Social Question

Christian95's avatar

Do you belive that God really exist?

Asked by Christian95 (3260points) August 25th, 2009

All this God thing is very unclear and it has no physical evidence,so I’m really wondering if God exist?Do you think that Einstein’s cosmological religion is more proper?Plus today’s physics is closer and closer to proove that God doesn’t exist.

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112 Answers

sandystrachan's avatar

God doesn’t , never has never will exist . Mythical being is all he is .

Fyrius's avatar

You must be new. Welcome to the Internet.

Haffi112's avatar

Believe what you want and don’t let others force their beliefs on you.

Live life like you want it not like other people tell you to.

You only live once.

Fyrius's avatar

But do continue to search for the truth, and be wary of what you want to believe. That’s where your biases lie.
A desire to believe something is a will-o’-the-wisp that will lead you into the marshes of wishful thinking, and leave you stuck in the mud of irrationality. Don’t follow it. Ignore it and figure out how to get home by yourself, by the compass of reason and, if you can, by the maps of science.

Haffi112's avatar

@Fyrius Actually I’m an atheist and I don’t do wishful thinking. I used to but then I realized that it wasn’t for the good, I try to be rational but I also respect other people’s beliefs and I don’t try to force them to be atheists. They have to discover it themselves like most other things.

Zuma's avatar

I have a theory that there is an underlying phenomenon that people who say the experience god interact with, but it is a natural phenomenon, not a supernatural one. There lots of books on how to talk to your pets, how to talk to fairies, how to talk to the dead, how to talk to God, etc., and they all employ the same basic technique. You let your mind go blank, then you address whomever or whatever you are trying to have dialogue with, then you listen, and eventually you will hear a quiet voice with whom you can have a conversation.

Basically, this is the same neural mirroring machinery that people use to have an internal dialogue with themselves. We each carry around a mental model of the people we meet, and we run it parallel to our own minds. This is how you can anticipate how one person will react differently from another, with sufficient accuracy to socially navigate through life.

If you have ever had an argument with someone and the argument ended before you were finished, you may have had the sensation of carrying on the argument in your head. You can do the same thing with a voice that you “pray” to, and you can have extended conversations with it. Some people have a voice they call their conscience; others assign this morality-speaking voice to God, or a god (in ancient times).

They aren’t incorrect about the voice being there, or the voice speaking morality, or feeling comforted and un-alone. What they are incorrect about is that this voice is the God of Creation, or Vishnu, or Dionysus. These voices can be an aggregate of the personalities in the individual’s primary group, or it can be a construct based on a larger “generalized other.” Max Weber, once observed that warlike people had warlike gods, that merchant people had gods you could bargain with, scholars had learned gods, farmers had fertility gods, etc. Since people talk about these, they tend to gain coherence and definition, becoming a kind of zeitgeist that takes on a life of its own. One could call it a “memeplex” that infects the mind of its hosts. Subjectively, it seems to conform to everything myth says it should be which, for most people, is good enough.

The idea is that the god construct serves to provide a model for normative social relations. God myths are a kind of pre-scientific psychology, sociology and moral philosophy. They provide a conceptual framework for discussing things like one’s duty toward people in authority (normally obedience), or one’s fellow man (aid friends, kill enemies), or even (in Christianity) for those less fortunate than yourself.

In people with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, these entities can become very vivid and grandiose, and seemingly very, very real. It isn’t difficult to see how our present myths got started. In the Koran, for example, there are several indications that Muhammad was indeed afflicted with TLE. In the Bible, St. Paul is struck blind on his way to Damascus (another indication of TLE). Others can get there by taking drugs like DMT or LSD. And still others can get there by constantly interacting with it and turning their lives over to it. And it can become a kind of “bossy” personality that is alienated from the self, and since the person sees it as external and miraculous, ascribes to it whatever is customary in that society.

mattbrowne's avatar

Today’s physics is not closer to prove that God doesn’t exist. If it were, I’d like to hear about it.

markyy's avatar

No I do not. I am willing to agree he/she/it might though. Ow and don’t expect a clear cut answer that will be helpful, this is really something you should do some research about and form your own opinion.

Plus today’s physics is closer and closer to proove that God doesn’t exist.
Even as an atheist leaning towards agnosticism I must say I disagree with this statement. The only thing remotely resembling truth in that answer is that science is contesting the content of the bible more and more.

Haffi112's avatar

@MontyZuma Thank you for your answer, I really enjoyed it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – Yes, I agree that if people really hear God talking to them this is a natural phenomenon. Everything we notice is a result of brain activity. We don’t hear the actual sound waves hitting the inner ear. However, the ‘God interaction’ explanations tell us nothing whether God really exists or not.

LostInParadise's avatar

You must be new here. This religion thing keeps popping up. I will keep things really short. What the heck difference does it make whether or not God exists? Is there anything you can think of that you would do differently one way or the other?

Fyrius's avatar

I wouldn’t dare say you do. My advice was intended for the OP, as an addition to your own. (And for anyone else who might happen to read it.)
I agree one should figure out for oneself what to believe, but I also always encourage people to put serious effort into it and not settle for whatever tickles their fancy. To be critical thinkers.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I thought I threw this old broken record away.

Fyrius's avatar

I don’t know about that. If it turned out one of the gods is real, that would mean I (and everyone else who believes as I do) have been dead wrong about the fundamental nature of the universe for decades. I can’t think of a more world-shaking plot twist. I for one would shit bricks.
With surprise and scientific excitement, not fright.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne What do you mean by “God”? It sounds as though you have something specific in mind.

I have found that asking questions like is god “really” a crocodile or a burning bush? Or is the voice I interact with “really” God? don’t go anywhere because they beg too many questions. I think the more illuminating questions are, “What are people accessing when they feel as though they are communing or in contact with their gods?” And are these beneficial in terms of promoting group cohesion and survival, or the sense of moral connectedness of individuals?

Another fruitful area of inquiry to ask, if there is a god of (________________) insert your myth here, what would the universe look like. For example, a supernatural being is going to leave a huge wake in the chain of cause and effect, dontcha think?

Fyrius's avatar

I find your approach refreshing and quite sensible.

Haffi112's avatar

@MontyZuma Well Christians have already solved this issue by saying that God doesn’t affect their lives because he gave them free will. Somehow some people manage to hear him which is quite contradictory in my opinion.

I myself don’t believe in free will so the universe is from my viewpoint deterministic. Just try to find the source of your free will (without ending up with God) and tell your answers.

Zuma's avatar

@Haffi112 If God doesn’t affect people’s lives, why do believers pray to Him asking Him for this and that? In my view, this is nonsense (self-contradictory) because they are basically asking what they believe to be a perfect and omniscient being to change the universe just for them. That is really a kind of criticism for the way it is currently constructed, rather implying that God kind of fucked up, and could he just change things, just this once, pretty please, I promise I’ll be good, pretty, pretty please.

Now, here’s the deal with free will and determinism: The universe is fully determined. Everything has already happened. Moreover every possible permeutation of everything that could possibly happen is all laid out from beginning to end in the multiverse, or what mathematicians call Hilbert space. You and I occupy specific points of view. And, from those points of view, have very limited information. So, for us, the universe is not fully determined as we incounter it from instant to instant.

For example, the future is hidden from us. We can choose X instead of Y, and in so doing, Quantum Theory tells us we collapse all the possible futures of the option we didn’t chose. It is this indeterminacy which allows for us to be individually and collectively moral actors.

dynamicduo's avatar

I don’t believe in any God. Why would I? There are no gods in front of me and all of my life achievements have been the result of my and other people’s efforts. I see no reason to believe in a God just as I would not believe that there was a magical special color called ooomyal that you could only see while standing on your head at the break of dawn. That is to say, it’s utter nonsense that will only hinder me if I choose to follow it.

But that is only the decision I have chosen to make. You are free to choose your own and to explore the world of spirituality and faith and make your own decision. It is just from a scientific point of view and using rationality and logic, all of the different religion’s gods and stories are implausible and do not stand up to rigorous analysis and their evidence does not correspond with the observed world. Combine that with an understanding of society and how our brains work and how religion helped humanity grow during the past thousands of years (indeed, the English language itself would have been lost to time had it not been used in the churches), and it becomes obvious that religion is a belief structure and not factual at all.

Could there be some strange deity waiting for us at the end? Ultimately you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no way to know for sure. But I would certainly think that thing would appreciate a skeptical mind versus one that simply follows what it is told based on an old book. And if it doesn’t, if it really wanted me to conform to only one of the many religions that exist, well fuck it, this is the way I am and I’m not changing it for a celestial being who doesn’t have any influence on my life :)

LostInParadise's avatar

@Fyrius, Apart from shitting bricks, what would you do if there were a God? What better understanding would we have of things? What would we do differently? Science is pretty good at predicting some things, so that leaves God to intervene at the limits of our knowledge, with no way of knowing how or why God does what he does. So again I ask, what difference does it make whether or not there is a God? Talking about God is essentially talking about nothing.

syz's avatar

God is Santa Claus for grown ups.

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise The difference it makes in whether there is or isn’t a God rather depends on what God is.

Is it a natural or a supernatural phenomenon? Is it related to the phenomenon of consciousness, or is it embedded in the very mechanics of matter, or both? Is it omniscient? Does it have an “executive” intelligence like we do, or is it more of a distributed intelligence, sort like a coral, or the current conceptions of Gaia? Is God a quantum phenomenon or a classical mechanical phenomenon? Are there life forms that have attributes we could properly call “godlike”? Could Life itself be God? Could we be the shattered remains of an earlier intelligence.

If we could simulate an entire universe, down to the last electron in a super-powerful quantum gravity computer (theoretically possible), could we program in a godlike being that could rule that universe? Or would the requirements that such a being be omniscient, omnipotent or perfect make such a universe impossible?

OpryLeigh's avatar

I do believe in God but I don’t follow any one religion so I guess it’s more about a belief in a higher power.

Fyrius's avatar

“and how religion helped humanity grow during the past thousands of years (indeed, the English language itself would have been lost to time had it not been used in the churches)”
And that would be bad, because…?
We’d all be speaking a different language here right now, but I don’t think any of us would be worse off. The other language would occupy the position English occupies now, we would still have a global lingua franca and nobody would care.
So many things are created and perish all the time. Mourn what is lost if you want to, but I don’t bother any more. It’s the natural course of events.

Nothing, probably. But I think the bricks would be reason enough to consider it an issue worth talking about. If only for the sake of curiosity.

Unless you have some specific reason why we shouldn’t.

jaketheripper's avatar

@LostInParadise personally my life would change dramatically. I am a Christian and if I found out there was no God I would probably become a hedonist or a nihilist and after a self destructive spiral i would probably kill myself. I feel like that makes a huge difference

CMaz's avatar

God does exist. You just need to take the face of man off of “him”.
When we come to find the absolute reason as to how it all works, and it is out there.

You would have found God.

Just do not be so closed minded as to having to be an old guy with his finger extended.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – In my opinion if it turned out God exists, that wouldn’t change one thing about the fundamental nature of our universe.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – There are numerous ways to understand God. Here mine (which I’ve shared many times on Fluther): he or she is the intelligent creator of our orderly biophilic universe. The existence or non-existence of God is a belief, not a scientific fact. To me the freedom of religion is more important than religion itself. Prayer is a symbolic conversation with God, not a physical one. Prayer can make people stronger, in some cases weaker.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dynamicduo – I’m still puzzled why scientifically literate people fall prey to the myth that one can’t prove a negative!? Of course we can.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Not to gouche, but how do you know that you are in contact with the creator of the universe rather than some memeplex that inhabits your mind?

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – I didn’t say that I know I’m in contact with the creator of the universe. Why did I give you this impression?

LostInParadise's avatar

@MontyZuma , How would the addition of God change your simulated universe. What would it do with God that it could not do without God?

LostInParadise's avatar

@jaketheripper , Why would the non-existence of God turn you into a hedonist? Do you only do things for others because you expect to be rewarded for it?

LexWordsmith's avatar

It’s not logically possible to prove non-existence of something postulated to interact with the universe. Therefore, it is not true that physics is coming closer and closer to proving that God does not exist, if by God you mean some Higher Power or Supreme Being.

Perhaps this discussion would get somewhere if the Asker would offer a definition of God for us to use.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Evelyn says she exists, and I believe her, so that settles it. Yes.

Fyrius's avatar

If your mental sanity hinges so much on one idea being true, I suggest you see a psychiatrist.

I think the presence or absence of a god does make a difference for the fundamental nature of the universe.
By the common definition of “god”, a universe with one in it would be a universe that was deliberately created for a purpose rather than naturally come about, one where not every living being has limitations, where not every living being eventually dies, where not every complex entity has a long developmental history from less complex to more complex, where the laws of cause and effect do not determine every event… in other words, where a plethora of generalisations implied by the world around us turn out to be false. If our universe has gods in it, on the other hand, all these generalisations are probably true.
Heck, our understanding of the universe would be turned upside down if we found evidence only of any single aspect of what gods are usually said to be. Discovering a living being that does not die would be enough to do that.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne How did you come by this idea that there is a creator of the universe? I would guess you to say you read it in a book or somebody told you about it. But surely you don’t believe everything you read or that some one tells you. There must be more, some other sign; some other revelation; some point of contact with this thing that you believe.

@LostInParadise It seems to me that being omniscient would be paralyzing to a being. Think of it; knowing everything at once, past, present, and future. Imagine that; knowing the position of every electron and quark from the beginning of time to the end, and all permutations of every possibility. How could you possibly do anything? What would there be to do? What is left undone? You simply are. Inert and immutable in your perfection.

@jaketheripper How do you know that hedonism wouldn’t lead you to a deeper truth; perhaps a communion with your ancestors going back to the primordial slime; a lust you share with every rutting animal; and with the very Lifeforce itself?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – The purpose of our universe might include the principle that every living being has limitations. And I don’t believe that our universe (or perhaps multiverse) has gods “in it”.

LexWordsmith's avatar

@Fyrius : for alternatives to what you call “the common definition of ‘god’”, i suggest that you (1) read How to Think about God, by Mortimer Adler, which somehow thinks that it can get away with postulating two uncaused entities, and (2) investigate the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the God the Father of which is the Organizer of, rather than the Creator of, our universe. (There are lots of other interesting features to Mormonism—for one thing, it is clearly not a monotheistic religion (and therefore seems to me to be logically incoherent[*]); for another, it calls itself Christian, because it believes in the divinity of and follows the teachings of a being that it calls Jesus Christ, but, if you compare the characteristics of that being with the characteristics of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, you will see that the being is not the Jesus Christ of mainstream Christianity, but a different being just happening to have the same name.)
[*] It’s amazing to me that all the Mormons i encounter are very good people, despite their blatantly ridiculous doctrines; that situation is really an argument for organized religion’s not being the basic source of morality, an argument that supports the secular-humanist view, but i have never seen it used by secular humanists..

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – There is not one book. There are hundreds of science books, in particular cosmology and astrophysics. Maybe there’s one particularly enlightening book: The Magic Furnace – The Search for the Origins of Atoms by Marcus Chown. I love the part about the discovery of the triple alpha process.

How did you come by this idea that God doesn’t exist? I would guess you read it in a book or somebody told you about it. Surely you don’t believe everything you read or that some one tells you. There must be more, some other sign -some other revelation related to your becoming an atheist. Right?

Fyrius's avatar

The idea that a god is “outside the universe” is based on nothing but semantics. It only works if you define “universe” as all existence minus the god, drawing an arbitrary border line between the two so the god can be “outside” it. If we throw the word “universe” out the window and use a more consistent term like “everything in existence” instead, that point of view is untenable. Any god that exists is part of everything in existence, by definition.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – I believe there’s a different plane of “existence” beyond the universe/multiverse – beyond “physicality”. Our human brain is limited and even if we manage to extend it (merging it with artificial brains the size of Jupiter Ray Kurzweil style) there will be limitations. Science has limitations. There could be concepts we cannot grasp. Heck, we can’t grasp 26-dimensional bosonic strings. How can we truly understand God if he or she exists?

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m sorry, hundred scientific books about a Creator?

I never said that God doesn’t exist. I merely said that he is a memeplex (maybe in the other discussion, its getting confusing). So “God” exists, but it is a natural phenomenon, not the the god of myth.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – Hundreds of scientific books about the physical world. So you believe God doesn’t exist, that he or she is created by human culture?

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Not created by human culture, is human culture.

Fyrius's avatar

Thank you, but I’m not really interested in alternate definitions of the word “god” right now – it is not relevant to this discussion.
I have enough of an imagination anyway to come up with alternate definitions myself if there were a need for any. But I would really prefer to stick to the mainstream one. This question is about the well-known mythological beings and whether any one of them exists or not.

The problem with alternate definitions is that they make all discussion moot. If we define “god” as a being that is not immortal, not omniscient, not omnipotent, not eternal, et cetera, we get closer and closer to a point where I can prove to you that there’s a fuzzy little god living across the street from me who likes to sleep under cars and hunt for mice and little birds. It begs the question: why still use the word “god”?

On whatever plane of existence a god exists, if s/he exists, s/he is still part of existence.
Moreover, if we discover the existence of a god that dwells on a non-physical plane of existence, that would mean there exists a non-physical plane of existence. That would be a great difference to the fundamental nature of the universe if I ever heard of one.

I contend: a world with a god would be fundamentally different from a world without one.

LexWordsmith's avatar

@Fyrius : i’m not asking for your definition. i’m simply pointing out that there are alternatives and that we don’t know which definition the Asker is using. So i’m asking for the Asker’s definition, so that we can actually have a discussion rather than a chaotic thread that doesn’t get anywhere.

Your statement (“I’m not really interested in alternate definitions of the word “god” right now – it is not relevant to this discussion”) doesn’t help this discussion—the first part has nothing to do with the Asker’s question, and the second assumes that either (a) there is an agreed-upon definition that is being used in this discussion (which i don’t see) or (b) a fruitful discussion can proceed without agreed-upon terms (which i disagree with).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Yes, the existence of a non-physical plane of existence is puzzling. Like the concept of an uncreated creator. It’s the part I struggle with most. Yet again, our way of thinking or our debate about a non-existence or existence of a non-physical plane of existence is the product of the human brain. Even the most intelligent physical computer constructed from 10^80 atoms will eventually reach a limit and can never come up with an ultimate concept. We have to accept our limitations. Science has to accept its limitations. But we should go as far as we can get. By all means. Interested in building a computer constructed from 10^80 atoms? I’m your man. What was your major again? We could build a search engine faster than Google. Ha.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne What if time interacted with another dimension to produce consciousness? As time moves away from the other three dimensions at the speed of light, it also touches the membrane of this C dimension, setting up a vibration we, who are situated in the other three dimensions, experience as conscious passage of time from our points of view? Could not this C dimension, taken as a whole, be “God”?

AstroChuck's avatar

I believe that there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it’s the government.

CMaz's avatar

More like the Federal reserve.

Fyrius's avatar

Well, yes. There are always alternative definitions. Especially for a concept as devoid of concrete meaning as the deity.
I believe that in this case, however, we have a clear default definition. Moreover, considering the use of capitals in the Asker’s post, odds are we’re talking about the mainstream Christian one again.

Does time move at all? Contemporary physics seems to think of it as a dimension.

Apart from that, I don’t know what you’re talking about any more. A dimension with a membrane that vibrates when time bounces off it?
And why on earth would you refer to such a dimension with a word for an almighty being of ancient human mythology?

doggywuv's avatar

No. God is an imaginary being created by us for comfort and consolation.

Zuma's avatar

@Fyrius There is a crisis in string theory, so I am told; and the most promising theory to replace it (I forget the name of it) is a 4-dimension theory that posits that the three macroscopic dimensions are stationary, while time is moving away from them at the speed of light. That explains why time appears to slow down as you approach the speed of light, and a shit-load of other stuff that sounded important when I read it.

Anyway, its a lot easier to understand 4 dimensions than 11. Strings, as you know, vibrate; and, as I understand it, and the reason they do is because the various dimensions slide against one another like a violin bow against a violin string. The surfaces of these dimensions are called “membranes,” or “Branes.” So, if time is zipping along the three dimensions, like a bow on a string, or like the stylus in a phonograph record, it may set up a “vibration” that we may experience it. Here is how one
guy sees it. Time appears to be related to consciousness in a fundamental way.

Time might even be consciousness, for all we know. It certainly passes through the three dimensions, allowing or creating our consciousness as it goes. However, at any instant of time, it is creating both my consciousness and yours. In fact, it is creating everyone’s consciousness in that moment. What if we consider that phenomenon as a whole? What would it look like? Well, it would be omniscient, because it occupies all possible viewpoints at that given instant. So, here we have the first requirement of “God” and it would be a “God of Creation,” since it goes back to the “beginning.” Only its nothing like your received mythology.

Of course, you might argue, this Time/Dimension god is not a Being. First, how do you know. And why does it have to be a Being. Why would you expect your mythology to be necessarily correct?

Okay, its not a being, so why call it “God”? Because, it is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect. What else even comes close?

jaketheripper's avatar

@MontyZuma @LostInParadise @Fyrius
Without the existence of a God or some such similar being I find that I am not truly responsible to anyone or anything for my actions. This means I can choose to find meaning in anything I want but in the back of my mind I know that it’s just my opinion. Without a God or anything like that my actions are no more significant than the random clashing of atoms and molecules. There is no objective standard of right or wrong and so all my moral failing could just be differences of opinion with everyone else. In an environment like this I would ruthlessly pursue pleasure until I got bored then I would end it. I don’t think this is illogical or crazy, but I’m sure someone here will set me straight :)

Fyrius's avatar

I’m not going to pretend I completely understood that, but I still think you’re overstretching the definition of “god” a lot if you’re willing to apply it to something that does not itself have any consciousness.
Nothing else comes even close, I agree. But by that logic, we should refer to little people as “gnomes” because they’re the closest thing there is.

I’m confused as to why people even bother to change the definition of “god”.
When people unearthed the first dinosaur bones and came to understand what kind of creatures they had belonged to, there were no people arguing that this was proof that dragons had really existed, stretching the definition of “dragon” to refer to a giant reptilesque creature that can’t breathe fire. They could have done so, and they would have had more of a point than the people of our time who redefine “god” from a man in the clouds throwing around lighting to an abstract force of the universe. It would certainly have been less of a stretch.

The existence of a god does not affect whether you are responsible for what you do. You are so regardless. Even if there’s no supernatural authority you would have to answer to, you still have to answer to yourself, and your principles.

For example, I have resolved to buy only fair trade chocolate, free-range eggs and MSC-approved canned fish. Even if the alternatives are much cheaper, up to a quarter of the price. Now why would I do that, without believing the judge is watching over my shoulder and taking notes?
It’s because I want to minimise my contribution to the world’s poverty, animal abuse and oceanic wildlife depletion. Because I’d feel like a bad person if I would consciously do something I consider wrong.

A sane, responsible adult doesn’t need reward and punishment to keep him from doing wrong. You can do the right things just because you know you should.

And yes, there can be a right and wrong thing even without a god dictating the rules. We all have an innate ability to judge whether an action is right or wrong. There are furthermore plenty of secular moral philosophies to take on more advanced problems, such as whether human sacrifice is justified if a religion demands it. I think utilitarianism and individualism are two good examples.

Atheists didn’t start existing last Thursday. People have found ways to deal with the problems you anticipate.

markyy's avatar

@jaketheripper Congratulations, because of your answer I can now think of another positive thing to say about religion. You sound like a serialkiller waiting to happen, maybe I should start praying you never become an atheist. @Fyrius does a good job at setting you straight (as you call it), but I would like to add that you also answer to society and your local government.

jaketheripper's avatar

@Fyrius I understand there are ethical systems that do not incorporate God. But to me they are unsatisfactory. They offer no explaination as to why you should follow them. There is also no explaination why wrongdoing or evil should be avoided. It sounds to ne like you make decisions based on your conscience. But i believe that your conscience has a lot to do with reinforcing cultural norms. So what if one persons conscience is biologically deformed. Can they do something wrong. If you are responsible to yourself, but your personal principles allow baby torture are you wrong?
@markyy you are truly responsible to society and the government only if you submit yourself to their authority

markyy's avatar

@jaketheripper sure, but you better be prepared to face the consequences (unless they don’t catch you.. lets not make this a conversation about the probability of the police catching you).

There will always be freaks that have no moral conscience, if you want to say part of that is thanks to religion thats fine. Of course we will have to ignore some small stuff to make this a valid point. Stuff ranging from wars/violence started in name of religion, to the pope banning the use of condoms in Africa (Let’s not make this a topic about which religion you follow either, the guy did it in the name of God).

Zuma's avatar

@jaketheripper You avoid evil and wrong-doing because it makes other people suffer, and when other people suffer, it makes you suffer too because you care about them. If this is not self-evident, then I’m afraid I have to agree with my colleagues here, you do sound like a psychopath. (no offence, mr. ripper).

@Fyrius Let me try this again. Imagine the frames of a motion picture. As you advance each frame, the picture seems to move. Now chop all of those frames and stack them like a deck of cards. If you run your thumb over the top of them you can get the picture to move again. Okay, now imagine the frames in the deck being fused into a clear, three- dimensional solid block. Now imagine a laser scanning a full “slice” of this block and that this produces a 3-D holographic image; and as the laser scans down the block, it creates a moving 3-D picture (we can do this now with blocks of glass, and this is why flat holograms appear to move when you turn them at different angles).

Okay, now let’s imagine that you were inside this hologram; say, that you could project it onto a Star Trek-type holodeck. You can see, hear, touch, smell and taste everything but you are more or less stuck in the movie and have to go along for the entire ride. So here we are with our three dimensional block that constitutes the 3 dimensions of our universe, and a 4th dimension passing through the other three; each frame is a “click” of the quantum clock (quantum leap means “a sudden change of state”). So, here we are with your holographic consciousness being created with three stationary dimensions and one moving one.

Okey dokey. Now let’s scale this up and add a track for each person in the universe. Now we have a much bigger block. But you have no free will. So, we’ll add a layer that corresponds to all the possible choices you could have along the way. Turn left, turn right; say nothing; say something, etc. Now you have an infinitely branching multiverse that goes off in all directions. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t visualize it’s geometry. Imagine you are inside it and that’s where you are right now. In the three static dimensions, everything that ever was, is, or will be is present all at once, but the only part of it that you can see is the thread that runs through it that corresponds to your life. In principle, you could simulate this with a quantum computer.

Maybe you live this same life over and over again, or maybe you live all possible lives simultaneously. According to Quantum Theory, where one electrons can be in two places due to a phenomenon known as “superposition,” you may be able to live more than one life at a time. Since we are interacting right now, our realities could become “entangled” (another Quantum concept) insofar as my decisions influence yours, and vice versa.

So, basically, we have a matrix that consists of all possible lives from all possible points of view, and all the threads of all the possible lives are being played at once. The whole thing, taken together, would be suffused with consciousness. In fact, it would be omniscient; insofar as everything is being considered from all possible points of view at once. This omniscience would be perfect, since no possibility is left unconsidered. This omniscience would be all-powerful, insofar as everything has been done and nothing has been left undone. And this omniscience would “hear our prayers” since there is nothing in the matrix of which this intelligence is unaware.

If you think about the sheer magnificence of the intelligence that this would entail, our ideas about some jealous desert god judging and smiting a fearful band of subservient souls sounds positively grubby, childish and small by comparison—and by my lights, unworthy of the name “God.”

Fyrius's avatar

That’s actually a difficult question. Even though pretty much anyone (regardless of faith) agrees on what is right and wrong in most cases, it’s difficult to rationally explain why something is wrong without either resorting to emotional arguments or relying on seemingly arbitrary axioms.

Why is it wrong to torture babies?

I could go with the utilitarian point of view that would say it’s wrong because, well, it really hurts. And even though I’m not the one getting hurt, from a non-personal point of view, there is suffering and suffering is bad.
I could also stipulate that the baby has a right not to be tortured, basically making that an axiom in itself.

Well, anyway, however we rationalise it, I can guarantee you that no atheist in their right mind would feel any less inhibition to torturing babies than you do now. And I concur with @MontyZuma and @markyy that if you would see no reason not to do this sort of thing if it weren’t for your religion, I’m going to slowly back away from you now.

Shuttle128's avatar

@MontyZuma The problem I see with your explanation of “God” is that it is in no way different than the fundamental structure of the Universe. If “God” is simply the Universe then why call it “God?”

Fyrius's avatar

I’m with you until the last paragraph. I would end up at a slightly different conclusion.
Considering the sheer magnificence of such a thing, the name “god” is unworthy to describe it. Because that word was invented to refer to the angry little guy telling the desert people what to do, and to his equally petty counterparts in all the other religions.

Compare this.
VY Canis Majoris is the largest star known to man. Our own sun, Sol, that mighty giant compared to which our pale blue dot already seems so infinitesimal, is nothing in comparison. A tiny spark next to a forest fire. A speck of dust next to a continent. A drop of water next to an ocean. A pin prick of light next to a majestic giant of luminosity. VY Canis Majoris is truly staggering if anything in the known universe is.
Now, how much sense would it make to you if I would argue that it would do justice to this grand star to call it a light bulb, and say that those things we call light bulbs are too small and not bright enough to deserve that name?

Of course, you associate the word “god” with grand magnificence. But like the word “light bulb” was invented to describe those glass orbs we always ask ourselves how many people of any category it would take to replace, the word “god” was invented to describe those selfish, childish dolts from ancient mythology. Those are gods. What your describe is something else.

Zuma's avatar

@Fyrius “the word “god” was invented to describe those selfish, childish dolts from ancient mythology. Those are gods. What your describe is something else.”

Yes, those are gods; grubby morally suspect little memeplexes masquerading as the supernatural be-all and end-all of the universe. What I describe is a Deist conception of God. Lawful, majestic, immutable, perfect, Cosmic. It is the only concept of God that is potentially verifiable in any particular. And, furthermore, it is the only moral and ethical conception of God.

No, the word “god” was not invented to apply to pretenders. It is a fitting God of human reason; a fitting replacement for the gods of groveling faith.

deni's avatar

We look back at the Greeks and all their gods and all the names that they had for them and how every god had a specific job and I think, usually, most of us think that they were kind of crazy for coming up with all this elaborate stuff that is so obviously not true.

But this whole idea of “God” today is just as whack. I don’t believe it, never have, never will, I like to live my life for myself, not for some imaginary thing.

Fyrius's avatar

I contend that it’s a misnomer. Or at least a poor choice of words. Of word.

The word “god” has millennia worth of associations with the ancient memeplexes (memeplices?) and what you have here is a whole new concept that is hardly if at all related to those. Why not just make up a new term with no such connotational baggage?

I’ll be honest with you: I also just don’t like the word “god”.

SuperMouse's avatar

Yes, I believe God exists. I believe that “God” is too much for any person to comprehend or understand, but that He is there and has spoken to through His manifestations. There is no doubt in my mind that God exists.

Zuma's avatar

@deni What do you mean, “so obviously not true.” There is a marvelous book called, The Glory of Hera by Phillip Slater, which looks at the Olympian myths as a kind of proto-psychological language which allowed the ancient Athenians to understand the dynamics of family life. Not even the Greeks took their myths at face value.

@Fyrius “Why not just make up a new term with no such connotational baggage?” Because the people who currently believe in a theistic God are so ill served by all that self-same baggage. In my view, belief in a theistic God is immoral and demeaning to all concerned.

deni's avatar

@MontyZuma well, I said that most of us think that because I think most people DO think it’s “out there” and totally false and don’t take enough time to appreciate Greek mythology. I think it’s extremely interesting, but I don’t know much about it, and I’d like to learn more.

jaketheripper's avatar

@MontyZuma I don’t hurt people I care about because I feel bad when they suffer. But what if i don’t care about them? There are people i genuinely dislike. If it weren’t for my beliefs i wouldn’t feel bad making them miserable at all. I think this is a characteristic most of humanity shares. We can all remember making fun of kids when we were little and it didn’t bother us. We didn’t stop because something inside us told us we were wrong. Our mom or dad or teacher punished us and taught us that such behavior was unacceptable. I believe our consciences are fashioned after our role models and thus are not an effective moral compass

phoenyx's avatar

Yes, I believe in God.

markyy's avatar

@jaketheripper I’m not sure if this applies to psychokillers, but in general: You bully people because of peer pressure. You do it because you don’t want to be the one bullied so you might have found a good defense in this offensive tactic. But here is the thing. You don’t do to others what you wouldn’t do to yourself, not because it says so on a 2000 year old piece of paper. But because it is what keeps society together. The society where your family, friends and future kids will live in.

Zuma's avatar

@jaketheripper “I don’t hurt people I care about because I feel bad when they suffer. But what if i don’t care about them? There are people i genuinely dislike. If it weren’t for my beliefs i wouldn’t feel bad making them miserable at all.”

Then, I submit to you, that you have missed the whole point of Christianity. You have no moral compass to speak of and should be closely watched in order to make sure you don’t change your beliefs and become a danger to others. It may not be your fault. About 2% of the population is so afflicted. Do you watch the HBO series Dexter? He lives by a code too.

Fyrius's avatar

I don’t follow. How is that a reason to contaminate your new concept with that baggage? To liberate the theists from it taking the burden from them and giving it to the new concept? Can’t they just throw away the burden themselves?
I would rather support people believing in a theistic god to stop believing in a theistic god, and to stop using the word “god” altogether. Again, theistic gods are what the word “god” is for. The word “theistic” even means “god-related”, making “theistic god” a tautology.
Theistic gods are true gods. All non-theistic “gods” are something else.

Fire-breathing dragons are true dragons. The prehistoric creatures the bones they dug up belonged to were not “non-draconic dragons”, they were something else.

In addition to what has already been said, the difference between a child who needs punishment to keep him in line and you and me is that we are adults. We have our own sense of responsibility now, we can realise the repercussions of our actions now.
Or maybe I should speak for myself.

It’s quite possible that our moral compasses are derivative of those of our parents and of others in the culture we live in. Is that bad?

mattbrowne's avatar

@mattbrowne @Fyrius – Are you saying science can explain everything? So what is the ultimate root cause of your and my existence?

CMaz's avatar

Why, when explaining something. When the word Science is used. IT has to be used to de-void the existence of God? Science is not intended to disprove but to come to a solution.

Weather you want to say “you have the answer.” Or say it is “scientifically” proven. It is the same thing. A solution to the answer. Finding God is finding God, no matter how God is found.

Science is not a dirty word. Everything is “Scientific”. Everything has a reason. Action reaction.

jaketheripper's avatar

Can anyone explain to me why one ought to follow an ethical system as an atheist?
I guess the biggest problem for me is as stated before there is no real reason bad or evil should be avoided and no clear way of knowing which is which.

Zuma's avatar

@Fyrius What I am talking about is a Deist conception of God. The difference between a Deist and a Theist is that a Deist believes in a remote and impersonal God, who is embedded in Nature and who does not interfere with our lives. A Theist, on the other hand, believes that he has a personal relationship with a supernatural God, who stands over and above Nature, who actively judges our actions and accordingly sends us fortune and misfortune as signs of his pleasure or displeasure.

There are many scientists who have a Deist conception of God but who don’t talk about it in those terms to avoid what they call the “stench of religion.” This is fine for those who wish to tend their garden in peace, but it cedes the day to those who would appropriate the term “God” to become the sole property of evangelicals who would have us all believe that the Bible is the literal word of God and is inerrant in all respects. Calling the Deist conception of God something else is akin to gays accepting civil unions as a substitute for marriage—it is separate and unequal, and casts a cloud over the legitimacy of your belief.

Belief in the supernatural encourages all kinds of illogical and magical thinking that is socially harmful. In my view, theistic conceptions are not only factually wrong, they are immoral. And it is the moral implications of theistic belief that I am most concerned with. Theists take pride in being “God-centered” as opposed to “human-centered.” As a consequence they tend to devalue human compassion in favor of a legalistic, authoritarian morality. They tend to be “antinomian,” which is to say, they tend to exceptionalist beliefs that they are a special chosen people whose rights supersede those of other people; and that they are accountable only to God, and so are above secular law, and therefore entitled to change the law to conform to Christian belief. I could go on and on.

Declaring a belief in God, albeit a deistic one, forces theists to remain in dialogue with you. They can no longer simply dismiss you as an “atheist,” whom they regard as agents of Satan. Rather than getting into sterile debates over the existence of God or evolution, you can get down to the real issue; namely, the nature of God and our relation to him. In my view, the theist conception of God is open to criticism as being very “unGod-like,” which I won’t go into here.

@jaketheripper “Can anyone explain to me why one ought to follow an ethical system as an atheist?”

If acting out of love for your fellow man is an opaque mystery to you, then there is always self-interest: Your rights and dignity, your physical security and mental well-being are entirely dependent on mutual respect. If you act in ways that violate the rights and dignity of others, others will act in similar ways harmful or disagreeable to you.

Critter38's avatar

@jaketheripper “Can anyone explain to me why one ought to follow an ethical system as an atheist?”

Same reason you should. Do you feel uncomfortable when you observe someone else suffer and you’re in a position to stop it? That’s empathy. I’ve observed something like it personally in spider monkeys, there is even evidence for it in mice.

And frankly I don’t remember ever meeting a chimpanzee that wasn’t an atheist.

Empathy as a basis for ethics not only predates religion, it predates the evolution of our species.

We are a social primate which evolved in small bands of related and distantly related but familiar individuals. Reciprocal altruism is a pragmatic reason for doing nice things by others, because then they will do nice things by you (this is seen in bats as well). Kin selection this makes sense from a genetic standpoint. We propagate our genes and if someone else shares copies of our genes (relatives) it makes it in our interest to care about them. And, finally and most importantly, we suffer when others suffer. People don’t cry in sad movies because it will win them brownie points with god, they cry because we as humans normally have a natural affinity for putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

This makes sense perhaps as a biproduct of having a wonderful experience simulator called the pre-frontal cortex, which enables us to imagine things that haven’t occurred, run through likely scenarios and their outcomes, and of core importance, balance social relations in a group through an ability to
feel how others are feeling.

This is empathy, it finds its way into religion because it predates religion. Treat others as you would be treated, wasn’t a revelation, it was a plea for people to try to do what they already know is the right thing to do.

For those who don’t care about others or were more selfish than others, we have laws and cultural norms and sometimes religion as a source of sticks and carrots. These are useful especially in larger societies but by no means are necessary for producing the underlying driver. Evolution already took care of that in most of us.

@jaketheripper “I guess the biggest problem for me is as stated before there is no real reason bad or evil should be avoided and no clear way of knowing which is which.”

This is a common fallacy and I sincerely hope you can see your way past it. The alleviation of suffering is a far clearer way of knowing whether or not something is right or wrong than is provided by any religious text.

Let’s imagine you are a Christian, do you honestly think homosexuals should be persecuted? Your religious text says they should be? Now to what extent?

Leviticus 20:13 “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Now if you chose another text to counter this argument, how do you make that choice? If you prefer the text “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”, why is that?

Here’s another example from Lincoln when he was trying to determine whether it was right or wrong to release the slaves.

“I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and by religious men who are certain they represent the Divine will. ..”

The bible doesn’t provide clear answers as Lincoln found, it provides contradictory texts and changes in interpretation which vary often after shifts in the social norms of the day.

No matter how you look at it, it all comes back to conscience.

Relevant talk here:

I would only add this because I think it is underlying your reasoning.

I think there is a fundamental problem with thinking that just because the multitude of prophets and the religions they catalyse like to see themselves as a source of answers to deep questions, that that somehow makes those answers any more likely to be true than random imaginative guesses. Religions simply have no justifiable basis for claiming a monopoly on providing real answers to deep questions, they just have developed a fantastically elaborate façade of ritual, paradigm, and repetition to maintain the illusion of such knowledge for those who prefer comforting wrong answers than no answer at all.

IN other words, religions are no more likely to be right about moral issues because at their heart they are just men in dresses making unsubstantiated claims about what is right and wrong. My hairdresser is just as likely to be in a position to provide better ethical insights.

Religious edicts may may you feel like you have truth in your hands, but it is as likely to be based on antiquated and flawed logic and bigotry, as it is to represent some ethical truism.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – When you use the term religion, do mean dogmatic religious fundamentalism, for example young-earth creationism or wahhabism? The world is more complex than that. Likewise not all atheists are dogmatic atheist fundamentalists (many of which are also worshippers of scientism).

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Actually, I have only used the word “religion” once in this discussion, where I was referring to scientist’s aversion to talking openly about God as avoiding the “stench of religion.” Here I am talking about superstition which, of course, abounds in fundamentalist strains of religion. Since the Enlightenment, many denominations have emphasized the humanist and compassionate content of their religions and downplayed stuff like talking snakes as myth and metaphor. So there are people who are nominally theist who don’t take all the supernatural superstitious stuff seriously.

Critter38's avatar

@mattbrowne I gotta ask considering the frequency that these labels get used.

What’s a dogmatic atheist fundamentalist, and what does worshipping scientism involve?

If dogmatic atheist fundamentalist worshippers of scientism are just those who don’t believe in a god and concurrently think that science is an excellent way of learning about the universe and revelation isn’t, then I gotta say, the shoe fits and it’s really comfy.

But I take it you mean something more than that….

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – Well, there are millions of superstitious atheists in the world as well. They get rather nervous when a black cat crosses the street from the wrong side, or worse, the cat also steps onto a broken mirror lost by a passing truck. Ouch.

mattbrowne's avatar

Dogmatic atheist fundamentalists uses phrases like

God doesn’t exist.
God is fiction.
Science leads to atheism.

Non-dogmatic atheists use phrases like

I believe God doesn’t exist.

A key element of scientism is (I quote): the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences.

Fyrius's avatar

This thread is getting away from me.

“Are you saying science can explain everything? So what is the ultimate root cause of your and my existence?”
I think they’ll find out, in time.

Many lurve points to you for an enlightening post by someone who knows what he’s talking about.

“Dogmatic atheist fundamentalists uses phrases like

God doesn’t exist.
God is fiction.
Science leads to atheism.”
I’m liable to use phrases like that too. I’m willing to take and defend each of those positions. I’m still open to the possibility that I’m wrong about any of them.

Being non-dogmatic and accepting that other people believe something else are completely independent.

Like I mentioned before, you can be dogmatic or non-dogmatic about pretty much any belief. What matters is not the content of the belief but if anything could convince you you’re wrong.

By the way, “scientism” is a pejorative straw man term. It’s a pet peeve ranter’s term, not the name of an actual school of thought.
Indeed, I wonder if there exist people at all to whom the term applies. I for one have never come across any in all my intertubular travels and debates.

LexWordsmith's avatar

Great discussion so far, everyoone—thanks for keeping it civil.

Shuttle128's avatar

@Critter38 I just want to say that that is one of the best explanations of morality and empathy I’ve read. The only troubles I see are proving that moral actions according to empathy are necessarily good. I’m under the impression that two modes of survival are hard coded into our genes (neither terribly more efficient than the other). One mode is that of the psychopath the other is that of empathy. Both modes are prevalent in our species (and others). To say that one mode is more “right” than the other requires a value judgement on what is good. Because values are subjective we cannot say that the empathic method is more correct than the psychopathic. Psychopathy is a legitimate survival technique, however it does not benefit the “whole” so the majority rules it as immoral.

Fyrius's avatar

I think this thread is pretty typical of “does god exist” threads. It’s a worn-out subject that we’ve all seen a gazillion times, everybody complains that they’re growing tired of threads like this, and still it makes it to 89 replies and growing. With some pretty interesting discussion, even.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne “Well, there are millions of superstitious atheists in the world as well.”

There are? There may be atheists who exclaim “Oh, my God!” when get are excited; it doesn’t mean that they believe in anything in particular. There are people who blow on dice because it makes them feel lucky. It doesn’t mean that they seriously believe that it works. (After all, everyone knows its bad luck to be superstitious.)

On the other hand, to the extent that theists take their beliefs in the supernatural seriously they are engaging in nothing but superstition.

If I insist that phlogiston does not exist, am I being dogmatic? No, I don’t think so, because the weight of science is behind me on this one. But, if I insist that phlogiston does exist, am I being dogmatic? Well, yes, I am, since there is no rational foundation based on reason or knowledge for this belief.

Now, I admit that it is somewhat churlish to insist that there is no such thing as God. The more fruitful questions to ask are, “What are the defining characteristics of God?” And “Are there any circumstances, or is there any sense, in which those conditions be met”? I think there are in my deistic conception of God. So the remaining question is not “Does God exist?” but “Is God supernatural?”

Is it dogmatic to insist that God isn’t when there is no scientific or other evidence of the supernatural? I don’t think so. Is it dogmatic to insist that God must be supernatural simply because it conforms to some preconceived notion? I think it is. The difference between dogmatic and non-dogmatic belief is that non-dogmatic belief is warranted belief, warranted by knowledge and reason. Dogmatic belief consists strictly of assertions taken on authority.

I agree with @Fyrius that “scientism” is a pejorative straw man. Fundamentalism isn’t about the content of your belief or how firmly you believe it; it is about how you arrive at your beliefs. A fundamentalist begins with a preconception and arranges his facts and his arguments to support it. In this respect there is a kind of authoritarian top-down quality to it. In scientific belief, one’s preconceptions are working hypotheses, which one tests and elaborates or discards, as the evidence requires. In this respect, there is a kind of open, bottom-up flavor to science.

If there were dogmatic atheists I would expect to get a whole lot more hassle for my deist conception of God. But most atheists think it is pretty reasonable. Its the theists that seem to have all the quibbling objections.

Critter38's avatar

Thanks for the compliments Fyrius & Shuttle. I’ll address your questions Shuttle, but not all of the following is by any means pointed directly at you.

@Shuttle128 “The only troubles I see are proving that moral actions according to empathy are necessarily good.”

So why and who are we trying to prove this to?

“Because values are subjective we cannot say that the empathic method is more correct than the psychopathic.”

Do you really believe that? Seriously? Fine for the philosophy class as a discussion, but practically irrelevant for society.

I think it important to stop for a second and challenge with a big club of reason any notion that the identification of what is good needs to be provided by, or proved to, an imagined objective independent arbitrator (ie god), or that we are required to demonstrate outside of our own collective reasoned and admittedly subjective well being that what we think is good, is good. I think arguments to the contrary are a religious relict of the “we need god to be good” fallacy, which to no ones surprise just happens to enable the few (unopposed I might add…after all its not their views, but gods, so who can challenge it) to dictate right and wrong behaviour to the many.

I only have to answer to my conscience and the open honest reasoned persuasion of my fellow humans. That’s all that is needed to adequately define what is good. We define what is good for ourselves, for and with our loved ones, and collectively for our society. For better or worse. There is no proving, only reasoned open discussion (in an ideal society) as to which of possible choices will reap “good” consequences for alleviating suffering or improving societal happiness.

And of utmost importance, what choice do we have?

Here are two options.

A) We discuss, openly, pointing out how a decision impacts on us and have other people point out the same in return, we think, we reason, we argue, we provide evidence for our positions. Free press, liberty, democracy, justice. These ideas aren’t the result of random processes, they are the result of the slow collective accumulative reasoning of the masses trying to make things better for themselves and others, and in turn for more of us than less of us.


B) We chose to pretend that a handful of dead people and their followers were gifted with the knowledge of what is or is not good, by one of many omnipotent but perceptually absent universe creators (penis an optional extra) and this knowledge is available to us as inconsistent, contradictory, vague, sometimes binding sometimes metaphorical subsequently pieced together, mistranslated, and reinterpreted old text, and by so doing anchor modern moral and ethical decisions for billions of people to the bigotry, biases, ignorance, and hallucinations of a couple of people who probably suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy and would worship or execute the first mobile phone that was handed to them.

The only external “thing” to whom we ever have to prove that our actions are good to, is each other. Subjectivity isn’t a problem, its a necessity for the collective good.

JLeslie's avatar

No. But maybe it depends on how you define God.

Fyrius's avatar

“Fundamentalism isn’t about the content of your belief or how firmly you believe it; it is about how you arrive at your beliefs.”
Minor correction: @mattbrowne used the word dogmatism, not fundamentalism. I think the differences are subtle, if there are any, but still. Let’s keep our semantics tidy.
And I think dogmatism is both about where an idea comes from and what it takes for the idea to be discarded, actually. Both of those things are manifestations of how rational one is about a belief. A dogmatist or fundamentalist arrives at an idea without evidence, and will never be compelled away from it by evidence.

“The only troubles I see are proving that moral actions according to empathy are necessarily good.”
So why and who are we trying to prove this to?”
I’d say it would be nice if we could prove it to ourselves, so as to know whether or not they actually are. Right now we seem to have only emotional reasons to believe so.

At any rate, for the clear-cut cases our gut feeling judgements will suffice, but in more complicated situations, it becomes a lot more important whether or not we can find an objective standard by which to judge who is doing the right thing.
To give a classical example, if you would sacrifice the life of one unwilling person to save the lives of many other people, would you do the right thing?

Critter38's avatar

I agree that the only ones to “prove” it to would be ourselves. I also think there’s actually a lot of reasoning behind the “emotional reasons” you refer to. What I mean is that just because emotions are what drive us to feel good about less suffering, doesn’t mean that the layer on top can’t be or isn’t (at least in some of us) based on straight forward reasoning and the logical pursuit of which options are likely to keep us and others happy. (skip to you example for instance and try to solve it). (we probably agree on this stuff…far better at this level to sit down and have a beer and chat rather than try this on a keyboard).

I agree with Sam Harris (and with what I think you’re getting at) that science will increasingly aid our “objectivity” when it comes to facilitating net human happiness, Perhaps it will arise from a combination of neurological studies, psychology, net societal happiness indicators, and associated comparative studies. Perhaps it will never offer anything but a subjective approximation of objectivity(??), but if we anchor the topic to a generally agreed metric (perhaps happiness), we should be able to identify good outcomes versus bad and perhaps even rank them to some coarse scale, with some ethical problems unfortunately operating within the messy confines of moral equivalency.

In either regard I am happy to give my views on the answer to the conundrum you raise (for what its worth).

I would not like to live in a world where any person is forced to give up their life for any cause. I actually see this as a relatively straight forward issue for a society. So my answer is No. I also think that if that cause was grand enough there are more than enough humans attracted to the immortality of sacrifice to throw their name in the ring voluntarily.

And thus the “open conscience” begins…

Zuma's avatar

@Fyrius ”@mattbrowne used the word dogmatism, not fundamentalism.”

Actually, @mattbrowne used the term “dogmatic atheist fundamentalist.” I think all fundamentalists are dogmatic but not all dogmatists are fundamentalists. For example, Catholics believe in transubstantiation as a matter of dogma, but they do not believe in the fundamental authority of the Bible, or in it’s literal inerrancy.

After thinking about it some more, I think that @mattbrowne has a legitimate criticism: Some scientists dogmatically cling to Reductionism as a kind of scientific fundamentalism. They espouse a form of Logical Positivist epistemology called “naive empiricism,” which holds that sensory experience by itself is sufficient to provide the foundations of human knowledge. We have all encountered the type: if they can’t kick it, weigh it, or throw it in a chromatospectrograph, it doesn’t exist. This, I suspect, is the kind of science that @mattbrowne has been trained in, and like a kid who has grown up in a rigidly dogmatic fundamentalist “home,” he rebels against it.

Reductionism, however, is so 1970s. Since the mid-1980s all the sciences have been undergoing a major but surprisingly quiet and amicable scientific revolution as the implications of chaos theory, of nonlinear dynamics, and emergent phenomena are being worked out in each discipline. Now, instead of attempting to understand things by breaking them down into smaller and smaller bits, scientists now taking a more holistic and systemic approach, in recognition of the simple fact that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

We are now seeking to understand phenomena in terms of the dynamic processes within which they are embedded. For example, everything from the distribution of galaxies to the distribution of neurons and capillaries, to the distribution of subatomic particles can be described in terms of fractal geometry. This holistic thinking is bringing more and more of human knowledge together into an interconnected whole.

I think it is possible to cast both God and morality in terms of emergent phenomena. And, instead of asking, is morality necessarily “God-centered,” I think we can fruitfully ask ourselves, “In what sense could this possibly be true?” If God is a memeplex, the answers are fairly easy and straight-forward. I think we can account for the phenomenology of morality as well as it’s substance in those terms. (Unfortunately, I have to go attend to something right now, but I’ll be back later.)

Shuttle128's avatar

@Critter38 We currently have a set of moral beliefs that occur because the majority of people have the ability to empathize. Since within such a society psychopaths can exist and flourish there has been no selective pressure to eliminate this trait. If psychopaths cannot feel empathy why should they follow the morality of those who can empathize? Is it within their interest to abide by morals? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should seriously consider allowing immoral acts simply because some cannot empathize, but I’d like to point out that we are assuming an overarching direction that morality should follow. When you try to impress a should argument you are assuming some value judgement. Everyone’s actions are based upon what they value. If one person values their personal benefit above the benefit of others then what authority do we have (aside from protecting the safety of others) to assert that they follow other moral values?

What if selective pressures somehow (this is getting highly theoretical) eliminated those who can empathize? If only psychopaths existed would morality still hold? I think that it would. I think that morality developed as a natural solution to the prisoner’s dilemma. Since natural selection judges by the final outcome (best survival) it could naturally come to the most optimal solution. However, is what’s best for survival what is best for thinking and reasoning humans? Morality has a goal, the preservation of humanity, but is the preservation of humanity what it’s goal should be?

Zuma's avatar

@Shuttle128 Thanks, you just made what I have to say easier by tying morality to survival. But we have more than natural selection going on here, we have cultural selection, which is much more rapid and transformative.

The concept of Love would also be impossible without a preponderance of people acting in good faith in their personal relations. The Golden Rule and the Kantian Categorical Imperative confer a great survival advantage on a civilization. A society which in which people constantly act in bad faith, never establish the concept of credit, upon which money, commerce and market economies depend.

However, unfettered markets tend to polarize a society, creating extremes of rich and poor, concentrations of power, and related injustice. Without a concept of human dignity, to provide a political framework and a justification for redistribution of wealth, market-based societies tend to be weakened by class-conflict and cultural warfare, and become vulnerable to conquest and collapse. Our concepts of political, civil, and human rights, and their ethos of inclusiveness, form the foundation of a secular morality that is far more robust in terms of cultural survival than theistic God-based moralities, which tend to be exclusive, sectarian, violent, coercive, punishing, threatening, and deadly.

In a non-theistic frame of reference it is possible to look at morality and evolution in terms of all of Life, and not from the point of our species alone. It is possible to construct an ecological ethic, in which morality is gauged not simply by what is good for the greatest good for the greatest number of human beings, but what is good for all the species we interact with; indeed, what is good for all of Life. It also becomes possible to view human society as a moral ecology, which is polluted by such things as bad-faith discourse.

Concepts such as “good faith” and “human dignity” move morality beyond the paltry goals of mere survival and places it in the higher realm of what makes life worth living. Inclusiveness follows as a natural implication, since anyone who is cast out of this moral connectedness with his fellow human beings will soon be found lacking in human dignity and good faith. Theistic God-based moralities tend to treat transgressions of their morality by punishments that cast people out, and which excommunicate and sever them from any sense of moral connectedness, up to and including death. A non-theistic moral ecology approach to moral transgressions tends to place the emphasis on prevention of alienation, demoralization or anomie, and seeks to restore the offending individual through reconciliation, accommodation, and rehabilitation.

In this respect, the notion that those who believe in a theistic God are somehow “good” or even better than those who don’t is patently false. They are a positive impediment to implementing policies to prevent crime; and they are the ones most inclined to cast people out society, and punish them in ways that only make them worse.

Critter38's avatar


Maybe you’re interested in taking things further down a philosophical path than I am. I guess Im just interested in countering the notion that bringing prophets into the picture helps in some way, or that we need or can even obtain an objective external to us reference point from which to gauge whether what a society or individual decides is good, is in fact good. My answer is a pragmatic and unavoidable no we don’t need that…perhaps because none is available, or more precisely, because I don’t think anyone or anything is in a better position to determine what is good for society than the people who have to live in it.

I also think the terms “good”, “moral”, “right”, etc are also difficult because they sit above actually describing what the goal is. So I think we have to avoid those terms unless we say what each is specifically defined as…. In my mind the definition would have to be linked to alleviating suffering and increasing happiness, or perhaps the term wellbeing comes to mind. THen we can say whether something is more or less good. Outside of that I don’t have much more to offer, other than saying again that it requires the open conscience to achieve it.

“If one person values their personal benefit above the benefit of others then what authority do we have (aside from protecting the safety of others) to assert that they follow other moral values?”

Most societies extend your “safety” caveat to include many other aspects which contribute to happiness. I think people are free to be selfish rude pricks. But that freedom ends as soon as it impinges on the safety of others yes,but also comfort (I can’t walk into a restaurant and start screaming obscenities at a patron for fun), possessions (theft is not allowed), and equity issues (paying taxes) to give some examples.

So I think a democratic open society which represents the will and input of the masses has every right to limit those behaviours in individuals which diminish the wellbeing of others. Where we draw the line will always be grey, shifting through, etc..

I guess I would just say that when it comes to fine scale divisions (you know…when it gets messy like what fyrius asked) between which of two options is best for “wellbeing”, we can’t expect there to be single “right” answers. BUt when we talk about coarse grade stuff we can readily chat and agree for the majority about better or worse options. The psycopaths will just have to lose out on their “right” to lopp off heads. Sorry :)

I think the saying that “your rights end where mine begin” covers a lot of this.

The only tangential thing I would add in response to one of your sentences, is that selection pressure may or may not be involved in the continued persistence of psycopaths (who don’t flourish in society as far as I can tell…they may be around, but there aren’t many of them..thankfully). Many traits persist even if they provide zero reproductive fitness (eg. childhood leukemia, or the many traits which prevent adult reproductive success). When exhibited in the phenotypes, then selection pressure can operate…but recessive traits, or epigenetically instigated traits may be invisible to seleciton unless in the right combination of other genes or via stress activation (homozygous recessive for instance). Furthermore we dont know how much the environment has to do with creating psycopaths…which might be just one end of a continuum of empathy, with nurture conditions pushing them into the defined range. Don’t know.

Let me know if Im missing something…I will try to answer more directly if you think I am.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – You’re right. To me scientism isn’t a school of thought either. It’s sort of a trap some overly enthusiastic atheists fall into, awestruck by the rapid and accelerating progress of science. Mature atheists and mature theists (in particular deists) are open to different interpretations of life.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zuma – Open your eyes, please. Superstition is very widespread and to many it’s more than blowing on dice. Show me one skyscraper in America with a floor numbered 13. Triskaidekaphobia is also common in Asia. In mostly atheist China some elevators also skip floor number 4 and 14, see this funny photograph

What exactly do you mean by that?

“This, I suspect, is the kind of science that @mattbrowne has been trained in, and like a kid who has grown up in a rigidly dogmatic fundamentalist “home,” he rebels against it.”

Sounds a little below the belt. If our debate is headed in this direction I’ll end my participation. A misunderstanding maybe?

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Yes, indeed, superstition is very widespread—but as a holdover from theistic religion. Triskaidekaphobia, if you look it up, has it’s origins in theistic religion The numbers 4 and 14 are associated with death in Taoist folk belief. They aren’t theistic in origin, but they aren’t the product of a modern scientific world view either.

Your view of “scientism” seems predicated on a particularly reductionist conception of science. Its a fair question. Is it, or not?

mattbrowne's avatar

What I’m saying is that many atheists aren’t the product of a modern scientific world view. Likewise many theists aren’t the product of a modern scientific world view either. They believe for example that Jesus did not have a biological father or that praying to God is like literally talking on the phone. Superstition has it’s origins in theistic religion. Science has it’s origins in theistic religion.

To understand the world we have to go beyond reductionism no doubt.

And @Zuma, please refrain from insulting speculations about other Flutherites’ training and comparisons with infantile behavior. I would have thought tactful manners are part of the Ph.D. curriculum in sociology.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne You find my speculations about the possibility your having being trained in a reductionist (scientific fundamentalist) branch of science insulting?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zuma – A little, especially in conjunction with alleged rebellions. Holistic views do not replace reductionist views, but complement them. It still makes sense to point out that a water molecule consists of 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atom.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Somehow I don’t think you will find much “scientism” or “scientific fundamentalism” among post-reductionist scientists (reductionists, for those tuning in late, are the scientists who tend to deny the existence of anything they can’t sense or measure).

The new holistic view of things is a pretty major paradigm shift, and the revolution isn’t over yet; so we will see about whether it “replaces” reductionism. Also, Relativity Theory didn’t “replace” Newtonian physics, it simply placed it in a more comprehensive framework. H2O is still going to be H2O, but that level of analysis won’t help you in trying to explain the oscillating properties of water; i.e., why a dripping faucet has one pattern at one volume, pattern of disordered turbulence at a slightly higher volume, and yet another orderly pattern on the other side of the phase shift.

It looks to me as though you are rebelling against a vision of science that is on it’s way out, and nothing you’ve said so far leads me to think otherwise. To put it another way, I just don’t see Chaos Theory as playing a very big role in computer science just yet.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zuma – Visions of science can coexist with metaphysical considerations as well as some forms of religions and some forms of theism. Post-reductionist science or XYZ science of the year 2050 will still have to acknowledge the limitations of science and the limitations of the human mind. Theoretical computer sciences deals with many fields including chaos theory and computability theory.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne Why will science have to “acknowledge the limitations of the human mind” when we have yet to discover what those limits are—especially when we can extend those limits prosthetically with computers?

The only “limits” of the human mind and science we have encountered so far are their inability to detect the presence of the supernatural.

But, let’s forget about science for a second and consider epistemology, the “metaphysics” of which you speak. How do you obtain knowledge of the supernatural beings purportedly in a realm “beyond” the natural world? Isn’t it blind faith in the end? Or is there a “theological method” akin to the scientific method through which people can discover reliable supernatural truths?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zuma – Even a human mind merged with artificial superintelligence will have limits. And science will keep its principal limitations.

Science can’t explain everything and never will. I’ll give you a simple example. Let’s take the statement A

A = Science can explain everything

Note that A itself is metascientific statement, i.e. it is a statement about science, so it is not a scientific statement.

If A is true, metascience is responsible for it’s truth. Which is a contradiction!

Science has other limitations. There are mathematical systems with statements in them and we will never know whether they are true or false. A computer program which solves the halting problem does not exist. A computer program which predicts the weather 1 year in advance does not exist.

We should take science as far as it can go. Let’s repair the LHC, and continue our quest. But in essence, every new answer we find will create at least two new questions we can’t answer. This principle will remain, even for a potential superintelligence/techn. singularity. What changes is the total number of answered questions.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne I get the sense that all this talk about “limits” and “beyond” has something to do with carving out some niche for the supernatural, but you aren’t being explicit about it.

“A = Science can explain everything…”
If A is true, metascience is responsible for it’s truth. Which is a contradiction!”

No, science does not exist independently of epistemology. In fact science is an applied case of epistemology, or what you would call “metascience.” There is no contradiction; there is only a word game based on treating nested concepts as mutually exclusive.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zuma – Not at all. If I were an atheist eliminating all niches for the supernatural, I would still point out the limits of science. A computer program which solves the halting problem would still not exist. Every new answer we find will still create at least two new questions we can’t answer.

Epistemology includes beliefs. Science is based on scientific method which investigates phenomena (collecting data through observation and experimentation).

LexWordsmith's avatar

@Zuma : until a human mind can be instantiated in computer hardware, one limit will be transmission speeds within the wetware currently in use.

destroymyEpets's avatar

i dont belive that much

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