General Question

Magnus's avatar

Say I'm wrong, there is a God.

Asked by Magnus (2884points) December 6th, 2008

I die, go to heaven (or whereever, anywho), I meet God.

M: Hey God, what’s up?
G: My child, why did you abandon me?
M: I’m a sensible guy, God. I follow evidence, and that pretty much suggested there was no
G: But, you had the Bible?
M: Yea, but scientists and historians provided me with evidence which kinda made more sense than a 2000 year old book.
G: But I’m here ain’t I?
M: Yup…

Considering I’ve been pretty much good for my whole life, only thing that differs me from a true christian is that I was atheist. What does God do, does he forgive me for just believing in what made the most sense to me, also judging the fact that I’ve been nice to people all my life? Or does he condemn me to eternal hell because he has issues with people not believing he exists, even though he is more that easily able to provide humans with staggering evidence that he exists? (Like aligning all the stars in the skies to spell out “I’m real ok? Believe in me. Love, God” or… uhm… Sending a guy down from heaven, only in human form so people can relate to him and make him say that he’s the king of everybody since God sent him down, FROM FRIGGIN’ HEAVEN YO, but at the same time being super nice to everybody. Maybe give him superpowers?).

Complete the dialogue too, if you may.

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156 Answers

PupnTaco's avatar

If the “holy message” really is true, faith doesn’t matter as much as deeds. I’m sure many will quote passages that state the opposite, but we all know there are plenty of contradictions to go around. :)

So if actions speak louder, a kind atheist gets higher marks than a jerky Christian.

Magnus's avatar

Thanks PupnTaco.
Now may I ask if you’re a christian or atheist?

PupnTaco's avatar

5% agnostic, 95% atheist

spent much of my time in college (studio art major) doing religious studies—in class and independently.

augustlan's avatar

I really hope Dave is right! Being agnostic (as I am) wouldn’t be any better than being an atheist in the eyes of God, right? This is actually one of the main problems I have with organized religions that say you won’t go to heaven unless you believe X,Y and Z. I find it extremely hard to believe that a good (say Jewish) person would not get in, while a bad (but remorseful!) Christian has an all-access pass!

SoapChef's avatar

If there is a God, I find it hard to believe he/she would condemn anyone to eternal hell. If so, I don’t want to believe in them anyway. harumph

MacBean's avatar

Isn’t purgatory/limbo for the unbaptized and the virtuous nonbelievers?

Magnus's avatar

No matter where you spend eternity it’s going to be boring as shit.

queenzboulevard's avatar

Pascal’s Wager says this:
1. If you do not believe in God, and you’re right, then nothing happens when you die.

2. If you believe in God, and he does not exist, nothing happens when you die either.

3. If you believe in God and you do all that Christians should do (in accordance with the Bible), you get eternal life in Heaven.

BUT If God really does exist and you do not believe in him, you get to burn in Hell for eternity.

So Pascal said no matter what, it’s better to wager on God existing and following him.

Magnus's avatar

Possibly, but if God’s omniscient, he knows that you choose to believe in him because you are a selfish person who just chose your belief based on you not wanting to feel the pain of hell. Or not… hmmmm…

That question just backed my views unintentionally.

shadling21's avatar


So, what are you looking for in this question? Someone to answer the dialogue? Good luck. In that case, I’m not able to help you out much.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@Magnus, first of all, I personally don’t think only Christians go to heaven, and I don’t think the conversation will go quite as you have described. And I believe Hell is here on earth. I think you move on based up living your life without fear, doing the right thing by others. All religions seem to have a common Golden Rule thread to them, and I believe that’s core to how you’re evaluated.

Rent and watch “Defending Your Life”

LostInParadise's avatar

Magnus makes a good point. If you believe that in order to get into Heaven you have to be a good person, then you are robbed of the opportunity of truly being good, because you believe that you will be rewarded. So we end up with the conclusion that a good atheist is more deserving of Heaven than a true believer.

tyrantxseries's avatar

you live your life the way you think you should and believe when you die you die.
would you go to heaven even if you don’t want to go?

ps: the idea of god has changed sooooo much over the times.

tyrantxseries's avatar

I can’t go to hell, I’m already there.

delirium's avatar

An atheist builds a school when a deist builds a church.

If I were punished for that, god is a selfish bastard who never loved or respected humanity.
It seems too much like middle school. “I WONT INVITE YOU TO MY BIRTHDAY IF YOU DONT DO MY HOMEWORK!!”

cookieman's avatar

God throws a tantrum.

fireside's avatar

My belief is that the purpose of religion, and thus the path to heaven, is a process of learning to remove your ego from the equation. Doing so frees your soul from the bonds of the material world and allows it to progress along it’s path toward the infinite perfection that is God.

There are many different paths towards removing your ego from the equation and the point of searching and questioning is to find the path that leads you there.

shadling21's avatar

(Oh dang, why couldn’t that link have worked?)
(Actually, apologies to all… The link isn’t loading for me since my browser is dumb. It is an argument against Pascal’s Wager, right?)

El_Cadejo's avatar

Atheists Wager
“You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god. If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.”

I like to just follow that :)

wildflower's avatar

<- goes along with Uberbatman’s idea. Betting on the Atheist Wager too :)

laureth's avatar

I think Uberbatman has it right, but that’s just me.

To me, the debate isn’t over whether the Christian God is real or not. Considering how many religions and Gods and Goddesses the people of the world have come up with, it’s like rolling a d50,000 and seeing if a 23 comes up. Poor odds, ya know?

If there is a Being out there, I have to believe that this Being is a bigger Being than will fit in any one religion’s box. If this Being exists, I don’t think it will be all upset if I didn’t follow one human-made religion’s views or another human-made religion’s rules. In fact, the universe is so very huge and we are so very small that if there is such a Being, I’m not sure they even know we’re down here.

That said, I think the chances of there being such a Being are very, very small. That doesn’t matter – I just try to be good anyway. Because while I don’t know if a judgemental Being exists, I can see other people all around me and I can see the effects of my behavior on them. This is real and it is undeniable. So I figure, if I do the best I can by other people, maybe try to minimize suffering, that will have a more real effect than trying to do this to please a Being that may or may not be there or may not even know we’re here.

If I am to be judged after death for this, hopefully a Being so big that they created the whole Universe will be above the rules created by people anyway, and just see me for what I am and what I tried to be. I know this doesn’t answer the question very well, but it’s the best I can do.

SoapChef's avatar

Well said, uber and laureth.

miasmom's avatar

If there is a God, which I believe there is, then you have to decide which religion gets it correct. I believe that Christianity is the only way to Heaven. So, if there is a God and He is the God of Christianity, then it would make sense that Heaven is based on what He proclaims in the Bible. Because the Bible is the Word of God. So, you can’t base it on what YOU FEEL, because everyone feels differently, you have to base it on what the Bible says…and what does it say???

You must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins to purchase a place in Heaven for you. It clearly says in the Bible that you have to believe in Jesus to be saved…it is not a matter of what you do…no one can do enough good to earn their way into Heaven and you can’t say, I’m better than that other person because the only way to earn your way into Heaven is to be perfect and none of us is perfect.

This is all based on my belief that the Bible is completely true as the Word of God.

PupnTaco's avatar

But it isn’t possible to convince someone to “believe.”

miasmom's avatar

Sure it’s possible…I can lay out the facts and then that might convince you to believe.

syz's avatar

That is pretty much my problem with religion in a nutshell – “you have to decide which religion gets it correct”.

That whole “you have to do what we say and act how we say because we’ve decided we’re right and all the rest of you fuckers are going to hell” crap! Who is to say which religion is correct? Some dude begging for money on television? Some priest diddling little boys? Some mystic who sees God in a taco shell? Organized religion is crap.

richardhenry's avatar

I’m agnostic. We too easily write things off sometimes; there’s a lot we don’t understand. On the one hand I don’t plan on wasting my limited time pursuing the poorly understood, but I will always try to remain open to suggestion.

I spent a few days at a Buddhist camp in London doing yoga and eating strange soup, just because I knew a few people who were involved in the event.

It was calming and enlightening, and there’s definitely huge cultural and personal benefits to religion beyond “rule following” and “falling in line”. I left that place with a different mindset, and felt ‘better’ for it.

I don’t follow the buddhist way of life or believe in what they do, but the way they approached things was fantastic regardless of the things they believed in.

I keep going back to this image of a young man in a dark room staring over this universe in a bubble; that universe being ours.

The concepts of a multiverse, other universes or derivative universes forming within our own are all sides of physics that we cannot even begin to predict; there’s simply no models here that would apply to elsewhere. I like to think that we could well exist inside a test tube or experiment somewhere. Who knows; God could be a scientist.

Here’s to leaving our minds open and being good to each other.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

The “Big Brain” clip from Defending Your Life

toyhyena's avatar

Well, if you check out NDEers and other things here and there, you might pick up that it’s a universal consciousness (some have come back saying outright that they asked and what religion you believe in doesn’t matter, they’re substitutions—that have been contorted by society—for spirituality), that in your life review the things you thought were worthy human accomplishments mattered less than any acts of compassion you did (as in, giving food to some homeless guy on the street earns you way more points than the act of graduating college. weird!), and that you’ve had several lifetimes before (you carry over a karmic baggage. try checking out “amazing boy remembers” in youtube), that you’re an immortal spirit that’ll look back on life on earth as a brief moment, that god isn’t really a single being (it’s literally everything. it’s god trying to experience itself in as many ways possible, because knowledge without experience sucks, and also just because he can. Like the Dalai Llama’s example, picture a pearl necklace and how it reflects itself.) Oh yeah, in your review, for every act you did to cause negative feelings, you’re just told that “you were still learning” and you’ll get a smile, so it’s cool. Just don’t like, kill someone or yourself, ‘cause that’ll set you back hard. And there isn’t really a hell or sins, that’s just something made up to control people through fear. God is amoral, but he’s all about the feeling of love. Compassion and learning are key.

By the way, supposedly our consciousness is tuned into one frequency that we can perceive (this dimension. I think there’s 11 right? This might be the only one where time matters). Remember that 95% of the universe is “dark matter”. Try taking Dimethyltryptamine sometime to check out another one, supposedly. It’s a natural hallucinogen we produce in our body that releases every night when we sleep and under moments of stress ex.moment of death… but basically, anyone can tap into their higher self stuff, where at the very least you perceive things differently.)

It seems to be useful to understand and learn as much as you can on electromagnetism I’m finding… I could go on and on, but basically, if you live a good life, you’ll knock out some of the bad karma from a past life and work your way up to the better worlds to live in. Earth is just (a lower one) on the rung. You also have a LOT of choices (free will is BIIIG), like when you die you can stay in a pretty damn decent plane until you chose to come back.

But really, no one is judging you when you die. You’re only asked by a loving being of light (or whatever you want to mentally interpret them as with your mind ‘cause usually the first time you’re kinda freaked out. Most westerners seem to settle for Jesus) that seems to have a sense of humor (or “talks”, because it’s telepathy, which we’re also all able to do supposedly. Try googling kalahari bushmen of africa and telepathy).

Oh yeah, Jesus is just considered a teacher, and there are supposedly others like him, even walking around on earth right now. They chose to come back to try and help others. I think the Buddhists called them Boddhisatvas.

So there you go. You really gotta do your own research though. Just focusing on one religion (christianity) is reaaally keeping it narrow though.

delirium's avatar

Miasmom: not facts… Opinions.

steelmarket's avatar

As long as we are chaining together theories and calling them facts, let me posit a little chain of logic myself.

The current theories of our universe state that our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes. The properties of space-time vary from universe to universe, so in some universes the conditions are right for matter to form, or for stars and galaxies to form, or for life to arise.

Given an infinite number of universes, you will eventually have at least one of every possible combination of different space-time-dimensions-physics, a diversity that is far beyond what man will ever comprehend.

In some universes, life would arise. Some would allow intelligent life and civilizations. Some would allow only one life form to arise. We are talking infinite variations of everything, so the math says that eventually just about everything would happen.
Given these conditions, is it not inevitable that in one universe a being would arise that would have absolute power over its universe? And, in another universe, a being would arise that would have absolute power over the other universes?

If that being decided to reveal itself to us, wouldn’t we call that being “God”?

Magnus's avatar

Please do Mirasmom, but I sincerely doubt they’re facts.

PupnTaco's avatar

@ miasmom: there are no “facts” when belief comes into play.

Magnus's avatar

Except the fact that you believe itself.

fireside's avatar

well said, richard

@alfreda – I loved Defending Your Life. Thought it was great. What Dreams May Come is another good one.

miasmom's avatar

So if I believe that 2 + 2 = 4, then that isn’t a fact because I believe it to be true? That doesn’t make any sense. If I believe that a plane can fly, then that isn’t a fact also? The fact is that lots of things we believe are facts. Almost all of our reality is objective, not subjective, so it stands to make sense that religion is also objective.

wildflower's avatar

When fact and belief are one and the same, it’s either coincidence or you believe because you’ve seen proof.
Belief ≠ fact, but they can overlap – although (at least so far) that is not the case with religion.

miasmom's avatar

I recommend the book, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, it is a good read if you are sincerely interested in finding out more information about Christianity. He was an atheist that did a lot of searching and came to the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God.

PupnTaco's avatar

@miasmom: those aren’t beliefs, they’re facts. We recently had a huge discussion on this very issue here.

miasmom's avatar

According to the web definition:

fact: a concept whose truth can be proved
belief: any cognitive content held as true

Ok, I’ll accept that there is a subtle difference between the two. So the question is can religion be proved true? What would be good enough proof? Would comparing the validity of an ancient text to the validity of the Bible help? Would that make you believe the validity of the Bible more? If you did believe the Bible to be true, then would that change your opinion?

delirium's avatar

Faith is belief without any sort of proof. Don’t you see stength in faith?

toyhyena's avatar

I’ve always wondered who were the guys that wrote the Bible. I mean, a lot of hands went into that thing, not to mention it’s been translated many times over.

As for facts and stuff, anyone ever heard of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem? It’s hard to prove every “fact”. Science has its limits.

miasmom's avatar

@delirium Faith is very important, I have complete faith that I will go to heaven someday. But my faith is based also on studying and discerning what I believe to be truth. I don’t just jump out of a plane and have faith that I will fly, but I could jump out of a plane with a parachute and have faith that it will open and I won’t die.

@toyhyena There were a lot of authors of the Bible, which makes the Bible more valid because the authors of the Old Testament predicted what would come of Jesus in the New Testament…not to mention that they predicted it so many years prior to the actual coming of Christ.

delirium's avatar

Faith is belief in the absence of fact.
What makes the bible any more ‘factual’ than the koran? Than the rigveda?

What makes it more factual than a chain letter? They are constructed on the same basic principal.

There’s a difference, m’dear, between faith and Hope. You hope that your parachute will open.

delirium's avatar

Also, most of the books written by ‘turned atheists’ where never atheists at all. There’s more ‘power’ in saying “Oh, I was an atheist and then I Saw The Light and now i’m a deist” than there is in saying “My parents taught me to believe, and so I do.”

Even if its a lie.

delirium's avatar

You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985]

Hobbes's avatar

@miasmom – concerning your claims about the reliability of the Bible.

There is no evidence that the authors attributed to the various books of the New Testament are actually the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Bible had many authors, yes, and a great deal more than the four apostles (if indeed they ever did write parts of it). The Bible was pieced together out of a number of fragments, and it was re-written, edited, re-edited, and changed significantly between manuscripts. Furthermore, by the time it was compiled, the people editing it had a vested interest in advancing their particular view of events.

The very first book of the Bible was, according to conservative estimates, written around 30 years after the death of Jesus. During this time, the emerging Christian religion was carried on through oral tradition. We all know how easy it is to exaggerate a story even in this day and age, and even over the span of a year. Stories of Jesus had 30 years for memory to grow fuzzy and for most of the people present at the original events to die (average lifespan was much shorter then). When you factor in that all this did not take place in an extremely superstitious society, you have a recipe for an instant tall tall of enormous proportions.

Many of the so-called “prophecies” cited in the Old Testament (I’m pretty sure its authorship is even more uncertain than the NT) are in fact nothing of the sort when looked at in context, some result from mistranslations, and some are simply so vague that they are on par with those of Nostradamus. And of course, though some people were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, these prophecies were obviously not convincing enough, as not every Jew did.

The thing is, historians require substantial evidence before they’ll believe an event happened. We know Caesar crossed the Rubicon because we have multiple accounts written at or near the time of the event, we have accounts written by his enemies, we have coinage depicting the event, etc. For Jesus’ life, miracles and resurrection, all we have is the word of an ancient book first written 30–70 years after his death by people who already believed he was the Messiah, and who then edited, modified and translated it constantly over the next two thousand odd years.

The Bible, while it may provide some useful insight into the history of the period, cannot be taken to be a reliable account of the events it describes.

laureth's avatar

Ah, but Hobbes, the Christians have an explanation of why that all doesn’t matter… God wouldn’t let any errors creep in.

cdwccrn's avatar

I look around and see the beauty of snowflakes, taste the smoothness of chocolate, smell the heavenly scent of a freshly bathed baby, hear the voices of children laughing or singing—and I know, I KNOW, there IS a God.
There IS a God who;
Created all that is Good
Redeemed all that has fallen
Loves all that is
Sustains those who suffer,
Cries with those who weep.
Seeks those who are lost.

laureth's avatar

@cdwccrn: You see, you and I can observe the same things and come to totally different conclusions. I see the beauty of snowflakes and I wonder at the crystalline structure of ice. I taste the smoothness of chocolate and I marvel at the ingenuity of people who put those ingredients together with such skill. I see babies and children and I’m in awe that we’ve come this far as a species, and think about the strong will to reproduce and raise kids. But none of it makes me think that there’s a God. None of it, to me, points to someone engineering the whole thing. It makes me realize what a wonderful thing the brain is, and how mathematical nature is, yes. But I don’t get to God from there.

cdwccrn's avatar

@laureth, just as there is much diversity in creation, there is much diversity in thought. I hope your worldview brings you hope and joy as mine does. Blessings.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

So this might be a tad off topic, but the bible that miasmom is so apt to point to as the word of god isn’t even the original. It is a copy of a copy of a copy (add ten or more copies onto that, and you get the drift). We don’t have the original bible because when the ancient scribes would copy it, they would destroy the original. Any mistakes they made during the copying process were moved onto the latest version. They didn’t have MSWord ctrl X, ctrl V, ya know. Any decent biblical scholar will confirm this multiple copied versions of the bible as fact. The books by Dr. Seuss are more original than the bible, so we could easily form the Theodor Suess Geisel religion and worship the Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham and have it be even more accurate than Christianity. Just my two cents.

cdwccrn's avatar

We Christians believe that God was/is present in the processes of writing, transcription, redaction, translation as well as reading and interpretation.

laureth's avatar

@cdwccrn: Indeed, it does. :) Thank you, and blessings to you as well.

toyhyena's avatar

Is it safe to say that in a way, science is kind of a religion in itself? People don’t understand it fully but they have a faith that it’s right.

cdwccrn's avatar

@toyhyena: interesting concept.

delirium's avatar

You see, the religious people—most of them—really think this planet is an experiment. That’s what their beliefs come down to. Some god or other is always fixing and poking, messing around with tradesmen’s wives, giving tablets on mountains, commanding you to mutilate your children, telling people what words they can say and what words they can’t say, making people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, and like that. Why can’t the gods leave well enough alone? All this intervention speaks of incompetence. If God didn’t want Lot’s wife to look back, why didn’t he make her obedient, so she’d do what her husband told her? Or if he hadn’t made Lot such a shithead, maybe she would’ve listened to him more. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why’s he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there’s one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution. He’d be out of business if there was any competition.

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy.

Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.


laureth's avatar

@delirium: They usually explain that by saying God limits himself and lets us have Free Will. He’s Only Good, so the screwups are our own fault.

toyhyena's avatar

@delirium “But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” (Not to sound confrontational here!) How sure are you about that? How much information have you looked into? How deep is your understanding?

And if you have given it an honest look, are you sure it really was so honest because of confirmation bias? (a phenomenon that would make you refuse to see the contradicting items on a balanced pile of evidence, and come out thinking your view was better supported by that evidence. You see what you want to see, instead of going in with a view to receive, and then believe something afterward.)

I’m not saying Christianity is right or wrong, I’m just saying that people fill in the blanks when something is really complicated (such as the case for whether there’s a god or not), with preconceived notions (biases and assumptions in other words, or things they probably aren’t experts on). I don’t think there’s an official figurehead for science that makes the claim that it’s irrefutable, it’s just a demand that people put on it unfairly. But as you’re aware of, there are examples of kinks that mess with an otherwise perfect-sounding theory (such as the EPR experiment to physicists).

And don’t forget, evidence still needs to be perceived/measured (and everyone has different perceptions), and interpreted.

Thankfully, science has a great track record, and it has all my respect for what it is. I just think people need to be a bit more humble with how much they think.

Hobbes's avatar

@toyhyena – You’re accusing del of bias apparently without a clear understanding of what makes for a convincing case of biased thinking. You cannot invalidate an argument just by pointing to “bias” as a shadowy background force that infiltrates everything. You have to look at the evidence, then look at the person’s conclusions. If they don’t line up, then you can accuse them of bias. Delerium has presented her case. If you want to say that it’s based on “preconceived notions”, first show us why it doesn’t match the evidence.

delirium's avatar

” In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.” Sagan.

Quite frankly, I did give christianity, hinduism, buddhism and many other faiths a good honest look. I didn’t declare myself an atheist until I had explored the other options. It was then that I came to the decision that it came down to two things… Either there is no god or the god that there is isn’t one that I could respect and put ‘faith’ in.

‘Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.’

Hobbes's avatar

Sorry, toyhyena, that came off sounding much more assholeish than I intended

delirium's avatar

As Douglas Adams said best: (If it turns out that I’ve been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would chose not to worship him anyway.)

A god that allows genocide to go in darfur, a god that allows children and infants to be raped and doesn’t put a hand in because we have “free will” isn’t a god that I will ever kneel before. That is a god that I believe humanity should usurp. A god that makes people believe that the only reason to be ‘good’ is because they get to go to heaven isn’t my god. A god that says that confessing your sins means it’s all okay isn’t my god.

Hobbes's avatar

@del – have you tried vague, fuzzy spirituality? That’s the secret third option!

delirium's avatar

Vaguely emotionally satisfying belief that everything will be okay? I… I think you’re on to something here, Hobbes.

I no longer have to wonder! The war will never come to the united states and kill me and my family because I BELIEVE. I will not die of cancer because I BELIEVE.
I can finally just cover my eyes and not care about the potential repercussions of my actions because it will be okay, and I will be lead.

I feel so… so… warm and fuzzy.

PupnTaco's avatar

@ toyhena: no, it’s not safe to say science is a form of religion. Quite the opposite, in fact.

toyhyena's avatar

religon: 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects
faith: 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
(Taken from

toyhyena's avatar

Also, I smell a little belittling of spirituality. We’re not robots, nor should we strive to be. What drives us to do anything other than eat, have sex, and other biological drives? The human spirit, I want to say consciousness and what is immaterial (elements like love), are anything but shallow and without it’s value. You can argue that maybe it’s a fragile experiment of nature, but at least acknowledge it’s beauty (as well as it’s horrors, and everything in between). If people find something within themself or their lives, who are you to say they haven’t?

PupnTaco's avatar

I didn’t say anything about people’s beliefs – whatever works. But science ain’t religion.

Those are poor definitions of religion: a system of beliefs to explain philosophical mysteries and convey a system of morals, typically centering around belief in a higher power, often featuring origin myths.

Hobbes's avatar

We’re not belittling love, or the fabulously weird complexity that is human consciousness. What we’re belittling is using a vague sense of cosmic fuzziness to convince yourself that things will turn out fine and dandy.

toyhyena's avatar

Oh yeah, addressing the actual question, I think it’s more likely to go something like this:
M: Hey God, what’s up?
G: Do you feel that you’re done learning?
M: What…? Hey, you know, I’m a sensible guy, and I follow evidence, annnd that pretty much suggested there was no you. The Bible and all… sorry!
G: You only considered a man-made book? <Smile> You know for starts, you suppressed one side of your brain the whole time :)
G: Ah, it’s just outright blatantly obvious now, isn’t it?
M: Yup…
G: Alright, kick back until you feel ready for the next life. You remember the drill.

@Hobbes: Depending on who you ask, it’s not “vague”. If you keep your scope to just one group of people (in this case, I guess Christians that follow their Bible), then I think you’ll just keep thinking that.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, what else is there to consider besides the Bible? What else even suggests that there is a God as described by the Christian religion? For that matter, what evidence besides Holy Texts and word of mouth is there for any religious claims? Every philosophical argument I’ve read attempts to lead to the conclusion that there’s some omnipotent creator of the universe, but doesn’t point to God as described by any particular religion.

Also, if God can only be known emotionally/subjectively as you suggest, why did He suppress the logical/evidential side of the brain?

And why is God so damn patronizing?

fireside's avatar

Nature is that condition, that reality, which in appearance consists in life and death, or, in other words, in the composition and decomposition of all things.

This Nature is subjected to an absolute organization, to determined laws, to a complete order and a finished design, from which it will never depart—to such a degree, indeed, that if you look carefully and with keen sight, from the smallest invisible atom up to such large bodies of the world of existence as the globe of the sun or the other great stars and luminous spheres, whether you regard their arrangement, their composition, their form or their movement, you will find that all are in the highest degree of organization and are under one law from which they will never depart.

But when you look at Nature itself, you see that it has no intelligence, no will. For instance, the nature of fire is to burn; it burns without will or intelligence. The nature of water is fluidity; it flows without will or intelligence. The nature of the sun is radiance; it shines without will or intelligence. The nature of vapor is to ascend; it ascends without will or intelligence. Thus it is clear that the natural movements of all things are compelled; there are no voluntary movements except those of animals and, above all, those of man. Man is able to resist and to oppose Nature because he discovers the constitution of things, and through this he commands the forces of Nature; all the inventions he has made are due to his discovery of the constitution of things. For example, he invented the telegraph, which is the means of communication between the East and the West. It is evident, then, that man rules over Nature.

Now, when you behold in existence such organizations, arrangements and laws, can you say that all these are the effect of Nature, though Nature has neither intelligence nor perception? If not, it becomes evident that this Nature, which has neither perception nor intelligence, is in the grasp of Almighty God, Who is the Ruler of the world of Nature; whatever He wishes, He causes Nature to manifest.

(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 3)

toyhyena's avatar

Like I said above, the answer I think is in the drug DMT (Dimethyltryptamin). It’s a SPECIAL (before I lose your attention) type of hallucinogen that’s understudied for some reason, (as is the organ in our brain that produces it, the pineal gland). But I think it really ties a bunch of things together. The pineal gland is situated reaally deep in the middle of our brain, and is hard to get at, so that might play a part in why it’s not as studied.

The pineal gland is also involved in making serotonin and melatonin, which last I checked, particularly even melatonin is not fully understood. I think I even read something that said the pineal gland was pretty much the last gland to be discovered. But it sits at the base of the bridge between the two hemispheres of our brain and old cultures have referred to it as the “third eye”.

The pineal gland also has certain aspects to it we used to think only could be found in our retina, and the two have a link to each other. Also like I mentioned above, DMT is released under stress, and every night when we sleep. And the more we are exposed to, the less we’re able to remember what we hallucinated.

But the hallucinations that people have while under DMT have a LOT in common with spiritual revelations and stuff like that. To quote the researcher himself:
“All spiritual disciplines describe quite psychedelic accounts of the transformative experiences, whose attainment motivate their practice. Blinding white light, encounters with demonic and angelic entities, ecstatic emotions, timelessness, heavenly sounds, feelings of having died and being reborn, contacting a powerful and loving presence underlying all of reality―these experiences cut across all denominations. They also are the characteristic of a fully psychedelic DMT experience.” (page 73 of DMT: The Spirit Molecule)

There’s a lot more, but basically I’m suggesting drugs should be considered too. It sounds callous, but there was this whole thing with the government trying to lump all hallucinogens as one bad thing, blah blah, I don’t know too much about it. Basically, shamans (there is DMT in plants) are spiritual as well, so their methods can be considered too (actually, DMT I think has more to do with the meditation of the Buddhists and such).

Oh yeah, I think it’s more spot-on to say that PEOPLE made god oppressive and all those other human-like characteristics. People that describe “god” under DMT don’t talk like he’s even a person, if you know what I mean.

El_Cadejo's avatar

DMT is some serious shit. Last time i took it, i went to heaven and was greeted by a powerful entity. There was also a feeling of overwhelming joy, happiness, and love. This is coming from a pretty strong atheist. It was quiet an experience.

It really makes you start to wonder how much religion came from drug use.

toyhyena's avatar

Oh hey, an unexpected endorsement. I guess I should bring up that the amount you take seems to be relevant to the experience. Dr. Rick Strassman administered 400 doses to 60 volunteers, and to quote one of the volunteers, “You can still be an atheist until 0.4 [mg/kg]” (chapter 15, I dunno what page number).

El_Cadejo's avatar

Yea it took quite a bit of experimenting to get the dosage right. Its kinda tricky with such a low dosage. Ive just always found it fascinating that so many people have very similar experiences and visuals under this drug.

Since i first took the drug, my dreams have changed. They tend to be a lot brighter and more vivid. I also remember 90% of my dreams when i wake up in the morning, where as before it was rare id recall a dream.

toyhyena's avatar

@Hobbes Oh, as for the patronizing part, it’s more likely that you’ll talk to some sort of being, and it seems often enough that they have a sense of humor (which is related to compassion and wanting to talk on a level you can relate to.) There have been stories of malevolent beings, which is walking the grounds of alien abductions and “demons”, but I think it’s note-worthy that more often reported than that is that people describe that they lost their sense of being a human (particularly when they “touch” god). So, I wasn’t sure how to come up with god’s voice for the example. I settled for the being.

I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but I can at least confidently say I didn’t come across that from one source.

Hobbes's avatar

I think I remember reading something about the effects of DMT before. It’s really interesting, and sounds like an amazing experience. The thing I’m confused about, though, is why a DMT trip can be seriously thought be be a genuine source of truth concerning the existence of a God any more than an acid trip is a source of truth concerning the existence of polka-dotted dragons. If anything, I’d say this is an argument against spirituality and religion, not for it.

Hobbes's avatar

Also, @Fireside: I think you can easily say that humankind is the effect of blind nature. Evolution has no foresight or intelligence, certainly, but the Theory has never pretended that it did. In fact, the history of life is full of things smacking of a lack of intelligence: atrophied limbs, useless organs, dead-end species, populations in flux, etc.

toyhyena's avatar

That’s a good question. I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that at the very least should be ruled out, whether for or against.

But near death experiencers at least, claim that they felt they were in a more vivid reality than the normal world, and they’re absolutely convinced that they met beings as real as you and I, and experienced whatever they did. There’s also instances where they were out of their body, and were able to describe in detail what was going on around them while they were clinically dead, including what people were doing in rooms of the hospital they had never been to (off the top of my head I can’t remember the name of the researcher that did make an attempt to gather half a dozen documentations of this. As in having the medical personnel present at the time sign a thing to say they could verify the patient said what they said, and the records to show they were indeed dead and couldn’t have possibly have known that information. Not all NDEs have an OBE part, and only about 35% of those that come that close to death have (remember?) their NDE, so I’d say a couple verifications of this is better than none at all).

And I also think the after affects that about 80% of them go through is something worth considering, but I’m mentioning that lightly since I’ve yet to come across an “unbiased” source for reported after-affects.

As for the DMT experiencers, well, why don’t you listen to one for yourself? :)

delirium's avatar

I think we can sum up the lack of intelligence in two species: Cheetas and Pandas.

Hobbes's avatar

Mmmm. Isn’t it somewhat common for dreams to seem extremely vivid and real, though? The thing about out-of-body experiences is interesting – I’d like to see that study. The problem is that such information is, as you say, exceedingly difficult to verify with any sort of large sample size.

The strange thing for me is that these people are on drugs, and know that they’re under the influence of psychotropic chemicals, yet they take their experiences to be real. To me, this seems akin to believing a particularly vivid dream really happened simply because it was vivid, while also fully aware that it was just a dream.

toyhyena's avatar

Well, there is the case of Pam Reynolds (up until like 6 minutes), one of the cases he did supposedly, and probably the best one anyway. She’s a woman that had surgery on her brain to remove an aneurysm, and during this type of operation, you have to stop the heart and brain activity. She apparently had an NDE during it, as well as an OBE.

argh, and now that I check my notes, the guy’s name was Dr.Michael Sabom, a cardiologist. Googling him, I’m feeling a little back-pedaly since it seems what motivated him was using NDEs as a way to reinforce belief in Christianity. Possibly the first NDE researcher that’s (at least openly?) had that in mind.

I’m sure he omitted the ones that talked about how they changed out of Christianity afterward. 8D

Oh, and it’s mentioned often that people under the effects of DMT forget that they had taken DMT in the first place. I’m sure uber can back me on this if he’s still around. :D
I can’t really say too much more on the perspective of a knowing DMT user, other than again, they seem to have their mind blown at a certain dosage amount. DMT is, again, unique from other hallucinogens. I think my next post will be another quote from Dr.Strassman.

toyhyena's avatar

Quoting Dr. Rick Strassman from chapter 2 of DMT: The Spirit Molecule:

“Although the brain denies access to most drugs and chemicals, it takes a particular fancy to DMT. It is not stretching the truth to suggest that the brain ‘hungers’ for it. The brain is a highly sensitive organ, especially susceptible to toxins and metabolic imbalances. A nearly impenetrable shield, the blood-brain barrier, prevents unwelcome agents from leaving the blood and crossing the capillary walls into the brain tissue. This defense extends even to keeping out the complex carbohydrates and fats that other tissues use for energy. The brain burns instead only the purest forms of fuel; simple sugar, or glucose.

However, a few essential molecules undergo ‘active transport’ across the blood-brain barrier. Little specialized carrier molecules ferry them into the brain, a process that requires a significant amount of precious energy. In most cases, it is obvious why the brain actively transports particular compounds into its hallowed ground; amino acids required for maintaining brain proteins, for example, are allowed in.

Twenty-five years ago, Japanese scientists discovered that the brain actively transports DMT across the blood-brain barrier into its tissues. I know of no other psychedelic drug that the brain treats with such eagerness. This is a startling fact that we should keep in mind when we recall how readily biological psychiatrists dismissed a vital role for DMT in our lives.”

fireside's avatar

@Hobbes – “Evolution has no foresight or intelligence, certainly, but the Theory has never pretended that it did. In fact, the history of life is full of things smacking of a lack of intelligence: atrophied limbs, useless organs, dead-end species, populations in flux, etc.”

I’m not arguing about evolution versus creationism with this quote, in fact your comment points to further proof that Nature progresses without intelligence. The fact that we can point to atrophied limbs and no longer necessary organs is just further evidence that there is a normative standard that can be used as a baseline.

You will find in the history of automobiles that we have done away with many unnecessary parts, you will also find defects in current parts. But the fact that we have mechanics and Haynes manuals speaks to the highly organized approach to building an automobile.

If it were done without organization then every car would be different and only the original manufacturer or a very skilled engineer would be able to understand and work with their parts for purposes of repair.

The same can be said of those natural laws man has discovered and codified.

VoodooLogic's avatar

I think the presence of G-d would make you fearful of His/Her intentions. I doubt you’d find it in yourself to have a “what up” kind of conversation in the midst of a deity.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@Hobbes see thats the thing, you really forget that you took a drug two seconds after you exhale. Its really hard to explain how it differs from a dream, and i dont really expect you to fully understand. But it feels completely different from a dream.

Hobbes's avatar

@Fireside – Ahh. I see what you mean now. Two thoughts off the top of my head: first, there are parts of the natural universe that are not perfectly elegant and organized. Quantum mechanics, for example, describes a random universe – just as the unorganized car manufacturer may build each car a different way, atoms apparently move differently each time you look at them.

Secondly, if you’re talking about things at a larger scale, such as gravity, I don’t quite see the leap to an intelligent designing force. Your analogy suggests that natural laws have been examined and pared down, that there were superfluous elements at one point, which were removed. When did this happen? What were these laws?

Also, it seems strange that you’re arguing for design and intelligence at the base level of natural laws, and yet recognize that nature at the macro scale is evidentially blind and purposeless. Why would God design things at one scale and not at another, especially if his design would lead to as roundabout and inefficient a process as evolution?

@uberbatman – That’s really interesting. I’d love to chat with you about the effects of DMT – what happened during your trip? Were the effects hallucinatory or cognitive or both? Did it feel like a spiritual/religious experience? How did you perceive the trip once you’d come down?

Zuma's avatar

“Quantum mechanics. . . describes a random universe”

I don’t think so. The appearance of “randomness” does not negate a fully determined universe; it simply means that you have incomplete information from your point of view. Just because processes appear chaotic does not mean that they aren’t determined, it only means that they are unpredictable given limited computational capacity.

“nature at the macro scale is evidentially blind and purposeless”

Evident from what point of view? What about Life, as broadly conceived? It is a massively parallel kind of distributed intelligence which, from the individual points of view within it, is able to act proactively to explore fitness space in its environment.

“when you look at Nature itself, you see that it has no intelligence, no will.

Then I would say that you are a either a poor observer of Nature, or else you have such a restrictive definition of intelligence that you are able to disqualify the bulk of it.

“Evolution has no foresight or intelligence…”

Just because you don’t see any foresight or intelligence in evolution, doesn’t mean that there isn’t any. This isn’t to say that evolution is directed by an intelligence standing outside of it. Evolution very likely proceeds according to its own internal imperatives—including those of an intelligent foresightful species, such as our own. The human technosphere, for example, is evolving largely according to its own internal dynamics, but also with infusions of intelligent and foresightful human innovations.

I would argue that intelligence is evolution—and evolution is intelligence in action. Every problem solved makes a species more or less fit. Trial by error may seem “blind” from the point of view of an individual within a species, but but spinning off individuals with unique curiosities may well be a kind of distributed parallel intelligence when you look at it from a “hive” or species point of view.

So far as we know, intelligence is never occurs in isolation in nature. Its always embedded in a population of individuals, who are evolving both individually and culturally toward a fitness-based intelligence. The culture is a kind of meta-organism with its own collective intelligence. Within that collectivity, you have all kinds of information cascades and innovations taking hold due to the aggregation of individual decisions. Some of these collective decisions close off future explorations, while opening others, creating feedback loops which guide evolution.

Hobbes's avatar

Good point about quantum randomness. I retract my statement, though I still maintain that randomness is possible, and even probable.

There are two main issues I have with the rest of your argument.

First, you use terms very loosely, and you seem to be softening them so that they can be molded to fit your arguments.

For example, your use of the word “intelligence” is taking the fact that nature has very broad similarities to the brain (it is a massive, interconnected system) and implying that it gives directions and selects on a higher level than genetic fitness by calling this system “massively parallel” and “distributed”, when in fact it has no other similarities to a mind whatsoever.

As a point of interest, the “internal imperatives” of evolution are clearly defined, and do not point to anything resembling intelligence or foresight.

Intelligence is a product ofevolution, and it can be a selection pressure in and of itself. This does not mean that intelligence and evolution are one in the same.

You also use a lot of vaguely defined terms like “massively parallel”, “distributed intelligence”, “individuals with unique curiosities”, “fitness-based intelligence”, and “information cascades”. Can you clarify these terms?

The second problem with your argument is that you’re anthropomorphizing every complex system you can get your hands on. Just because something is complex and interconnected doesn’t mean it’s conscious or intelligent. To use your own example – the technology market is the product of minds, and is complex and interconnected, but obviously has no thoughts of its own.

You claim, for example, that evolution acts “proactively”, suggesting it is making conscious decisions about the future. All evidence suggests that there is no foresight whatsoever within evolution. Species do not evolve based on what might be useful in the long term, they evolve based on what improves reproductive fitness right now. Can you give me an instance in evolutionary history that shows forethought? I can give you a dozen that show the opposite.

You’re also taking an interconnected network of minds and stamping a “meta-mind” onto it. When has humanity ever made a decision collectively? When has a decision ever been made that wasn’t on an individual level? I’m not talking about the aggregate of individual decisions – your claim implies a thinking, conscious hive mind at the worldwide level. Is this the case, or am I misinterpreting your position?

laureth's avatar

Evolution happens from trying a lot of things and seeing what works. That’s putting it very simply. Like my old math teacher used to say, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometime.” This means that if you try enough different things, you’ll hit upon one that works. And as we collect things that work, we get better and better. It doesn’t need to be consciously led, it just needs to try enough different stuff.

bodyhead's avatar

Geez, I hate being late to this party. I don’t always look at all the questions.

I am an atheist because I don’t want to believe in a God who can stop murderers but does not. If God where a human, he would be charged by courts as an accomplice. If he started giving you nonsense about he let that guy die to teach you a lesson, then you would probably regard him as a very evil human.

I don’t worship anyone who changes the definition of good and evil. They could just as likely change the definitions of heaven and hell. An evil person would send a flood to kill all humanity (which includes children and unborn babies). A good person would not do these things.

Knotmyday's avatar

I guess I’ll just have to reconcile myself to frying in Hell with all the little kids in China (and other countries throughout the history of Humanity) that were never “saved.”

Darn. If only God loved us all.

bodyhead's avatar

I’d rather be in hell with good people then in heaven with serial killers who converted to Christianity on their deathbed. I’ll probably get molested by priests less in hell.

Zuma's avatar

I detect a note of condescending certitude in your conception of intelligence. Specifically, it looks as though you will only consider something “intelligent” if it is 1) conscious, 2)sentient, 3) has “thoughts,” 4) foresight, 5) a kind of unitary, top-down executive locus of control, or “will,” 6)purpose, and 7) a kind of linear, step by step approach to problem-solving. In other words, your conception of intelligence seems to be entirely anthropomorphic—which is why you tend to dismissively view any discussion of intelligence in the context of living or natural systems as stupid anthropomorphizing.

There is a whole new biology now, where the distinctions between living, non-living and social systems are becoming increasingly artificial and blurred—systems embedded within systems—where life, consciousness, and evolution can be viewed in computational terms. There is even a unifying mathematics underlying the exploration of fitness space

In addition, there are studies of collective intelligence, intuitional modes of cognition machine intelligence, information theory in physics, each of which challenge one or more of the assumptions above.

“You also use a lot of vaguely defined terms like “massively parallel”, “distributed intelligence”, “individuals with unique curiosities”, “fitness-based intelligence”, and “information cascades”. Can you clarify these terms?”

Massively parallel
Distributed intelligence
“Individuals with unique curiosities” can be taken at face value.
Fitness-based intelligence
Information Cascades

“When has humanity ever made a decision collectively? When has a decision ever been made that wasn’t on an individual level? I’m not talking about the aggregate of individual decisions – your claim implies a thinking, conscious hive mind at the worldwide level. Is this the case, or am I misinterpreting your position?”

Humanity is constantly making decisions collectively. And I think you are misinterpreting my position.

When I call a hive mind “intelligent,” I don’t imply that it has a unitary, top-down executive consciousness. However, if you remember your Hegel, there are privileged individuals in history, usually at or near tipping points, who may realize the collective moment, and if they have “an idea whose idea has come,” they may set off an information cascade that changes everything. In general, it is only long after the fact that historians aggregate data and rationalize “what happened.”

Consider the Gaia hypothesis. The way you define intelligence, Gaia would be about as intelligent as a sponge—because her intelligence is widely distributed across all of life, instead of being located in a single skull the way it is with us. To say that Gaia is not intelligent—even though we and every living creature draws our intelligence from her—seems to me to be quite myopic. Gaia is massively intelligent, especially when you look at it in terms of fitness. Its just a different kind of intelligence. Suppose, for example, we manage to stabilize global temperatures in response to Global warming. Did we do it, or did Gaia?

Consider also how economies efficiently allocate goods and services, compared to central planners exercising linear reasoning and forethought. The collective intelligence embedded in the economy is actually impeded by the exercise of forethought. We have only just begun to these other forms of intelligence, but it is clear from the investigations so far that the intelligence embedded in collectivities gets there through evolution. And if you look at the really big picture, you will see that your thoughts are framed around issues which, when they are decided, commit the collectivity to a particular evolutionary direction.

If you really want to immerse yourself in this new biology and non-human conceptions of intelligence, I recommend a really mind-stretching book by Ian Stewart called Heaven.

fireside's avatar

Well, you guys have certainly provided me with more research topics than I have time for this week, but just to follow up on my original point…

It seems to me that Intelligence is being conflated with anal-retentive intrusiveness

I think that Legos would be a suitable analogy here because you can look at them and see many different parts that all fit together.

You could analyze each of those parts under an electron microscope and find that the air pockets are not uniform, or that some of the parts have defects, or that some parts have been damaged for one reason or another.

You could also look at them from a macro scale and say that some of the creations made from those building blocks are chaotic and random while others are doing what they were built to do.

These differences do not take away from the intelligence inherent in the original creator.

From what I am hearing, it seems like there is a problem with the concept of a perfect God who does not get himself involved in the daily lives of his creation and who must not be perfect because he allowed for difference in the world.

Hobbes's avatar

It now seems that I’m arguing against two different (though related) ideas.

@Fireside – I’m not arguing against God because of His apparent lack of interaction with today’s world over the world of the ancient Israelites. I’m saying that nature, and evolutionary biology in particular, shows a lack of intelligence and foresight, which suggests that there is no conscious being possessed of these qualities driving it.

@Monty – I’m not sure why accusing me of using the widely accepted definition of intelligence is a criticism. From Wikipedia:

“An umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn” (emphasis mine).

I fail to understand how Nature (or Gaia) meets up to this definition. In what way is it not simply a complex and interrelated system? It seems that, according to you, every complex system must equal intelligence. Now, you can say that my definition of intelligence is “too narrow”, but redefining intelligence to whatever you want it to be doesn’t really get us anywhere – if there’s a sour cream shortage but plenty of water, and we “solve” the problem by naming sour cream “water” and water “sour cream”, then we just have a “water” shortage. How are you not simply playing with words?

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that intelligence could never be found in anything but brains. I’m saying that brains have specific properties which make them intelligent, which the process of evolution does not share.

On your word choice: I understood the definitions of all of those words (except “fitness-based intelligence”, and the link was unhelpful). I failed to understand how, for example, nature is “massively parallel” in the same way that a parallel processor or a brain is.

Similarly, “distributed intelligence” such as information about a battle (as described in the link), means (as far as I know), individual intelligence distributed across a task, not that there is some sort of “gestalt mind” that is doing thinking and problem solving at a higher level than an aggregate of individual decisions. As any army commander can tell you, a command room is very much a collection of individuals, and they are not perfectly concerted or in any sense “thinking as one”. If they were a “gestalt mind”, they would be an extremely schizophrenic one.

Finally, I’m not sure you can term something that’s been widely criticized and derided by most scientists a “whole new biology”

fireside's avatar

I can see how from our perspective evolution doesn’t seem to have an intelligent driver, but if compared with our own scientific process it can be quite similar.

We don’t always find cures or new breakthroughs the first time out, it is a matter of tinkering with various aspects to see what works best. Evolution on a macro scale could be much like that process over a very long time.

I just met a guy this week who has been in a wheelchair for 5 years due to MS. He recently had stem cell surgery to repair some degenerative spinal tissue and is now walking around and will be driving by next spring. I’m quite certain that our development of that new science was not a straight line.

God putting the building blocks in place and allowing for the free form development to occur seems quite acceptable to me. if you’ll forgive the personification inherent in the description.

Zuma's avatar

“I’m not sure why accusing me of using a widely accepted definition… From Wikipedia [is a criticism].”

Because the Wikipedia definition is narrow, reductionistic, anthropomorphic and, like all scientific terms, a work in progress.

Wikipedia defines intelligence as “An umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn” (my emphasis)

So, in this sense, Wikipedia’s definition is more fluid and tentative than the way you are using it—which seems to be as the first and last word on the matter.

“I fail to understand how Nature… [is intelligent]”
“I failed to understand how…nature is “massively parallel”

Please, please, please, please, please read Kevin Kelly’s book,
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World

”...according to you, every complex system must equal intelligence.”

I am not sure about all complex systems, but certainly all living systems display a kind of intelligence. I am not playing word games here. The concept of intelligence has had to be expanded liberalized to accommodate the work being done in artificial and machine intelligence. Obviously mind-brain-based metaphors do not apply. And they apply imperfectly in cases of collective intelligence. So shall we forgo these investigations because Wikipedia has an anthropocentric concept of intelligence?

When it comes to living systems the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, and the whole often literally takes on a life of its own. This, whole encounters problems that its individuals only incompletely grasp; nonetheless, the individuals self-organize and reorganize until the problem is solved—at least that is one theory about how our brains evolved. When this occurs in ecosystems or social systems, this may not strike you as “intelligence” but I suggest to you, that is simply a reductionistic habit of mind.

“I’m not sure you can term something that’s been widely criticized and derided by most scientists a “whole new biology”

Really? What “new biology” do you think I am talking about? And derided by whom?

If you want to stick with your old reductionistic scientific paradigm, I’m not going to argue with you. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that there is a lot of exciting work being done in the new holistic paradigm that is well worth sampling. This is a very exciting time to be alive. New disciplines are emerging, old disciplines are converging, and a lot of things are finally falling into place.

The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications

Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity

Emergence: From Chaos To Order

Does God Play Dice? The New Mathematics of Chaos

Life’s Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World

Nature’s Numbers: The Unreal Reality Of Mathematics

The Meme Machine

At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity

Chaos and Life: Complexity and Order in Evolution and Thought

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

SYNC: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory-The New Physics of Information

Quest for the Quantum Computer

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos

Hobbes's avatar

Definitions have to be narrow to a certain extent, otherwise they would be meaningless. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the definition needs to be revisited. What would you replace it with? What “kind of intelligence” do “all living systems” display? The problem, as I see it, is that even if the Wikipedia definition is fluid, evolution by natural selection still doesn’t meet up to any of the criteria of mind or intelligence.

I will give you that many systems (including brains and human societies) have emergent properties, that they often do amazingly weird and interesting things, and that there is a lot of great work being done on the subject (as demonstrated by that massive pile of links), but the fact remains that “emergence” does not equal “mind, intelligence, and foresight”.

Zuma's avatar


“the fact remains that “emergence” does not equal “mind, intelligence, and foresight”.

Considering how little anyone really knows about this stuff you seem awfully sure of your “facts.” I think you will find ample discussion about how “mind,” “intelligence” and “forethought” are emergent phenomena, if you acquaint yourself with the literature.

You can get Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control” for about 3 bucks and Ian Stewart’s “Heaven” for a penny on Amazon. I guarantee you that if you read either one of those books, the Wikipedia definition will seem positively anachronistic compared to how people are thinking about these things now.

Admittedly, “Heaven” is a speculative work, but it is illuminating in the way it considers how “mind” “sentience” and “intelligence” could arise in radically alien biologies. Kelly’s book is the most important book I’ve read in the past 20 years.

If you are simply going to scoff and dismiss the links I’ve tried to provide you as a “massive pile” then I’m not going to spend any more energy on you.

Hobbes's avatar

A mobius strip has emergent properties – does this mean it is intelligent? Order sometimes spontaneously emerges in city architecture – does this mean that the city itself is intelligent? Traffic flow has emergent properties – does this mean that the whole system, including the roads and traffic lights, can think, plan and reason?

Mind, intelligence and forethought may well be emergent phenomena. I’m not arguing that they are not. I’m arguing that they are emergent phenomena of very particular sorts of systems, and that not all systems with emergent properties result in mind, intelligence and forethought.

With all due respect, you haven’t answered a pretty important question: if we were to change the definition of “intelligence”, what should we change it to? There do have to be some limits given to the definition, or it would become meaningless, so how would you change them?

I was dismissive – I’m sorry. The subject is very interesting, and I did look at several of the titles, but there were a lot of links to sift through.

Zuma's avatar

So far as I am aware, a mobius strip does not have emergent properties in the sense that I am using the term. For example, when an ecology undergoes a phase transition and “pops” into a higher state of stable complexity, that is an “emergent” phenomenon; when a word acquires a new meaning in usage, that too is an emergent phenomenon, as are epidemics, scientific theories, technological innovations, and crowd behaviors, such as riots.

And yes, a city has intelligence. It may not be any more intelligent than a sponge, the way you define intelligence, but there is a kind of intelligence to the way cities optimize the lives of their inhabitants, and also in how the city self-organizes, manages its inputs and wastes, continually renews itself and adjusts itself to it’s environment. If you’ve seen Sim City, then you have seen an AI version of some of the algorithms involved.

I think that smart cities have distinctive personalities that you can sense when you visit them. And I think they also stamp a kind of character on the people who live in them so that you can tell the difference between a San Franciscan and a Los Angelino. I know this may sound like New Age hokum, but the ancient Greeks saw the same kind of connection between the spirit of the polis and its constitution and the sensibility of its citizens. In fact, the life and spirit of the city were often explicitly celebrated, as the Athenians honored Athena with various rites and games.

“With all due respect, you haven’t answered a pretty important question: if we were to change the definition of “intelligence”, what should we change it to?”

Evolutionary fitness. If that doesn’t seem self-evident to you, I can only refer you to Kelly’s book (most of which, by the way, can be accessed online). In Chapter 14 he describes his thought processes in writing “Out of Control” in terms evolution. The trouble is, the chapter is well into the book and I am not sure how convincing it will be to a skeptical reader coming in cold, especially since he does so by way an extended metaphor (The Library of Borges), which comes at it from a mathematical and computational angle. Chapter 15 provides additional grounding in key concepts such as biological “fitness space.”

I’m glad to hear you are interested in the links. If you’re interested in consciousness and evolution, I think you will find these books a rich feast.

Hobbes's avatar

“A Möbius strip can be constructed from a set of two-sided, three edged, triangular surfaces. Only the complete set of triangles is one-sided and one-edged: any subset does not share these properties. Therefore, the emergent property can be said to emerge precisely when the final piece of the Möbius strip is put in place.”

Here’s the problem I see: the original point of the argument was (if I remember correctly) about design in nature. When you use the term “intelligence”, it implies, to me, that nature is conscious in a way comparable to our own mind. That is, that the biological systems of the world think and reason and plan, and thus have designed the organisms that exist today.

It appears that we’re talking about very different things when we speak of intelligence – the problem I have is not necessarily that you’re redefining the term but that by redefining it you retain its implications of design and consciousness while ascribing to it a different meaning.

It seems to me that intelligence has evolved because it contributed to evolutionary fitness, not that the two are identical. But perhaps Kelly uses the terms in a different way (I can’t be certain, as the link is broken). I have a very long reading list right now, but I will certainly, at the very least, add Kelly’s book to it.

delirium's avatar

I think there’s a very large difference (although in practice they seem similar) between elegance and intelligence.

Knotmyday's avatar

<Proud to be anything but elegant.

Zuma's avatar

Yes, we are using two different definitions of intelligence, but we also have a confusion about what we mean by Nature and biological systems. When I use the term “intelligence” I do not imply consciousness or self-consciousness, since so much of what we regard as intelligence takes place outside of our awareness. Consciousness is only the tip (actually the tipping point) of an information collection system made up of preconscious, subconscious and marginally conscious (contextual) factors. Some of that information is taken into account completely outside of our awareness.

For example, there is a whole component of our biology that is driven by pheromones. Girls who live with their natural fathers sexually mature significantly later than girls who grow up without fathers, who in turn mature later than girls who grow up with a step-father. In this respect, the genetic wisdom of the species is a factor in the decision, as are tacit social norms regarding fathers and daughters. By the time the decision surfaces into consciousness, it has practically already been made.

Actually, there is only one real living system and we are all living in it, co-evolving. Intelligence pervades the entire system. We recognize it in our brains because that is the closest lamp post to where we have dropped our figurative keys on the question. Actually, our intelligence is not in our brains so much as it is in the virtual reality—the programming—we run on our “wetware.” This may seem like a tiny quibble, but that virtual world is not centered on us as individuals.

Our cultural life—our Humanity—can be viewed as a parasitic meta-organism that infects our brains (but in a beneficial symbiotic way). Take away our culture of language and ideas and our brains are not very smart at all. We tend to think of our consciousness and our intelligence in purely individual and personal terms, but every time we innovate or refuse to innovate, we set off information ripples that travel throughout the collectivities to we belong to. These millions upon millions of decisions aggregate up into collective decisions, such as whether VHS or Beta will survive.

There is scarcely a topical question nowadays that isn’t shaped in some way by religious cultural wars. And while we may appear to be airing our personal and private opinions about theism and atheism, we are actually engaging in a process of collective deliberation that will eventually influence a multitude of minor decisions that will ultimately affect our fitness of our species. In fact, this very conversation is not just about intelligence, but about finding non-theistic explanations for the collective intelligences that people seem to worship as gods. If language is a virus, then so too are jihadist ideas—which is why some of the cutting edge thinking in counter-terrorism is taking an epidemiological approach to the problem, specifically informed by viral propagation. There was even an episode of Numb3rs devoted to this.

One of the reasons I recommend Stewart & Cohen’s “Heaven” is because they portray religion as a kind of viral “memeplex” which infects the cultural and ecological meta-organisms of a fictional galaxy. One of the main characters in this story is a species of coral which is capable of reorganizing itself into a super-intelligent planet-wide sentience when it feels threatened. This super-intelligence can subdivide itself in order to optimize the number of individuals contributing to a collective decision—and this is only the female side of the species. The females produce very, very accurate and detailed predictive scenarios which the more ambulatory males sell to other species. One of the other characters is a sentient tide pool, which achieves its self-awareness through a canny division of labor and a form of chemical communication with other tide pools. Obviously, these are products of a radically different evolutionary history, but still plausible. The point of it is to show that consciousness, sentience and intelligence can be configured in ways far different from our brains.

Sorry about the broken link. Try this one.

Hobbes's avatar

What I’m saying, though, is that by using the term intelligence, you do set off implications of consciousness and reasoning ability, whether you mean to or not. I think what you’re talking about is something different from how the word “intelligence” is usually used.

While thinking about life as a meta-organism can be useful, I think it leads getting association and equation muddled up. Brains and their “software” are a part of the network of life, sure, but that doesn’t mean that the entire system shares the intelligence properties of brains. Culture is a giant system, yes, and looking at it as a whole can be useful. But everything in that system still happens as a result of individual decisions. You talk about removing language, but to do that, you’d have to remove it individually from every brain, because that’s where it exists, at the end of the day. Even though what exists in each individual brain is shaped by social interactions, language still doesn’t exist in an ephemeral society-space (at least, that’s how it seems to me).

The decision to keep VHS or Beta can be thought of in terms of a collective decision, but it’s the aggregate of millions of individuals making individual decisions about whether or not they wanted to buy VHS or Beta. Sure, they were almost certainly influenced by the decisions others had made, but the decision never happened at a level higher than that of the brain, as far as I know.

The thing with the coral is that each one would, it seems, function as an individual neuron. I think people and their brains are different in kind from that sort of system, as they don’t have the sorts of networking and connections that lead to emergent intelligence. Brain networks have emergent properties, but those properties aren’t the same as neuron or coral or tide pool networks.

Really, all I’m saying is that while I agree that intelligence is an emergent property of the brain, not all systems with emergent properties are intelligent.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is the deal regarding faith. There can be no reason for having faith in one religion rather than another, for then it would not be faith. Therefore there is nothing that can be said about God, apart from being omniscient and omnipotent, which just says that God can do pretty much anything but we are clueless as to what God actually does. Since there is nothing to say about God then there is no point in talking about God and consequently no point to religion.

Hobbes's avatar

But why can we say with any conviction that God is omnipotent and omniscient? The ancient Greek Gods weren’t – what allows us to make those assertions about Yaweh or Allah if there’s no reason to believe in the rest of it?

And why does religion get special treatment? Why is it the only area of human inquiry where someone can adopt a belief for no reason whatsoever? Doesn’t make sense to me.

Zuma's avatar


“everything in that system still happens as a result of individual decisions”

This is exasperating. Yes, everything happens as the result of individual decisions but there are no individual decisions that do not take place in a collective context. An individual can not exist on its own. The individual is inextricably bound up in a population—and in our case, the cultural meta-organisms to which it belongs. There is constant feedback between the parts and the whole: individual decisions are the inputs to collective decisions, and vice versa. The individual is the culture incarnate; even the self is a social construct. And any distinction between the true is wholly artificial.

The fact is, we don’t live in our brains, we live in our minds—and while our minds tent to habitually focus on our individuality, our minds would have no content if they didn’t draw their language, ideas and knowledge from a collectivity.

“Even though what exists in each individual brain is shaped by social interactions, language still doesn’t exist in an ephemeral society-space (at least, that’s how it seems to me).”

Of course it does. Society-space is a subset of cultural fitness space, which is a subset of biological fitness space, which is a subset of computational space, which is a subset of what mathematicians call Hilbert space. Language is part of the cultural meta-organism, and while it is constituted in its individuals, it has a life of its own that literally transcends the individual. This is not a radical idea in linguistics or semiotics.

The mind and its localized “executive” intelligence is a kind of special case, insofar as the mind is an interface between two living systems—the individual mind-brain and the life of the culture. If I may make a distinction for the sake of this discussion, the brain manages awareness, while the mind manages consciousness. The two are interdependent, but not the same. When we speak of self-consciousness, political consciousness or “higher” spiritual consciousness, we are speaking of social and cultural constructs. One has to be aware in order to be conscious, but the content of that consciousness is culturally determined.

We are not our brains. We are human beings—which is to say, we are a social constructs who live in our minds—minds whose qualities are collectively defined. And while we may regard our decisions as private and individual, they are so culturally conditioned that any separation between the individual and the transcendent life of the collectivity is wholly artificial.

Our brains (which are quite plastic and capable of evolving new structures within an individual’s lifetime) have evolved structures to accommodate our minds which, in turn, have evolved to accommodate our culture—and the inevitable tension between our “selfish” needs and the “altruistic” demands of our sense of humanity. However, our cultural sense of humanity is a contested terrain, riddled with internal conflicts and contradictions.

“VHS or Beta can be thought of [as] ... the aggregate of millions of individuals making individual decisions… Sure, they were almost certainly influenced by the decisions others had made, but the decision never happened at a level higher than that of the brain…”

You’re either not looking at the big picture or, if you are, you are not seeing the organic social whole as having a life of it’s own—a life over and above the lives of its constituent members. Its like saying that the mind is “just” an aggregation of individual brain cells—as if the mind had no independent life or intelligence. Do individual brain cells have the “same” intelligence as the whole brain? No. Individual cells (actually specialized clusters of cells), manage a single parameter of a complex concept much the same way that fuzzy logic servo-controls manage the parameters of complex processes. Similarly, you can find clusters of managing specialized functions in complex social processes. In this respect, the factory grunts and the salesmen have a different perspective than the more enterprise-wide point of view as the CEO.

Do individuals and collectivities have wholly “different” forms of consciousness and intelligence? Well, yes and no, depending on what you mean by “different.” Both minds and economies aggregate information across populations of individuals. Both have autonomous lives; both make decisions; both are conscious, although in the latter case, not self-consciousness. The phenomenology is different because living in a mind comes quite naturally to us, whereas we have to do a bit of extra work to project our consciousness into a collectivity, such as an economy. In that instance, we have to compensate for the limited state of our information by our individuality by gathering statistics and other intelligence across a wide network of individuals.

In another sense, we are the collectivity incarnate. It’s language and it’s information are constituted in us. Consequently, we are able to take the point of view of “society,” a “generalized other,” or a term like “god,” which, when you strip away the mythological misdirection, is often simply a place holder for the moral life of the collectivity. In this respect, we are not entirely unacquainted with the transcendent life of the collectivity.

“Brain networks have emergent properties, but those properties aren’t the same as neuron or coral or tide pool networks.”

Networks are networks; the mathematics are the same. Moreover, neurons, brains, cultures, economies, species, corals and tide pools are all part of the same co-evolving fabric of Life—whose intelligence co-evolves from the same imperative: the will to survive. The phenomenology may be different, but the mechanics are all of the same stuff.

“not all systems with emergent properties are intelligent.”

Perhaps not a mobius strip, but how do you know. One of the links above (The Bit and the Pendulum) describes a movement within physics to recast it in terms of information theory. It may be only a metaphor (as indeed our own consciousness may be), but the universe seems to be filled with dynamic systems existing on multiple scales, with feedback loops between them, consisting of self-organizing populations forming networks of oscillating nodes that aggregate and synchronize information and communicate it to decision points where dynamics of processes on a higher scale tip the balance.

Who are you, oh mortal in the dust, to say where consciousness begins and ends? (I don’t mean that in a bad way.) But, how do you know that a virus does not have some rudimentary form of awareness? How do you know that consciousness isn’t embedded in the very fractal structure of the cosmos? What makes you think that the cellular metabolism of a brain cell is not organically connected to the socially organized food supply and the culturally organized agricultural technology which sustains it?

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Wow, lots here to digest. Um, I’ll just add this. Ask any biologist/entomologist about Xylocaris maculipennis, the African bedbugs’ mating habits, or the homosexual rape habits of the acanthocephalan worm, or the forced copulation technique of the scorpion fly, or even the do-it-once-then-explode sex life of the common honey bee drone. It’s easy to see god in a sunset, or a snowflake, but in creatures that perform bizarre and violent acts for procreation? that sounds more like evolutionary traits that have evolved with no deity standing over them and regulating their antics. Or if a god is creating such creatures, then he must be a sick and twisted individual.

Just something to consider while you debate the existence of a creator. And should you think insects are insignificant, remember, there are more insects en masse than there are mammals, fish, reptiles and birds combined. To quote a noted biologist, God must love beetles, he made so many of them.

Hobbes's avatar

This is the crux of the issue for me: you make claims that society is in fact a “meta-organism”, a super-being which exists ephemerally. But can you present me with any instance where a decision was obviously made by some higher-level collective consciousness, as opposed to a network of interconnected individuals?

Take Fluther, for example. Has there ever been a point at which I have typed a response, not because of something I think (shaped as that thought might be by social factors), but because something a higher-level hive-mind that exists within Fluther and has an “autonomous life” wanted?

To an extent, we are our brains in the same way that, at the end of the day, software is hardware. Consciousness may be an emergent property of neurons, but if you take away the brain, consciousness disappears, just as if my computer motherboard vanished, all the software would vanish with it, and not continue to life on somewhere outside of it. If I made an exact copy of your brain and put it in an exact copy of your body, I would have two of you. At that moment, they would be exactly the same in every detail, right down to the thought you were thinking at that moment (leaving aside the possible effects of quantum randomness on the interactions of neurons).

All networks are equal, but some are more equal than others. Some networks have properties that give rise to intelligent. Some do not. Neuron networks have properties that give rise to intelligence. Brain networks do not. Please don’t set up straw men – there are huge, interlocking, interconnected networks all throughout the universe, yes. Cells are almost certainly bound up with human social networks. Many of these networks have emergent properties. But network does not equal emergence, and emergence does not equal intelligence. Emergence can equal interesting mathematical properties, or unexpected group behavior, or strange architectural structures, but it doesn’t always mean consciousness and intelligence in every case. That’s all I’m trying to say.

LostInParadise's avatar

Interesting discussion between Hobbes and Montyzuma.

I think the disagreement between you may lie in the use of the word intelligence. What matters about emergent systems is that they are more than the sum of their parts, that they exhibit behavior that can not be accounted for by adding up the behaviors of isolated components. When this behavior works to the benefit of the collective then it can be regarded as a type of intelligence.

For example, consider the economy. For all its flaws, free market economies still outperform planned economies. That is to say that the individual self-serving decisions of many people works better than the deliberate decisions of a small number of planners.

Or consider an ecological community. The self-serving survival of genetic material gives rise to a vast variety of species occupying different niches that collectively capture and distribute solar energy and recycles material in a stable system. Creationists correctly see intelligence in this, but they fail to see that the intelligence is just as emergent as it is in an economic system.

Hobbes's avatar

Mmmm. My issue with that is just that it can then lead to thinking of this kind-of intelligence as a thinking, rational being that exists as a meta-consciousness, which is what Zuma seems to be implying.

But good examples, and good points. =]

Zuma's avatar

Thank you, LIP. You “got it” right off the bat. And yes I am using the word “intelligence” in a broader, more inclusive sense than Hobbes. I see intelligence in the robust survival fitness of living systems. His usage is based on a mind-brain based, unitary, top-down, executive, abstract-thinking, problem-solving model of intelligence. It is probably more familiar and better established than mine. But, in my view, it is too anthropomorphic and reductionistic to cover new developments like artificial and machine intelligence; or the collective intelligence of hives, cities, and economies; or the massively parallel, bottom-up intelligence that pervade ecosystems and all of Life.


you make claims that society is in fact a “meta-organism”, a super-being which exists ephemerally.”

I would not say it exists ephemerally, since ephemerally means “existing only for a brief time.” A hive is a meta-organism, and it’s life literally transcends the lives of it’s individuals. Indeed, it’s individuals are periodically replaced, but the hive continues as a functioning unit.

“But can you present me with any instance where a decision was obviously made by some higher-level collective consciousness, as opposed to a network of interconnected individuals?”

I’m not sure what you mean by “as opposed to a network of interconnected individuals.” A collectivity like a meta-organism has what’s called a “bottom-up” kind of intelligence—which is to say, it’s decision-making is driven it’s individuals following a very limited set of rules without being mindful of the “big picture.” It sounds as though you are asking, “Can you show me an instance where a meta-organism exhibits executive top-down decision-making.” Well, there are governmental bodies that, in a democracy, translate bottom-up information into “top-down” executive policies.

Of course, the formal deliberative democratic process, is only one aspect of the life of the meta-organism—i.e., the part that deals with semi-autonomous sub-components, and other nation states. The economy is one such sub-component, which is basically the interface between the social ecology of the meta-organism and it’s relationship to the planetary ecology.

There are historical dialectics, such as the current debate between theists and anti-theists, where the people involved have no inkling of the broader implications this has for the survival of their species.

“All networks are equal”

I didn’t mean to imply that they are. Living networks, and simulations of living networks, embody a kind of survival-based intelligence. Fluther doesn’t have much of a hive mind; nonetheless, there are certain norms of civility held in common by the collectivity which inhibit me from being as raw as I might otherwise be. So, in that sense, I am influenced by the collectivity. And, I think, so are you. It isn’t anything weird or spooky.

” we are our brains… if you take away the brain, consciousness disappears…”

Gawd, you are such a reductionist! If you were just a brain, you would have no language, no conscience, no empathy, and no consciousness of other people, society or culture. You are not your brain, you are a social construct—which is to say, you are a bundle of self-reinforcing assumptions persisting not only in your own brain, but in the brains of others. Take away those assumptions and “you” dissolve into inarticulate sensation.

“my issue is that it can then lead to thinking of this kind-of intelligence as a thinking, rational being that exists as a meta-consciousness”

In principle, I don’t think there is anything to prevent a meta-organism from developing a full-on executive type of thinking, rational consciousness. After all, we have evolved both democracy and a global Internet infrastructure that could sustain a plebiscite democracy if there was any survival advantage to doing so. In this respect, this adaptation of the Internet would be like a prosthesis to our individual intellects, augmenting it’s informational reach and processing capacity.

Now would this constitute a “being”? A being is generally thought of as an individual; so a collective, hive intelligence would probably stretch the meaning of the word. But what about Gaia? Is she not the sum of all rational, thinking beings on this planet (and much more besides)?

fireside's avatar

And why does religion get special treatment? Why is it the only area of human inquiry where someone can adopt a belief for no reason whatsoever?

Business, Politics, Finance, Marketing, Sports, Parenting…
Human inquiry is the same in all areas, the thought process looks at what has worked for others, what hasn’t been tried, what seems to work best for the majority.

Dr. Spock wrote his opinion in a couple of books which many people took as fact. Only now that we look back can we see that that approach helped to raise a generation of self-centered individuals who have a long way to go to overcome their own ego.

johnrobinsonjr's avatar

ok i finally figured out how to answer a question. i figured that i needed to join this "fluther" simply based on this question and some of the responses i had read. i sum how came across this question when i was browsing about lil' wayne and his connection with the Lord to make a long story short. well yea ima try to be short and quick with this but yea. For anyone to to argue Gods existance is comical to me. You would have a much better chance convincing me that we humans dont breathe oxygen. Or maybe you could come with the idea that there is no water on earth, lol. Yea i like that no water on earth......... well anyways anyone ever talk to God???? i mean any of yall???? come on be honest with me! well maybe you should try sometime he'll hear you. and guess what folks he talks back too. alot of times with miracles, lol.but it must be in his will. And guess what folks he knows your heart and he knows your thoughts and and all that. ok well i dont hav a pic or nothin but i am a real person and would love to hear someone try and convince me im wrong it will make me smile!!

Hobbes's avatar

Oh good. I always love talking to new trolls. But what the hell – I’ll take the bait.

It’s relatively simple to design an experiment that strongly supports the theory that humans breath oxygen. Joseph Priestly was one of the first scientists to do so – he put a mouse in a sealed jar with a candle. The candle rapidly ate all the air, and so the mouse died. Similarly, the idea that there is water on Earth is evident to our senses, but you could theoretically supply further evidence that supported it.

The problem with God is that no such evidence, experimental or otherwise, exists, besides extremely subjective personal accounts. There is no way to be certain that what you “hear” speaking back to you is not just your own mind playing tricks. Miracles have similar issues – never since we have developed the tools to accurately examine and catelogue “miracles” have there been verified accounts of anything happening anywhere which obviously, irrefutably violates what we know to be possible. All reported “miracles” can be easily explained by means other than “God did it”.

The important thing, though, is that without evidence of any sort for God, there is no reason to believe that the Judeo-Christian God over, say, Ganesh, Thor, or the Tooth Fairy is behind any of the miracles you point to. God might exist, but so might the Tooth Fairy, so might Apollo – all of these possibilities are equally likely, and equally unlikely.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

johnrobinsonjr, remember, there are approximately 2,500 known gods in human history, and choosing the correct one can be difficult, if not impossible. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Roberts,

“I say we are both atheists; I just believe in one fewer god than you. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss yours.”

That should end the debate, but somehow I doubt it. :-)

krose1223's avatar

I think he may be too scared to come back.

bodyhead's avatar

I love that quote but Stephen Roberts is just some shmo on a message board like us. That quote has reverberated around the internet for years but he’s never written anything else of any importance.

Tantigirl's avatar

Ah, but Bodyhead, your opinion that he’s never written anything else of importance is beside the point. One thing of importance was written, and that is all it takes.

bodyhead's avatar

A broken clock is right twice a day. Just because the broken clock furthers my cause doesn’t mean that I should look at it as a fully functional device.

Knotmyday's avatar

@bodyhead, you called yourself a “shmo.”

I heard (with my own two fuzzy little ears) a prominent “preacher” in our community say:

“When I hear arguments like that, I just ignore them. I tell them, ‘That question doesn’t deserve an answer’.”

I am infinitely sad, not for him, but for his deluded followers- who smiled and applauded his rejection of logic.

bodyhead's avatar

I am a shmo. If anyone is using my words to prove a point (even a good one), then I’ve to reexamine their logic.

Hobbes's avatar

@krose1223 – I think he was a troll, and thus was never planning on coming back. If I still had a Myspace, I’d consider taking his bait and messaging him, but I don’t, and he doesn’t sound like a very interesting person to debate in any case.

@bodyhead – I don’t know about that. There have been plenty of one hit wonders on the internet, but that doesn’t make the hit any less worthwhile. Rick Astley was a pretty bad singer, but RickRolling people was still fun.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I’ve only said one original thing that other people repeat, so the logic of only having said one good thing (or written) with no good follow up hardly means I am done, or that Stephen Roberts is, for that matter. Who knows, I may someday top that one great word I created back in 2001. fucktard, a combination of fucking and retard, used to refer to an incredibly stupid person

pekenoe's avatar

You’re wrong, there is a God.

There, I said it.

Course, not just because you told me to, it’s cause I live it.

pekenoe's avatar

this kinda goes back a couple of days to the value of human life, objective and subjective.

God, I would reason is subjective, but without, we would lead purely objective lives and as such would be cattle. So on that assumption alone, I would state that “There is indeed a God”

laureth's avatar

Who’s to say that we don’t live like cattle? We eat, poop, breed. The only difference is that we have (I think) a bit of a bigger brain that we evolved to better survive, not having sharp teeth or claws, that we also use for some clever thinking in our spare time.

pekenoe's avatar

@laureth the clever thinking being subjective?

laureth's avatar

It’s interesting that your argument rests on the clever thinking, subjective “humanness” as being evidence of God, when it seems that most people who advocate for God want us to emphasize only the objective traits, such as marriage being only for breeding purposes (no gays!), no using the brain to decide if we should breed or not (pro-life!), no using the brain for things that might discourage the belief in God (faith vs science). Why is it that if the accident of evolution that allows us to think clever thoughts (and type them on Fluther) is evidence of God, we are discouraged from using it?

pekenoe's avatar

I am using objective (something proven, absolute) subjective (speculation, dreams) in my pen.
Marriage is subjective, breeding is objective.
Science is objective therefore anti subjective (ie, religious)
Who is discouraging you from free thinking? Objective leaning individuals would be prone to be anti subjective (free thinking) but since they cannot exist in a solely objective world the necessity of subjectivity dampers their arguments.
God exists only in our subjectiveness, objectivety is life and death, nothing more.

bodyhead's avatar

I believe the saying goes:

Blind faith is an ironic gift to give the creator of intelligence.

shadling21's avatar

I think subjectivity and objectivity are terms that get misused often.
That is my own subjective opinion.

Knotmyday's avatar

Not just misused, but overused. And contextually misappropriated.

Magnus's avatar

If God is God he has the power to make me believe in him.
If God is God and good, he’ll make me believe in him so I don’t go to hell.
I don’t believe in God.

Therefore one of two things has to be true:
1) There is no God.
2) You can go to heaven without believing in God.


fireside's avatar

3) God is not what I conceive of when thinking of God.

Hobbes's avatar

@Fireside – what do you conceive of when thinking of God? To have any sort of discussion, we have to set up some kind of definition of terms. Magnus’ argument, I believe was concerning the traditional Christian conception of God: an all-powerful, all-knowing being that exists somewhere outside the physical universe, whose actions and desires the Bible claims to describe. I’d be perfectly willing to talk about something else, but you can’t just cop out of an argument by redefining the words involved.

fireside's avatar

@Hobbes – I’m okay with this Merriam Webster definition:
the supreme or ultimate reality

Wiki also has some good insights:
Conceptions of God vary widely. Theologians and philosophers have studied countless conceptions of God since the dawn of civilization.

Basically, my concept of God has nothing to do with the traditional concept of Heaven and Hell. I think those are allusions to spiritual health, not literal places.

Hobbes's avatar

Ok, fair enough. What do you think Webster means by “supreme reality” – what reality is more supreme than the one we perceive? What, may I ask, is your conception of God? You say you don’t believe in a literal Heaven and Hell – do you believe in a conscious, intelligent, all-powerful being?

fireside's avatar

I believe that God is unknowable in essence and beyond human conception.

Aside from that, I like to think of God as a vast ocean.
There are rivers flowing down from the various mountaintops of religion all feeding into the same body of water. The deeper you wade into the water, the more God’s knowledge washes over you, as long as you don’t lose your footing and get dragged under.

There are plenty of smaller pools and eddys that develop from the rivers rushing towards the ocean of God and you will find many people setting up camp by those pools and declaring themselves home. You will also find many people wandering through the jungle, or woods, looking for the water. There are also many people on the shores of the ocean who are tentative about stepping into the water and others who wade right in.

As far as what I think Webster’s dictionary means by “supreme reality” I liken that to this video about the tenth dimension.

I do believe that God is an all powerful being, but don’t necessarily know what this means because I am limited by human conceptions of “power” and “being”. I also don’t think of God as intrusive, I believe that the prophets get glimpses of God’s truth and then relate those to the rest of humanity.

Hobbes's avatar

So you view God as the entirety of the universe outside of time? Or as a state of mind, an “Enlightenment” which is partially described by every religion? I like the “body of water” metaphor – while I may not buy its implications, it’s a very good way of describing the ways religions are interconnected and all (to some extent) seem to agree on most of the important stuff. However, neither of these definitions seems to match up with the idea of God as an intelligent being that acts on the world, has desires, and can be communicated with. How do you match these two ideas up? Am I misinterpreting your ideas? Or do you not view God as intelligent, etc?

fireside's avatar

I view God as the summation of all intelligence, and the ocean metaphor is that body of knowledge/understanding.

The prophets are like the captains of a ship, or possibly the dudes in the crow’s nests, that are able to see the path ahead and how to navigate through the upcoming difficulties. At least, that is how I see it right now.

I also believe that God is one with what many describe as the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Truth, which is a layer of connectivity between all things. Thoughts, feelings and intentions are sent out along that connective energy and effect those around us. Similar to the flow of chi through one’s body or through a room/garden/etc.

Do I view God as Zeus playing chess with the Earth or causing earthquakes, floods, etc. as though he was playing a macro version of Sim City? No. But I do think that the energy we humans send out along that connective layer can cause blockages and disturbances that can effect things on a much larger scale than I know how to describe. They can also release the same conditions depending on the type of energy we are sending.

Do I think God has desires? No. God is immovable in perfection and thus is free from desires. Our souls desire to be nearer to God and are on a journey towards that ocean and that immovable perfection, that supreme reality.

Enlightenment is living through our souls, rather than our brains or bodies. It is a connection with that spiritual world or that connective layer that supersedes the material plane of existence.

CassieO's avatar

Man chooses his place with God. He gives us a lifetime to choose. You said yourself, that you know there is a possibility that you will stand before God, If you choose to live your entire life without God, then you have already made your choice. And God will grant you eternity apart from ever having to be around Him. By rejecting God’s offer of salvation, it is saying, you want it, you don’t need God and believe you can do it better than God Himself. That you are already good enough to be considered righteous.

But the punishment for sin, no matter good we might think we are, is still the same, and is eternal separation from God.

Who hasn’t broken the 10 Commandments? who is without sin and good enough to get into heaven on their own efforts or merit? No one. If a person lies, he/she is a liar, if you steal, you are a theif in god’s eye’s. If you have ever sinned, then you are a sinner. That’s is why we ALL need a Saviour, Sin separates ppl from God. And Jesus Christ is the Mediator between man and God.

No one gets into heaven on their own ‘righteousness’. Next to God, who IS Righteous, we all fall short of the glory.

The Bible says that not all who say “Lord, Lord” will be saved on the day. Even some who will say, “But Lord, haven’t I done miracles in Your Name? Haven’t I done many good things?” and He will say to them “Depart from Me, I never knew you”

Only those who do the Will of God will inherit the promises of God. “Lest one be born-again, he can never enter the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus said“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me”

Knotmyday's avatar

@CassieO – Of course, we realize that you are operating on the assumption that there is a (Big G) God in the first place.

However, no one in history has ever been able to to make any semblance of such a deity tangibly, epistomologically, empirically, or logically possible.

I do, however, appreciate the civic implications of the “10 commandments.”

Hobbes's avatar

Sorry, CassiO, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I must point out how closely that interpretation of God (which, as far as I understand, is quite a popular one) resembles an abusive parent.

We are given a set of rules which are impossible to follow, then told that we are worthless and evil when we inevitably break them. God appears to be emotionally manipulative – telling us that we are scum, filling us with guilt and telling us that the only way to alleviate it is through him. What kind of sick relationship is that?

fireside's avatar

@CassieO – Since you quoted John 4:6, I just wanted to point out the lines towards the end of that chapter:

24These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25“All this I have spoken while still with you.
26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you

So, in essence, Jesus was saying that the words he spoke were from God, so it makes sense to interpret the lines as, “No one comes to the Father except through I am (Yahweh)”. Plus we are told that the Spirit of truth will be sent to us and will provide us with the teachings.

To me, that indicates that there are other ways to learn the same teachings and become closer to God.

SeventhSense's avatar

There’s only one of us and only one place to go.

Jiminez's avatar

OK. I think you’re wrong.

CMaz's avatar

We will find out soon enought. Some sooner then others.

SeventhSense's avatar

Here’s my answer from the greatest punk band ever.
God I love this song.

josie's avatar

You’re wrong

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