. It's simply a way of saying "I don't know" and still feeling like you have a real answer.

No matter how unproven or silly you may consider the dark matter answer - to say that it is "no more convincing" than the God hypothesis is to depend on a bias which considers the supernatural as plausible as the natural.

Lastly, the passage you quoted wasn't addressing a model of the universe with regard to dark matter, it addressed our understanding that complex things have simpler beginnings and that positing an intelligence as the origin of existence is a direct violation of this principle.

Dawkins included a very strong explanation of this in "The God Delusion" and I won't try to top him but, in a nutsell; however complex the universe is, any intelligence we would posit as an explanation of the origins of the universe must be more complex than that. If we trace backward in time, we tend to move from the complex to the simple - right up to the singularity.

We have no idea why there's "something" instead of "nothing" - but we do a pretty good job of explaining the "something". Positing a complex "something else" as the explanation for origins is an assertion which is not only unjustified, but directly violates everything we've come to understand about the universe. It's also, as I pointed out, the beginnings of an argument from incredulity.

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Re: Science proves it all?

Postby Mu » Tue Feb 20, 2007 4:35 pm

Sans_Deity wrote:First of all, the dark matter explanation relies on observation, evidence, mathematics and natural explanations that adhere to our understanding of how the universe works; an understanding that continually proves reliable by independent confirmation. While it may be positing things that are poorly understood, it's doing so within the framework of things that are pretty well understood. It may also wind up being completely wrong - and that won't make the 'god-answer' any more correct.


Sorry, it's based on mathematics and observations - but not on understanding. We see it, we calculate - and than have to postulate dark matter to make the things fit. Going back to the "I believe what I see" = we ain't seeing anything, and that is exactly the problem.

Dawkins included a very strong explanation of this in "The God Delusion" and I won't try to top him but, in a nutsell; however complex the universe is, any intelligence we would posit as an explanation of the origins of the universe must be more complex than that. If we trace backward in time, we tend to move from the complex to the simple - right up to the singularity.


My point is always - and was what before the singularity? The singularity came from somewhere - you can use Steven Hawkins new multiverse theory, you can theorize it's coming from nothing, you can blame a God. We simply can't view past (or before) that point, and that makes any explanation as good as the God one. And the main common property about most Gods is that they are outside time - so the argument misses the point. If a god exists and if a god had a hand in creation - than it naturally is more complex than the universe.

I always liked this article on where science is at a loss right now. Interestingly you can explain half of them with a little bit of nudging by some superior being at the moment of the big bang much easier than most of the science we came up with so far.
To paraphrase a question made in another post here "when did you become an atheist", in my case it's more about "when did you start doubting you're an atheist". I believe most serious scientists go through that intellectual phase where there are damn sure about everything - then they learn more about how little they know.
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Re: Science proves it all?

Postby Sans_Deity » Tue Feb 20, 2007 5:08 pm

Mu wrote:Sorry, it's based on mathematics and observations - but not on understanding. We see it, we calculate - and than have to postulate dark matter to make the things fit. Going back to the "I believe what I see" = we ain't seeing anything, and that is exactly the problem.


That may (or may not, I'm not an expert) be a problem with the dark matter theory, but that is irrelevant to whether or not a god-hypothesis is plausible. The failings of one theory don't make another one credible.

My point is always - and was what before the singularity? The singularity came from somewhere - you can use Steven Hawkins new multiverse theory, you can theorize it's coming from nothing, you can blame a God. We simply can't view past (or before) that point, and that makes any explanation as good as the God one.


Agreed - we don't know, and that is my point. You're making an argument from incredulity/ignorance. You're implying that because we're unable to know the actual answer, because we lack complete and perfect understanding, positing a god becomes reasonable or plausible.

That's simply not true. It's a "god of the gaps" argument.

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Postby Mu » Tue Feb 20, 2007 5:53 pm

Agreed. For me a God whose existence is proven (or disproven) looses any meaning as a religious figure. It becomes a fact of life to deal with. I'm no longer following it out of my "free will", a proof of Gods existence would mean I have no choice but to accept a superior being ordering me to do its will.
I might just rebel out of principle. So rebelling against an entity that can kickstart entire universes seems kinda pointless.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Wed Feb 21, 2007 2:04 am

Mu wrote:Agreed. For me a God whose existence is proven (or disproven) looses any meaning as a religious figure. It becomes a fact of life to deal with. I'm no longer following it out of my "free will", a proof of Gods existence would mean I have no choice but to accept a superior being ordering me to do its will.


I understand what you're saying, but it clearly wouldn't violate your free will and you demonstrate this in your next sentence:

Mu wrote:I might just rebel out of principle. So rebelling against an entity that can kickstart entire universes seems kinda pointless.


This is a point I've raise in opposition to Christian claims about free will. The basic argument is that god can't really reveal himself to us in any obvious way because then we'd actually *know* he exists and that would violate our free will to choose.

That's nonsense and their own theology proves it. Clearly, if Christian orthodoxy is correct, Satan is *absolutely certain* that God exists - yet he still rebelled. He must have the greatest possible understanding of God's nature (outside of God) - and yet he still chose to reject God and go out on his own.

If the Christian God, for example, were to visit me and prove his existence, I would certainly have no choice but to believe - but I wouldn't have to worship, agree, pray, follow, etc.

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Postby Carneades » Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:21 pm

On the subject of dark matter you need to have a little patience, Mu. It takes time to develop deep understanding of new phenomena especially since the realms we are now exploring are so very different from the human-scale physics that we are familiar with. That we even have questions about dark matter is a tribute to the power of the scientific methodology without which we would remain ignorant of the very existence of this aspect of the material world.

Still we have made significant progress even on this front. A few decades ago we weren't even aware that dark matter might exist, and yet today we can use gravitational lensing effects to map dark matter on galactic scales.

Here is one of the coolest images I've ever seen and here is a brief explanation of the theoretical significance of the data.
"We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars..." -Carl Sagan
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Postby Mu » Wed Feb 21, 2007 5:30 pm

Oh, I'm very curious about how the dark matter will turn out. I don't doubt the effect we're observing.
My beef is more with the attitude of "we understand the universe" that some people like to display. I think there's plenty to wonder leftover :).
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Postby Carneades » Thu Feb 22, 2007 10:50 am

Mu wrote:Oh, I'm very curious about how the dark matter will turn out. I don't doubt the effect we're observing.
My beef is more with the attitude of "we understand the universe" that some people like to display.


Then I guess I don't understand the point of your original post. I don't see anything in the quote from Kazim that indicates that he believes we completely understand every aspect of reality.

On the other hand, as you stated, we do understand some aspects of reality quite well, and I think it is important that we acknowledge those areas as much as those which are still unexplored. As Sans-Deity points out, to consider gods, fairies, or genies as serious explanations for natural phenomena is to disregard much of what we do know.

I think there's plenty to wonder leftover :).


I agree that there is plenty of wonder in the world, but I strongly disagree with your implication that wonder can only flourish where ignorance rules. Understanding the universe doesn't remove wonder - it enhances it. The colors of a rainbow are beautiful and the immensity of such an arch is awe-inspiring. I am affected by these things as much as anyone. But since I also have a fairly good understanding of both the physics behind the image and the biology which enables me to perceive it, I get to experience wonder on several additional levels.
"We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars..." -Carl Sagan
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Postby Mu » Thu Feb 22, 2007 3:15 pm

let me make another attempt then
To posit an intelligence as the creator and driving force of everything else makes no sense, since it would itself require explanation in terms of simpler underlying entities.

This sentence has a serious mental error in it. Why would a being that can create universes need to be able to be explained in form of simpler entities? Some things are forces of the universe, like gravity (where people for years have tried to find a graviton, analog to the photon) and magnetism (where we can't find the magnetic monopole). Or, if you like a non-supernatural definition, there is a theory of the universe eternally expanding and collapsing. Is it utterly unbelievable that in a multitude of these events one intelligent civilization managed to escape that cycle and as such could have influenced the creation of the next universe?
The is also
It makes no more sense than 2 + 2 = 5.

2+2=4 is a man made definition. Give me a 100 years and a 1000 man with glowing hot pokers to convince those slow on the uptake, and I have the world redefine 2+2 to 5 with no problem at all. If proving the existence of God would be that easy.
The final statement is
It is not incombent upon a reasonable, fair, open-minded person to remain agnostic on that point.

(which was earlier defined as one who believes that we do not and cannot know whether there is (or was) such a god)
When I state that you cannot NOT know, that, removing the double negative, means I KNOW. And that, in a world that can't even explain why the galaxies don't fly apart and needs dark energy to explain the expansion of the universe, is preposterous.
Matt always gets upset when I equal vehement atheists with fundamentalist baptists in the way they argue an exclusive knowledge of "the truth". This article was a prime example.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:54 pm

Mu wrote:let me make another attempt then
To posit an intelligence as the creator and driving force of everything else makes no sense, since it would itself require explanation in terms of simpler underlying entities.

This sentence has a serious mental error in it. Why would a being that can create universes need to be able to be explained in form of simpler entities?


Because that's the model that continually proves true and useful...we have endless examples of complex things resulting from simpler origins. Any assertion that a complex being exists(existed) without simpler origins is an absurdity that will need to be proven, not simply asserted. Just as if someone asserted that gravity repels.

Mu wrote:Is it utterly unbelievable that in a multitude of these events one intelligent civilization managed to escape that cycle and as such could have influenced the creation of the next universe?


And that civilization would *require* an explanation. Positing a complex creator, whether a god or alien, only prompts a new question about their origins. Given that they are complex, we would expect the explanation to be consistent with what we know of the universe, and that their complexity is the result of simpler beginnings.

If, in fact, their complexity is NOT the result of simpler beginnings, that would be a significant paradigm shift and would require much evidence.

Considering the fact that we have no evidence of a hypothetical civilization or a god, it's absurd to assert they exist and even *more* absurd to claim that their existence might be a violation of the "simple leads to complex" natural order.

Mu wrote:2+2=4 is a man made definition. Give me a 100 years and a 1000 man with glowing hot pokers to convince those slow on the uptake, and I have the world redefine 2+2 to 5 with no problem at all.


And after that 100 years, the statement would have read "2+2=5"...because the author was talking about what IS, in an 'essential' sense, not what label we choose to put on it.

You can change the labels, but two items added to two other items will always equal four items. Even if you chose to call it five. It's axiomatic and its ontology isn't dependeny upon the labels you assign.

Which is the point the author was making - claiming that some complex intelligence exists without any origin or with some explanation that doesn't match the simple->complex model, is fundamentally absurd.

Mu wrote:
It is not incombent upon a reasonable, fair, open-minded person to remain agnostic on that point.

(which was earlier defined as one who believes that we do not and cannot know whether there is (or was) such a god)
When I state that you cannot NOT know, that, removing the double negative, means I KNOW. And that, in a world that can't even explain why the galaxies don't fly apart and needs dark energy to explain the expansion of the universe, is preposterous.


No offense, but you're going to have to be clearer here. I *think* I follow what you're saying, but I'm not certain.

I will, however, go back to one of my original points - you're talking about knowledge as "absolute certainty". We're not...because that is a completely useless frame of reference.

Mu wrote:Matt always gets upset when I equal vehement atheists with fundamentalist baptists in the way they argue an exclusive knowledge of "the truth". This article was a prime example.


No, it wasn't, you just haven't understood what the author wrote.

You continually misrepresent the atheist position, even after many conversations in private and on the forum.

We're not making statements of "absolute certainty", we don't claim to have absolute truth - we're REJECTING claims of that nature. Some of us, in addition to pointing out why "lack of belief" is justified, go a step further and point out that "belief there is no god" is also justified - but only in the same sense that "belief there are no pixies" is justified.

Fundamentalist Baptists are making a positive claim about the true nature of reality. Their claims lack any evidenciary support and are in direct contradiction to scientific observations, evidence and reasoned argument.

You're buying into the common misconception that atheists are claiming "we're absolutely certain that there's absolutely no god".

That's a strawman.

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Postby Sans_Deity » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:19 pm

Here's an article that is relevant to this discussion. Maybe.

Antony Flew is a deist, who used to be an atheist. Oddly, he seems to admit that his conversion to deism was based on a convoluted set of arguments from ignorance and religion masquerading as science.

The relevant part comes at the end where Victor J. Stenger writes:

They assert that a complex system can only arise out of something with high intelligence. Although complexity is difficult to define, we can reasonably expect a highly intelligent entity to be highly complex. Thus, it can only have arisen out of something even more intelligent and complex, in infinite regress. It’s Intelligent Designers all the way down, not Aristotle’s first cause, as Flew seems to think.

Fortunately, we can avoid an infinite regress. We can just stop at the world. There is no reason why the physical universe cannot be it’s own first cause. As we know from both everyday experience and sophisticated scientific observations, complex systems develop from simpler systems all the time in nature—with not even low intelligence required. A mist of water vapor can freeze into a snowflake. Winds can carve out great cathedrals in rock. Brontosaurs can evolve from bacteria.

And our relatively complex universe could have arisen out of the entity that is the simplest and most mindless of all—the void.



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Postby Carneades » Fri Feb 23, 2007 12:53 pm

2+2=4 is a man made definition. Give me a 100 years and a 1000 man with glowing hot pokers to convince those slow on the uptake, and I have the world redefine 2+2 to 5 with no problem at all. If proving the existence of God would be that easy.


Well that ends my part of the discussion. If you believe that torturing people into making false statements will somehow make those statements true, then you are beyond reasonable discourse.
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Postby Mu » Fri Feb 23, 2007 5:19 pm

Carneades wrote:Well that ends my part of the discussion. If you believe that torturing people into making false statements will somehow make those statements true, then you are beyond reasonable discourse.


That's ok. If you don't get the fact that I was saying that you can change any man made definition by either the flow of time or the application of societal pressure you're probably better off going back to salivating over your own intellectual superiority with the exclusively "saved from the dark ages" crowd.
Kinda like the people on Rush Limbaugh who just can't see the possibility of W NOT being right.
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Postby Kazim » Fri Mar 02, 2007 12:33 am

Mu wrote:That's ok. If you don't get the fact that I was saying that you can change any man made definition by either the flow of time or the application of societal pressure you're probably better off going back to salivating over your own intellectual superiority with the exclusively "saved from the dark ages" crowd.
Kinda like the people on Rush Limbaugh who just can't see the possibility of W NOT being right.


:roll:

Sure, you could redefine numbers so that 2+2=5. The easiest way to do it would be to redefine the symbol "5" so that it means 4.

Nevertheless, you haven't changed the nature of reality, but just some words.
If you did not like the writing style in this message, then you will certainly not enjoy my blog, which is at:
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