Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A ridiculous conception of God.

As a preliminary readers might be interested in another blog entry by myself where I make an analogy between our minds and God's mind. 

I want to employ and extend an analogy I first used here to try and dispel some of the apparent misunderstanding between atheists and, at least some, theists.

Let's suppose that in the future the bots in a computer game become conscious. Some bots think their world (computer game environment) is designed and a creation of some intelligence, others do not (let's call them atheists).

The atheist bots assume that should there be a creator/designer of their world, then it must be some entity within their computer game environment. That is to say any designer must either equate effectively to some particularly coloured pixels, or failing this to at least influence the environment in some way. However since no such coloured pixels have ever been detected, and their world operates according to discernible rules (physical laws), they regard it as being highly unreasonable to believe in the existence of a designer.  Certainly if there is such a designer then the onus is upon those who suppose he exists to supply some evidence for his existence.

However many of the theist bots think that this concept of a designer is utterly ridiculous and think of a designer in the correct sense -- namely a computer programmer who exists outside of their reality (game world) altogether.  However they do disagree and quarrel about the name and personality of the designer (programmer).

The take home message from this analogy is that we should really try to get away from the ideas that should a "God" exist then he/it is some entity which exists within reality, and that he/it intervenes with physical laws (a so-called "God of the gaps").  It is just as ludicrous for us to entertain such a conception of "God" as it is for the bots to entertain such a conception of a designer for their game world.  Moreover, for the bots, the question of whether a designer exists, is not a question which could be answered by their science.  Their science deals with the regularities of their world and therefore could only address the concept of a designer should that designer exist within their reality.  The exact same applies to us.  The question of whether there is a creator, where that creator exists outside our physical reality, is not in principle something which could be addressed by our science. It is a purely metaphysical issue.

In addition, although the disagreements between the various religions might at some level be interesting, this really doesn't have any implications for the existence of some type of "God", at least not if we construe such a "God" in the minimal sense as a creator or designer of our world.  Compare this to the scenario where the bots disagree about the name and personality of the computer programmer.  It would be absurd to maintain that this suggests that no one created their world at all!

This conception of "God" as being wholly outside of our physical reality, or that our physical reality exists "within" God, also dispenses with the  requirement that it is
incumbent upon the theist to demonstrate that a creator exists. Why?  First of all we need to understand why the burden of proof is normally on those who claim that something exists.

In our observations of the world we note that the Universe appears to be described by physical laws.  It seems that these laws have universal applicability -- that is the very same laws apply throughout the Universe.   Hence we know what entities to expect and what not to expect -- thus our expectation is that stars will have planets orbiting them, and not flying teapots.  In short, if someone asserts that x exists, but x would be unexpected given our understanding of physical laws, then the burden of proof ought to be on the one making the assertion.  Note though that strictly speaking there is no distinction between positive and negative assertions. Hence we surmise there are galaxies beyond the cosmic horizon even though in principle we can never detect them. So, contrary to what people maintain, the burden of proof is not on the one asserting something exists, but rather it's on the one asserting something exists which we would not expect given our understanding of physical laws.

But clearly this does not apply to any existent which resides outside physical reality.  Either our physical reality came into existence through a conscious external agent --  some type of creator, although such a creator need not necessarily correspond to what we typically think of as "God" -- or the Universe, Multiverse or whole physical shebang came about as a brute fact with no cause.  Whichever hypothesis pertains arguments need to be advanced to justify ones position on this issue.

Related to this is the fact that many self-proclaimed atheists assert that they merely lack a belief in any type of "God" rather than disbelieve in a "God".   However, if one lacks a belief in whether there is a creator, then necessarily one also lacks a belief in the converse.  That is they also lack a belief in the supposition the Universe came into being as a brute fact.  This is contrary to how atheism was originally understood as being the position of supposing that most likely there is no entity or reality corresponding to what one might label "God".

2nd part here.

Friday, 26 December 2014

An afterlife is so fanciful!

I think that many people would tend to think that the idea of an afterlife is certainly appealing, but that logic and reason compel them to conclude that the whole notion is rather implausible and totally opposed to what science tells us about the world. Many other people might profess a belief in an afterlife, but this is in spite of, not because of their reason. They might feel they must be something beyond this life and there must be a reason or purpose to their existence.

I am the diametric opposite to this. It seems to me that reason and evidence very strongly supports the notion we survive the deaths of our bodies (and science most emphatically does not tell us there's no afterlife!), but my feeling is that the notion is very fanciful. We go to sleep every night and enter deep sleep where it seems we are scarcely conscious at all. It is hard for me to imagine that at the threshold of death, as my consciousness slowly diminishes to nothingness, I will ascend into some new reality and regain full consciousness.

A few years ago, in response to my belief in an afterlife, a friend of mine exclaimed, "it's cold!"  By this, I surmise he meant that the world we are experiencing now is reality. It's cold, it's gritty, and the notion that we'll ascend to some strange new world after we die is fanciful in the extreme.

Saying it's cold as a reason for disbelieving in an afterlife is of course fatuous, and yet . . and yet . . I understand perfectly where he's coming from. It does at least feel to me to be rather implausible. I believe in an afterlife not because of my feelings, but in spite of them. 

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

It's extraordinarily difficult for most of us to decide what the truth is on many contentious issues. Will we witness catastrophic clima...

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