Sunday, April 02, 2006


Here is a statement of religious belief of mine which I wrote in the comments section of my blog a little while back.

Personally, I'm not an atheist and think there probably is a sentience behind the universe, that the universe, on a macro-level, probably has a "consciousness" which "sets up the rules" like E=MC squared.

However, the Supreme Intelligence who created the rules also choose to leave his/her/its/their presence undetected by such rules of empiricism. In other words, the existence of such a supra-intelligence is not a "falsifiable hypothesis." And science is in the business of teaching only those things which are falsifiable. Thus, I don't support teaching any of the myriad of intelligent design theories in science classes. Perhaps in public school philosophy classes, but not science classes.

So I guess that puts me somewhere between agnosticism and a very unorthodox kind of theism. I spend much time on my blogs criticizing the beliefs of some traditional orthodox religions. And indeed, I think that entire portions of the Bible are so unbelievable and absurd that I question the sanity of someone who does not read stories like Noah's Ark, the Garden of Eden, Sodom and Gomorrah, as just that -- stories and metaphors.

On the other hand, I've also encountered a number of "fervent" (I got in trouble for using the term "militant") atheists who, in my eyes, are just as fanatical as fundamentalist Christians -- Richard Dawkins types.

So for the rest of this post, I'm going to criticize such "fervent" atheism.

My biggest problem is this: In discussions, they act as though the existence or non-existence of God is falsifiable and the answer has been discovered: God(s) don't exist; the material world is all there is. And then when you question them, they give often glib answers that are just as unsatisfactory as the answers given by religionists.

This post isn't going be an exhaustive critique; I'll point out a few things. First, I'm hung up on the fact that time/space/matter/and energy exist to begin with. If there is nothing beyond the material world, then nothing should exist; but something does exist. Science tells us that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. To which the atheist responds, the universe and its matter have always existed (and indeed, the big bang doesn't disprove this -- see the theory of the expanding and contracting universe). Time is infinite in both directions.

Well, I have a big logical problem with that. It's possible that time is infinite in the forward direction. But that's the thing about infinite -- you never get there. It is not logically possible, on the other hand, that time is infinite in the backward direction. That would mean that we've already "done" infinite. And infinite is a concept which is never done.

As to the issue of infinite regress, if the first cause of the universe exists outside of the time/space/matter/energy framework, then we don't need an answer as to "what caused the first cause." That's like saying, if a baker bakes a pie, then who baked the baker. Similarly it's also possible that the "first cause" is not created, didn't always exist ad infinitum, but didn't just appear out of nowhere either, because, such an entity exists outside of time, and time didn't exist until the first cause existed.

Again, I'm not saying that such a being does exist or that any of the religions have the answer, but simply that glib atheistic answers, at times, can be just as unsatisfactory, unproven and unprovable.


Karen McL said...

Ah - but similarly - my problem is not what the *truth* might be, but rather in those who claim to "KNOW" with such certainly that which is currently "unknowable" (and certainly not falsifiable as *science*).

Like you, I can see it as possible for a: "...the Supreme Intelligence who created the rules also choose to leave his/her/its/their presence undetected by such rules of empiricism. In other words, the existence of such a supra-intelligence is not a "falsifiable hypothesis." And science is in the business of teaching only those things which are falsifiable. Thus, I don't support teaching any of the myriad of intelligent design theories in science classes. Perhaps in public school philosophy classes, but not science classes."

And while one can wonder about the forces behind the universe and the world - the concept of The Divine-Hand of God taking an *interest* in human affairs seems such VANITY on the part of humans who claim it so fervently - and I particularly dislike those who try to exclude (and vilify) the beliefs of others based on these claims.

Jonathan said...

I absolutely agree that you should not be vilified for any kind of disbelief.

As to the "interest" that God, if one exists, might take. Who knows?

It's possible that God plays dice with the universe and manipulates probabilties. What I don't see is a God who intervenes by performing Miracles that break the laws of nature and science.

The Gay Species said...

I largely agree with Jonathan, but for a slightly different reason. Yes, I am an unabashed empiricist, but it is precisely that empirical bent that presents the following dilemma:

Life: How can a material thing (being) be alive at one moment and dead the next? This question does not address rocks, tables, and buildings, but it does address all sentient things (beings). Dawkins, for example, insists upon a material basis for life, pointing somewhere in space to DNA as the material explanation of "life." Well, take any living sentient being, analyze its DNA, and one can identify all the alleles that make up the double helix. But is that what makes the sentient being "alive?" One can take any cell from a dead sentient being, identify all the alleles that make up the double helix, and viola, it's the same configuration in the dead being as in the alive being.

DNA may be the foundation of all living things, but it is not the defining mark of what is either "living" or "dead." The DNA sequences are the same in either case! Not a single allele is altered when animate flesh becomes inanimate! So DNA is NOT a sufficient reason for a being being alive. Surely, it is a necessary condition, but it clearly is not a sufficient reason.

So "what" happens in that dramatic transition from life to death? Is there, in fact, a material basis to distinguish between the two very different states? Yes, in one case oxygen is taken in and carbon dioxide is exhaled, but what causes this material process to stop suddenly, as in the case of something being "alive" one moment and "dead" the next? So respiration is likewise a necessary condition, but again it is an insufficient explanation of why the two states differ.

So even a materialist such as myself must acknowledge that (1) while all living processes necessarily involve a material basis, (2) but that this material basis, whatever one includes -- DNA, respiration, autonomic nervous function, etc. -- is not a sufficient explanation of what constitutes something as "alive" versus something that is obviously "dead." Dawkins has not identified what that material basis is, nor indeed has any scientist.

Now, it's an enormous "leap of faith" to maintain that whatever this "life" is, that another "Life" must necessarily exist for the lesser "life" to exist. No such entailment follows. But materialists have reached the limit of their explanatory powers when they try to give a materialist reason for why a pulsating body is alive one moment and is moribund the next. No material explanation as yet exists. And, given that "life" is itself a central feature of the universe we know, the inability to give a material explanation for why the alive being differs from the dead one, is not a trivial failure.

Karen McL said...

Interesting point about the *anime* of life as the unexplained existence of God (or some Super-being). While it is certainly an enduring mystery – as yet unsolved and perhaps unsolvable – If that means God exists, what is the “message” and extrapolation which can be derived from that fact as it relates to anything with general religious teachings?

For instance – IF the mere existence of life is a “Godly” thing, then what’s so special making my spark of life greater than the lowliest single celled creature similarly endowed? Is it my sentience and self-knowledge alone that is greater? But yet I can apparently die just as quickly or easily – hardly making me a “better life” than anything non-sentient or other form of life. And we know life consumes other life and lives to perpetuate itself, and is easily snuffed out leaving only the detritus of that life. This (logically) would tend to argue that “life is cheap” or merely an ever changing cycle-of-life not particularly mindful of any particular form or entity as “God’s chosen”.

But for me it’s the religious attempts to derive a *meaning* or *purpose* of life from this unexplained feature which fails in its own contrived and convoluted explanations. Or in elevating Humans (and only some humans – excluding others) from these implications. In the way religious teachings try to capture something of this greater part of the whole - the more they fail. It's a human Vanity to put themselves at the apex of God's *meaning* - just as in previous times they decided the Universe revolved around the Earth (and us as humans).

David Swindle said...

"All matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves." -- Bill Hicks :-)

Whenever I'm feeling blue or having a down day I just remember that we're not just these isolated water sacks of neuroses. We can known on a very basic, quantum level that the matter/energy that makes us up used to be somewhere else, even a part of someone else.

And then there's also the question of death. In my view, something which one need not be particularly concerned. What is death? It is the point at which your chunk of the consciousness retracts back into the infinity of the universe. You become one with everything again. And in my book that's something to look forward to. Why? Because we experience a oneness with existence frequently throughout our lives. It's when we forget ourselves, stop thinking, and forget our isolation. You get that when you lose yourself in appreciating or creating art. You can get it through the use of numerous drugs from alcohol to marijuana to psychedelics. We can get it when we lose ourselves in physical exercies -- "the runner's high." Most tellingly, though is the sexual experience. The orgasm is a moment of oneness with existence. Thus what can we look forward to in death? Yes, you're right: a neverending orgasm.

On a completely other subject... Jon, when are you going to share your thoughts on "V for Vendetta"?! My review is at, though the review will be replaced with my "Inside Man" review on Thursday. At which point I'll post it on my movie review blog:

Jonathan said...

Excellent point David. I wasn't going to blog on V because even though I enjoyed it, I didn't think it was so spectacular that I had anything original to say about it.

I'll check your piece out and perhaps react to it.

Karen McL said...

Well - I liked "V" but haven't read a review yet to really capture it.

Have to check out yours David.