What did God do before he made the universe?

Seriously. How did He spend his time? It’s got to be boring, being omnipotent and omniscient and all that stuff whilst having to sit there in the dark with nothing to do. Heaven must have been pretty lonely up until now. All that real-estate sitting empty until Judgment Day. Although, to be fair, God does have a son, and presumably therefore a significant other. I wonder why they only had one kid in all of eternity? The Rhythm Method, presumably.

It’s a serious question, though. I’ve decided I’m sick of defending evolution while creationists try to pick holes in it: I’m going to admit defeat, accept their apparently far more convincing alternative theory and become a creationist Christian. If you can’t beat them, join them.

So, where do I sign up? What should I believe first?

Uh-huh? So God made the entire universe? And He did the whole thing for the sake of the human race? Really? In seven days? Six thousand years ago? Wow!

My, that’s quite a lot to take in. If he did it six thousand years ago then the visible universe can’t be more than 12,000 light-years across. Given the number of galaxies we’re aware of and how many stars they contain, it wouldn’t all fit in and still leave  room for the galaxies to be separated. That’s a snag, isn’t it? No, OK, whatever you say. I’m being a bit “scientific”, aren’t I? Sorry. Faith, yes, I see.

So all those trillions of stars out there, the vast majority of which we can’t even see without a billion-dollar telescope; let’s say 99.999999999999999999999% of the universe;  God made all of that just to light up the night sky?

“Mysterious ways”, yes, I’m beginning to get the hang of this.

Gosh, I feel really important now. Ten million species of plants and animals, not to mention all those fungi and bacteria and stuff; all put on this earth for the benefit of me and my species? I only wish I knew what to do with them all, but gee, thanks!

I guess Noah said something like that when God commanded him to collect them all together. I hope he had a lot of warning. After all, at one species per hour that would take over a thousand years. Hey, and while I’m nit-picking, you mentioned the universe was created in seven days, right? And on the first Day God just made light. So I’m a bit baffled by how you measure a day when there’s no Sun to rise and set. Just wondering.

But still, I’m one of the Chosen Ones, huh? Awesome!

There must be a downside, surely? Hell, yes, I’ve heard of that. That’s the devil, right? No? It’s Jesus and His band of avenging angels. Really? 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. Ok, I’ll remember that. Eternal torture for those who don’t follow the Gospel. Wow, that’s a bit mean, isn’t it? God sure bears a grudge.

But you’re saying that Hell is a real place, right? That’s an essential part of the theory – otherwise pretty much none of the Bible makes sense. Yes, of course, you’re right: don’t focus on the negatives. I get what you’re saying. Heaven, yes, I’ve heard of that, too. That’s also a real place – it’s where God lives, isn’t it? That sounds a lot more fun. Actually I confess I was considering going Muslim and claiming my 72 virgins, but then I decided it wasn’t really fair on the virgins. And anyway, what does a virgin suicide bomber get as her reward? More virgins?

No, I’ll stick to eternal bliss. It kinda sounds fun. At least, maybe. Being happy ALL the time could get a bit wearing after the first billion years or so, don’t you think? What do we actually DO in Heaven? Wander round smiling inanely at each other? Can I at least have a hobby?

God made Man in His own image, though, right? So He needs legs and a stomach and stuff too. I guess that means Heaven is a bit like Earth. Quite a lot like Earth, in fact. Rather like the Middle East, probably. Well that’s good – I’d hate it to be like Mars or something. I suppose if God made Man in His own image, that explains why He’s such a cantankerous old git. But really: why is He so moody and petulant? I don’t get that. It doesn’t fit with the idea of being perfect, does it? And why does He make mistakes?

Don’t ask so many questions. Yes, I’m sorry. I’ll do my research…

Aha! According to Conservapedia, “God exercises eternal and righteous judgment of the wicked in hell, because of an inherent problem in the human heart, namely Sin.” And yet in the previous paragraph He’s described as omnipotent and omniscient. So why don’t human hearts work properly if God’s so smart? It doesn’t say.

Oh I see, it’s not that we’re faulty by accident – He put those bugs in the system deliberately. Free will, huh? So that we have to choose for ourselves to worship Him? Clever.

But in that case why does He spend so much time in the Bible commanding us to worship Him, with threats of eternal damnation if we don’t? That’s kind of more like slavery, isn’t it? And why is He so seriously insecure in the first place? What’s the point in creating an entire universe and populating it with life-forms, just so that a handful of them can be coerced into singing your praises? Doesn’t that seem a bit narcissistic to you? Then again, I suppose it’s the kind of thing I’d do myself, if I were terminally bored from sitting in an empty nothingness for all eternity… Although now that I think about it, if I was omniscient and knew everything that was going to happen it would kind of spoil the surprise…

You know, this just isn’t working for me. I haven’t even got on to the Flood yet, let alone prayers and miracles and the logical conundrums they present. It all sounds a bit, well, medieval. Kind of like the sort of thing primitive peoples who didn’t know any better would think? Or is that just me? Throw me a bone. Surely SOME part of your theory makes sense? If not, why do you believe it? It can’t just be because you read it in some old book, can it? You wouldn’t be that stupid.

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About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

176 Responses to What did God do before he made the universe?

  1. Don says:

    Did you see the 72 virgins Family Guy clip? – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRlTqnB6HAo 😉

  2. Daniel Mewes says:

    You – being an intelligent designer yourself – should really know better!

  3. stevegrand says:

    Ha! Good point. I kinda hoped God wouldn’t have so many of my own hang-ups…

  4. Will says:

    Ironically I found this slap-bang under your article:

    “Ads by Google
    Darwin’s errors unearthed
    Serious doubts about evolution are evolving. Flawed theory exposed…
    http://www.ucg.org.uk/ad/ev/

  5. Zachary Wilson says:

    Unrelated, but no less interesting — a group of researchers have mapped out the long-distance connections within a Macaque’s brain. The paper is freely available, so I figured you might be interested in giving it a read.

    Summary: http://www.kurzweilai.net/ibm-scientists-create-most-comprehensive-map-of-the-brains-network

    Full PDF: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/30/13485.full.pdf

  6. François says:

    Nice one… But sounds a little bitter, doesn’t it ?

    • stevegrand says:

      Yes, you’re right – it is bitter. But I think there’s a lot to be bitter about, you know? A lot of misery and pain are caused by the fact that people believe such nonsense. It needs ridiculing.

  7. melodymayhem says:

    I agree, Eternal torture is kinda mean. I absolutely love the idea I’ve heard suggested that the 72 virgins thing is a mistranslation and it should actually read as “72 grapes”.

    If there is a heaven I’m going to live just right by where all the suicide bombers get given their grapes, with my camera phone in hand, snapping their faces.

    Fab post, thanks! 🙂

    • stevegrand says:

      Haha! That would be well worth being wrong about heaven!

      Nice blog (if nice is the right word!). Did you see this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/06/sakineh-mohammadi-ashtiani-iran-interview. Apparently her stoning has been commuted to hanging, so that’s alright then.

      • Margo says:

        About the Iranian woman – seems a little hypocritical of you to get your panties in a wad about her death sentence whilst enjoying the view from your Arizonian Ivory Tower – the good old U S of A having just executed a grandmother a few days ago…

      • stevegrand says:

        I’m not being hypocritical at all. I happen to live in the US right now but I’m not American. I disapprove of the death penalty altogether and would vote for it’s abolition if I had a vote, which I don’t. We all have to live somewhere but that doesn’t mean we approve of, condone or are responsible for all the things that happen in that country. I very much dislike some of the attitudes that prevail in the US (and the less enlightened parts of Arizona), particularly those common to the Religious Right, which is specifically what this post was about. Don’t be such a jerk.

      • Margo says:

        Yeah, apologies, I kinda was being a little bit of a “jerk” (*how* long have you been living in America?) with this post – it’s actually damn rude of me to accuse you of being an Ivory Tower dwelling hypocrite based on one little comment, but sometimes I get carried away with dramatic license in the heat of the moment; it’s usually a pre-coffee and muffin morning state… I was involved in a similar argument (Christian capital punishment vs Islamic capital punishment) recently when discussing the Islamic attitude to women in general, and so I probably reacted to your comment within a different context to the one you had originally written it in. I was going for confrontation, and I did fully expect to be slapped down, :o) challenging people about their views is a great way to learn though, and it’s very refreshing indeed to find someone who demonstrates a considerable knowledgeable about a subject (religion vs science in this instance) to accept these challenges and respond with considered, intelligent and patient arguments. I will try to be a little more constructive in my comments in future. A jerk!? Ouch.

      • stevegrand says:

        Heh! That’s very gracious of you, so I withdraw the “jerk” comment completely! 🙂 i know how emotional these things are. Please keep on commenting, even when you disagree with me! I’ve been in the US about 4 years now. Arizona’s definitely up there in the holier than thou stakes, although I live in flagstaff, which is an aberration in many respects, not least that it’s comparatively liberal.

  8. Matt Griffith says:

    Isn’t it funny how much easier it is to believe in “god did it”? :/

    We share the same pursuit in life, to understand life, and the universe itself. Yet, a large chunk of mankind could vehemently care less. I’ve try so hard to understand what benefit is gained from believing in a God. It seems to come down to comfort, the blanket of ignorance out of a lack to indulge in just how god damn little we have explored about our universe! (And how much smaller we get each time we learn something new!)

    Ah well, at least there’s still a few of us looking outside celebrity gossip.

    • stevegrand says:

      Yeah, it’s remarkably like how much easier it is to believe in Santa Claus: the story makes no sense, but it’s so much NICER than the truth. SO much easier to deny the evidence than deal with reality.

  9. Intrachresodist says:

    Clearly god was busy smiting other universes at the time.

    • stevegrand says:

      🙂 Ah yes, I never thought of that. Although I guess he only bothers with the infinity of universes in which human beings arose, and leaves the infinitely larger other infinity to their own devices…

  10. Nel says:

    I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone (creationists or evolutionists) really give a damn about this. Why should an evolutionist care? If the creationists don’t want their kids taught evolution just teach natural selection and leave it at that- all a biologist needs for practical applications anyway. Why should a creationist care? God making the Earth in 7 days or not has no bearing whatsoever on commandments or the gospel.

    Cancer research… heart disease research… bang up the alley of most religion people looking to score points for the afterlife. Religious groups are the people most inclined to FUND biological research if approached in the right way. Allowing a science vs faith polarization over something of zero practical importance is extremely frustrating. Both sides ought to let it drop.

    • stevegrand says:

      I do see your point, but I beg to differ! I don’t think it’s of zero practical importance at all. I USED to feel that way when I lived in the UK, but I’ve been in the US four years now and it’s rather opened my eyes. It’s basically a fight to the death between science and irrationality, which already has real consequences affecting people’s lives and threatens far worse. We’re not just talking about a minor difference of opinion over an academic issue. This is a schism between major ideologies.

      Creationism is the mainstay of fundamentalist Christianity; Darwinian natural selection is the mainstay of biology. Each contradicts the other, and so evolution has become the battleground for a much bigger fight. As you know, Darwinian evolution is one of the best-supported theories in science, and its importance to biology (even in practical terms) can’t be overstated, hence its importance to understanding ourselves. On the other side, the creation story may seem like nothing more than a sweet metaphor to most people, and indeed to most Christians, but to fundamentalist Christians it’s the linchpin. The literal truth of the Bible is a *prerequisite* for fundamentalism. If God isn’t the creator of all things; if Man isn’t God’s chosen species; if the Flood and other references to Original Sin didn’t happen; then the whole edifice of Christian fundamentalism collapses and none of the corollaries of these things carry any weight any more. Fundamentalist Christianity is a set of beliefs about everything from morality to foreign policy (such as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and, sooner or later, Iran, for instance). These principles only carry weight if you accept that the Bible is the literal word of God and, therefore, you can believe his commandments (not just because you happen to agree with them – and frankly most of the commandments in the Bible are very disagreeable indeed – but because you really believe they’re orders from above, complete with heavenly reward or eternal damnation as payment). All of this is only tenable if you feel able to believe the crazy parts of the Bible too, like the story of the Flood. And people do. They’re an essential part of the story and form essential “evidence” for God’s existence and authority. So there’s a lot at stake for fundamentalists. They know this and they’re fighting a real, concerted and very effective war to preserve ignorance and a belief in magic, against what science can now tell us about the universe.

      You probably think this is just silly. Who cares about a few cranks? But they’re not a few and they are quite powerful. It’s not nearly as visible in the UK, although it’s getting that way. Over here in the US, I could point at the complete abandonment of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research as one direct and unequivocal impact of fundamentalist Christianity on people’s lives. Or take the overturning of Gay marriage, the harassment and obstruction being used to prevent abortion, the literal re-writing of history books and line-by-line censoring of school curricula by school boards, etc… Few biology teachers are now willing to even discuss evolution in schools, because of the duress from parents and school boards. The “alternative” theory – that God made Man in six days – is gathering momentum once more, thanks to the well-funded and concerted actions of places like the Discovery Institute. Home schooling support materials are now heavily infiltrated by creationist or intelligent design tracts masquerading as science. Enough Americans believe that the Second Coming and the Apocalypse are genuinely going to happen in their lifetimes that apocalyptic thinking has become a detectable influence in politics at all levels – certainly under Bush. The close mesh between religious fundamentalism and far right-wing politics is very scary no matter which way you look at it.

      Just to give you some idea of the stats: Roughly 40% of Americans believe the Second Coming will literally happen; almost 20% think it will happen before 2050. Roughly two thirds of Americans think creationism should be taught in schools. 42% think life has always existed in its present form. Of those who do believe in evolution, about a third think God guided it. Between 10% and 45% think the Earth is only 6,000 years old. 38% of Texans think Man coexisted with dinosaurs. It’s “just” ignorance, but a) this ignorance is being deliberately promulgated and is very insidious; and b) it’s the kind of ignorance that wrecks lives, whether it’s the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses dying because their parents refuse medical treatment, the families of dead soldiers being harangued by the Westboro Baptist Church, or those who believe they’re engaged in a holy war against Islam.

      Evolution itself might seem a petty issue, but it’s the deciding factor in a war. Evolutionary theory removes the requirement for a creator (or at least one who meddles in creation), and it demonstrates that we humans are just one lineage among millions, who share a common ancestor with chimpanzees – we’re not special, we weren’t put here to perform God’s special duties, and the rest of the universe and living beings weren’t put here for our benefit. These things fly right in the face of the fundamentalist Christian (or Muslim or Jewish) dogma. They’re deeply offensive and worrying to fundamentalists, whose alternative ontology is deeply offensive and worrying to people like me. It’s not a war we started. But if we don’t fight, how far do we allow it to go?

      But I’m not making my case very well. Read Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris – they can put it better than me. I’m happy to discuss it further though.

      • Nel says:

        I’m really kinda sad that someone as intelligent as you would promote Dawkins. He is a prejudiced individual who is clearly very full of hate, and determined to spread it no matter what.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Have you actually read anything by Dawkins? He’s an eloquent British teddy bear. The only thing he hates is bad thinking confounded by bad thinking.

      • Intrachresodist says:

        That was a very good reply, Steve.

      • Margo says:

        I have to agree with Nel – I find Dawkins really quite objectionable. His ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ was one of the most self-indulgent, pretentious and condescending pieces of work I have ever tried to read. Which is a shame. As Mr Grand alluded to in his response, the polarisation of people with conflicting beliefs will only lead to deeper divides and the development of a ‘death-grip’ on individual beliefs with no hope of compromise or tolerance. The book “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Tarvis and Aronson provides some interesting explanations of why this is so. We do not need another fundamentalist group added to the mix – the fundamentlist athiests – what would be great, would be a Dalai Lama-esque spokesperson for athiest views :o) I think Dawkins has some intelligent and illuminating arguments to make, it’s just I’m not a huge fan of how he goes about making them…

      • stevegrand says:

        I take your point. I think Richard is a little brusque at times, but with some justification and I suspect offense is more often taken than given. A couple of years ago I’d have agreed with you – I don’t like conflict – but this is a real war now and it was Christian evangelism that started it. I spent yesterday evening listening to fundamentalist Christian radio stations and I’m sickened by the lies, brainwashing, extortion and political exploitation of it all. It’s not right and it makes me angry. I’m sure it makes Richard at least as angry. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cancer that needs cutting out, despite the pain, but I can see your perspective.

      • Trevor says:

        “I spent yesterday evening listening to fundamentalist Christian radio stations and I’m sickened by the lies, brainwashing, extortion and political exploitation of it all. It’s not right and it makes me angry. I’m sure it makes Richard at least as angry. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cancer that needs cutting out, despite the pain, but I can see your perspective.”

        Steve, I wish you well with “cutting out the cancer”, but don’t under-estimate the magnitude of the task!

        If you read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which was first published in 1884, you will find a fierce satire on the American penchant for crazy Christian cults. They are very much a part of the scene in the USA, and have been for a very long time. In order to cut out that cancer, you will have to fundamentally change the nature of Americans. Either that, or move nearer to the coast – they seem to get less inclined towards this kind of lunacy as you get nearer to the coast and, particularly, nearer to cities that make regular contact with the rest of the planet!

        Bon chance 🙂

      • Steve Grand says:

        Hi Trevor, yeah I realize it’s an uphill struggle but we all have to stand up for what we believe and do our bit, at least until someone starts brandishing a gun…

        Sent from my iPhone

      • Margo says:

        “I don’t like conflict – but this is a real war now and it was Christian evangelism that started it.” Yikes. That sounds very militant. Isn’t this just the sort of attitude you think got us into this mess in the first place?

        “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cancer that needs cutting out, despite the pain” I agree in principal, but what saddens and frustrates me most (I pretend not to get angry because I read somewhere it’s not a constructive response – but if I could, I’d disappear the lot of them by burying them in their various religious texts, trinkets and paraphernalia), is the impossibility of such a task. As Trevor alludes to. Again, the Mistakes were Made (but not by me) book highlights how beliefs become established in the psyche, and once accepted and embraced by an individual, are clung to and defended to the death, even in the face of over-whelming contradictory evidence. So what to do? War seems a bit extreme, but with society becoming increasingly more polarised, even in the past decade (religious beliefs, political beliefs [if you think Christian radio channels are bad, tune in to a conservative Republican one – did you know Obama is a Muslim and wants to destroy America?], sports team supporters etc.), maybe there are very few, if any, practical alternatives. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just ‘get along’?

    • Mysterics says:

      Becuase teaching natural selection IS evolution, becuase teaching gnetics IS teachnig evolution, because teaching any kind of biology at all IS teaching evolution.

  11. Trevor says:

    Hi Steve,

    I sympathise with your position on this question, and it must have come as a shock to realise how remarkably unsophisticated thinking in this area is in the USA, as compared with the more common-sensical attitude of the majority of people in the UK and mainland Europe.

    However, I find it difficult to see Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection as a scientific theory at all, let alone “one of the best-supported theories in science”. When you compare it with, say, Newton’s Laws of Motion, it doesn’t seem to say anything very profound. All it really says is that we are here because our parents were here and they were here because their parents were here …..

    Outside an arena of ridiculously unsophisticated, primitive religiosity, it is hard to understand what all the fuss is about. In India, where it has always been assumed that the world is extremely old and that there are all sorts of other worlds, people must have been mystified as to what the Victorian British were getting excited about.

    Newton’s Laws of Motion, combined with the Inverse Square Law of Gravitation, enabled Newton to explain a vast range of phenomena. Those Laws were the work of a rare genius, since they are counter-intuitive, and actually used to be quite hard to grasp, until everyone got used to the idea of space travel, when they now seem obvious.

    So far, biology has failed to come up with any equivalent Laws. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is really just a holding position to allow the subject to be investigated until we can do better.

    It seems to me that re-fighting yesterday’s battles is a terrible waste of energy. I also find Dawkins very irritating when he assumes that atheism is more “scientific” than religious belief. Unbelief is just another form of unverified belief, as was pointed out by a certain gentleman by the name of Ali, who was the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammed. The assumption that all religious founders were as psychologically unsophisticated and ignorant as most of their followers are is based on a lack of information on the subject.

    Most of Dawkins arguments against ignorant belief can be found better expressed in works written a thousand years ago in the world of Islam. It is also pathetic to read of followers of Dawkins getting upset when he is attacked because “he is the nearest we have got to a saint”.

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Trevor,

      Thanks for the sympathy and I agree that the young earth “theory” is parochial and most religions (including the majority of Christians, worldwide) know better. The whole nonsense is largely a result of Archbishop Ussher’s attempts to make literal sense of the genealogies in the Bible. But it still follows that if you believe the Bible literally (and many do, with a passion), this is what you must conclude. I don’t think it’s really just unsophisticated thinking, though – it’s political. In the case of Intelligent Design (which is somewhat separate from the young earth creationists) we’re talking about some powerfully motivated, well-educated people. I’ve discussed it formally with a couple of them and they’re absolutely not just stupid people who can be dismissed – they’re sophisticates on a mission. I urge everyone to find out more about this – it’s not the way it’s being made to look. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but this IS a conspiracy.

      But I’m completely baffled by your assertions about Darwinism! The parallel to Newtonian gravitation is actually very good: BOTH seem pretty simple once they’ve been stated, but were highly counterintuitive at the time, and BOTH make a huge number of testable predictions and explain a vast number of phenomena. I just don’t know where you get the idea from that Darwinism just says “we’re here because our parents were here”. There’s much more to it than that. You could just as facetiously say that all Newton said was “apples fall for the same reason that planets go round the sun”, or “the further apart things are, the less they’re attracted to each other”. Big deal. But Newton’s theory WAS a big deal and so was Darwin’s – it explains in one stroke why the living world looks the way it does. It explains the relationships between creatures and how they developed their specializations. That’s no small feat. Add that to Mendel’s work on the mathematics of inheritance and you have a revolution in understanding.

      Darwin realized that, if creatures inherit qualities from their parents; if the nature of this inheritance leads to variation; and if creatures are under pressure for their ability to survive and reproduce, then variations that lead to greater survival will propagate more often than those that don’t, and bloodlines will therefore adapt over time. He worked this out in fine detail and used it to explain a mass of observations, including the divergence of species (hence the title of his first book on the subject). The fact that this was revolutionary can be seen by the hostility he met and the reluctance people had in admitting he was right. Since Darwin’s time (and thanks in no small part to Richard Dawkins) we’ve refined this theory hugely. We’ve made hundreds of predictions that test it, and they’ve always held true. There are still some difficulties with the fine details and more has to be done in the area of epigenetics, say, but we’re talking millions of observations and work by thousands of scientists. The theory of natural selection combined with Mendelian genetics combined with the elucidation of the structure and hence mechanism of inheritance through DNA to create the modern field of biology. Everything in biology depends on these things, one way or another. They’re just as profound as Newtonian mechanics. Darwin undoubtedly wasn’t such an all-round genius as Newton, who gave us so much more than gravitation, but he devoted his entire life to working out the details of this theory and defending it with observations. If you think this is just “we’re here because our parents were here” then you don’t understand it. Calling Darwinism a “belief” is nonsense – it’s based on a massive set of evidence and has fulfilled a mass of predictions. It’s an astoundingly well-supported theory. Better, in fact, than Newtonian Gravitation. More akin to Relativity. The idea that “unbelief” is just a belief is almost too tawdry to be worth discussing, although I will if you want a debate about it.

      And you seem to be misjudging Richard, too. He’s a good biologist who made a significant contribution to Darwin’s theory by explaining certain observations from the perspective of individual genes (something Darwin didn’t know about) rather than from the perspective of organisms. His book The Selfish Gene led to a Chair in the public understanding of science, from which he became embroiled in the issue of how scientific understanding is being systematically suppressed by Intelligent Design advocates (creationists in disguise) and by religion in general. Nobody really thinks of him as a saint, but we (and I deny that this makes me a follower, just an ally) have very good reason to be upset by the sheer crap that is being done in the name of fundamentalist religion. I understand that many people are unable to see the seriousness of the situation but it IS serious. Deadly serious. This isn’t yesterday’s battle – it’s tomorrow’s and today’s. And as for the world of Islam, that, too is an ignorant belief. That, too, is killing people.

      Clearly there’s a lot more that needs to be said on these subjects. I can’t really add much to the things that other authors have said but I’ll try to post some more about this on my blog – at least some references to things that highlight the seriousness of this. In the mean time, I urge people to find out more about what’s really happening and what’s at stake.

  12. Frank Wood says:

    Holding position. That’s just it! If you really get a Darwinist with his back against the wall all he’ll say is “Well, er, we don’t know but we eventually will.” That’s very scientific indeed 🙂

    Reminds me of that famous Wild Side cartoon where the scientist has a blackboard full of formula and then says to the audience:

    “And then a miracle happens.”

    That about sums up Darwinism.

    • stevegrand says:

      That’s just nonsense, Frank! Sheer nonsense! How can you think that? Should I run a class on this? Seriously – it worries me that anyone would think this way. Would you tell me about your misgivings? Where’s the “miracle” that Darwinism fails to account for?

    • Mackenzie says:

      Only if you ask “where did life come from originally” (and then the answer will likely be something about protein chains in the materials that first formed the earth leading up to the oxygen-producing stromatolites). If you’re asking for proof that population genetics change over time, then look no further than the Hardy-Weinberg principle and basic algebra. Add in Darwin’s observation that some genetic shifts are more advantageous than others (and calculate just *how* advantageous to get the percentages to use in your Hardy-Weinberg calculations), and evolution is plain to see. Only one allele’s frequency within a population needs to change over time for evolution to have been observed.

      • stevegrand says:

        Heh! Yes, Hardy-Weinberg isn’t necessarily the most user-friendly proof of evolution 🙂 but it’s true – it really doesn’t take much to see these changes in action and know that it works.

  13. Frank Wood says:

    I’m going on my own experience Steve. I thought the argument is that on probability evolution is true.

    As you know Newton was a clergyman and it’s a little dangerous to mix up fundamentalism with moderate Christians a lot who are more open minded than many scientists.

    So are you saying that Darwinists can explain EVERYTHING in life through the Theory of Evolution?

    I’m not a creationist but I notice that the fanaticism and rhetoric of darwinists can at times seem similar to creationists. The way that Dawkins rants against religion makes me think that he must have been frightened by a preacher when he was little. 🙂

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Frank, you speak as a troll, and require an elegance lacking any forethought whatsoever. If you come to the table with debate, come with knowledge of what you speak of. 🙂

    • stevegrand says:

      OK Frank, thanks. That’s helpful.

      When you see Matt’s comment you’ll see another example of how hot under the collar we get about this stuff! 😉 Really, there ARE reasons for us “dreadful Darwinists” to get worked up about this. We (that is, people in general) are being besieged by a mass of misinformation and downright lies on this subject by creationists. Even the very idea that Darwinism is somehow controversial is entirely invented. It’s a story put about by creationists to destabilize science. Really, it is. I’d be happy to show how this came about, although I’ll have to do a little research to get my facts together. There is very little in genuine doubt. The ID people have a few reasonable objections, which I can show to be wrong, but the reasons they’re wrong will take some explaining. I’d be happy to do so if you like.

      I’m not sure what you’re saying about Newton being a clergyman. Did you mean Darwin? Newton was an alchemist! Darwin studied for the clergy but only because his father wanted him to – it was almost the only way science could be done in those days. But I agree that moderate Christianity and fundamentalism are very different. My argument is with fundamentalism – they are the danger. I have an argument with moderate Christians too, but not over this.

      No, I’m not saying Darwinism can explain EVERYTHING about life. No more than Newton’s theory can explain everything about physics. But it explains a huge amount that would otherwise be inexplicable. I’ll try to describe more of this – I just caught a glimpse of Trevor’s response and that might be a place to start. Defending Darwinism really didn’t ought to be necessary, though. It’s SO capable of standing up by itself. The “alternative” argument really sucks, so one of the reasons we “Darwinists” get so upset is that we seem to have to spend a lot of time defending a theory that’s massively supported and almost self-evidently true, while some far more absurd alternatives are allowed to pass without comment.

      Richard doesn’t rant – he gets frustrated by the dirty tricks he has to face. I know how he feels, and I’m not nearly as embroiled in this as he is. One thing it’s important to realize is that this is serious – it’s affecting people’s lives. Moderate religion doesn’t do that – it’s the fundamentalists who are killing and torturing people in the name of their god. None of us, moderate Christians and Muslims included, should be turning a blind eye to this.

      Darwinism isn’t a “balance of probabilities” thing – it really is massively supported. And it really does have a lot to say about our world – things that fundamentalists absolutely do not want people to hear. I’ll try to find a good way to discuss this on the blog, so that everyone can air their views calmly and reasonably, although I know from experience that it’s easy for it to become hysterical, because a lot is at stake.

    • Nel says:

      I am a moderate christian and a scientist. Lots of scientists are religious. This is why the evolution debate and the “skeptical movement” are so poisonous. It makes people imagine that you need to pick a side and that the two are science and faith are incompatible.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Religion in moderation requires a sense of skepticism to pick and choose what you accept from Christianity. You wouldn’t be a ‘moderate’ Christian if it weren’t for skepticism in the first place. You would otherwise take the Bible as the one and only literal truth.

        The evolution debate deals greatly with those who oppose science due to Biblical literalism.

      • mugasofer says:

        Wait, since when are skepticism and atheism the same? You can be healthily skeptical without declaring God to be a myth. Indeed, I wouldbe skeptical of any belief system that lacks an atemporal creator, much of theology is an attempt to explain, say, our existance. Non-“skeptical” Christians end up as creationsts, sure, but equally non-“sceptical” atheists end up parroting Richard Dawkins, cheerfully unaware that every argument he uses was disproved hundreds of years ago by professional theologians.

        (I’m typing this on a ninetendo DS, so there may be typos.)

      • stevegrand says:

        Since when did anyone say they WERE the same? I know Richard Dawkins, I know his arguments, but I don’t think it’s me who’s being the parrot here. Tell me WHICH of Richard’s arguments have been disproven and by whom – otherwise it’s just hearsay, and as a healthy skeptic I can’t accept hearsay.

      • Mike says:

        It does not matter whether Newton or Darwin were Christian, Hindu or Atheist. What made them useful was their ability to question and analysis the world around them. The scary thing about the fundamentalists (whether they be Baptist, Shiite or whatever) is the unquestioning following of doctrine, regardless of whether or not it is against the individual’s personal morals.

        Scepticism is a healthy trait in religion or science.

  14. Trevor says:

    Dear Steve,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond so intelligently to my rather provocative comments. I appreciate the trouble you have gone.

    I actually agree with a lot of what you just said, but you perhaps misunderstood some of my points:

    1) I would be interested in some further explanation about the predictive nature of Darwin’s Theory. I did not mean to impugn Darwin’s work, since he really was a great scientist with tremendous powers of observation. But there seems to be nothing yet known in biology that could predict or replay in simulation, what direction evolution has taken/will take. To say that the fittest survive to produce more offspring looks to me like a tautology. It doesn’t say anything about what fitness actually is, apart from the hindsight that the survivors were more “fit” than the ones that died before they reproduced.

    2) I did not say Darwinism was a belief – I said Atheism was. It is another belief system amongst the others. it does not have superior status to them.

    3) The assumption that “the world of Islam is an ignorant belief” is absurd. I said that I can find a lot of the arguments that Dawkins cites against unreflective belief in works written by the great thinkers in the world of Islam of a thousand years ago, and a number of very profound observations on these matters are on record from Muhammed and his immediate companions. If you like, I can quote several of them. You simply don’t know anything about the subject, which is fine, as long as you recognise the fact.

    4) My view is that the human genome project and associated work has accumulated about the same level of detail about biology as Newton had at his disposal about the motion of the planets, tides etc. in his domain. Biology needs a genius of Newton’s calibre to see through this mass of detail to some underlying simplicity that would be equivalent to Newton’s Laws. I look forward to it happening. The stuff about epigenetics might turn out to be the equivalent of the Michelson-Morley experiment that opened a question for 19th century physics which gave Einstein his chance to develop Relativity Theory.

    5) The thing about Dawkins being a saint is a quotation from one of his followers, but I can’t find it now, so maybe I dreamt it? The setting up of Atheism as a belief system in its own right exhibits the same kind of nonsense that infects the followers of other belief systems, but that doesn’t say much about their founders, any more than the antics of fundamentalists do about any other belief system. This kind of craziness is a fit subject for anthropological study. The assumption that atheism is “more logical” than, say, Islam, is just that – an assumption.

    BTW I am not a believer in any of these systems – but I have studied several of them in quite a lot of depth. My interest is in the social dynamics of how originally flexible forms of thought become rigidified over time and how they can regain their flexibility. That seems to me to be a very important subject!

    • stevegrand says:

      Phew! Ok, this is in serious danger of expanding beyond the limits of a blog comment – you’ve raised several major points.

      I very much disagree with your assessment that atheism is no better supported than theism. This is a massive subject and maybe for now I’d better stick to Darwinism. I’m more than willing to debate this though. For now I’ll just say that I DO realize that Islam, as a philosophy, dealt thoughtfully with many difficult subjects. So did Christianity. So did Judaism (and that’s just the monotheisms – I actually have a lot more sympathy for many of the polytheistic religions who rarely get a look-in in these debates). Each religion was a genuine and intelligent attempt to create an understanding of the world, based on the information available at the time. You need to give atheism credit for being the same thing! It is a thoughtful philosophy based on new observations that were not available to our forefathers. It’s still forming and doesn’t have all the answers yet. But its objections to previous worldviews are valid and defensible. They are NOT based on faith but on reason. I can’t speak for all atheists – there will undoubtedly be extremists and irrationalists – but I, for one, have based my atheism on a lifetime of careful examination. It is NOT a belief system (except to the minor extent that reasoning itself does, at root, require induction). I’d be happy to put together the arguments I’ve used, although it will take some time and others have done it better.

      Back to biology for the moment:

      No, you’re wrong in your historical analysis. The human genome project has certainly accumulated a mass of data, and in that respect looks rather like, say, the mass of observations produced by Tycho Brahe. But Brahe’s data lacked a theory – the theory of epicycles was bursting for a paradigm shift. And then along came Copernicus, followed by Newton, and the paradigm shift happened.

      In biology it’s the other way around. The human genome project owes its existence to the theory of inheritance. We already had that theory. Now, the HGP certainly failed to come up with the goods that some rather foolishly reductionistic biologists expected it to. It didn’t give us the answer to everything that those who suffer from “physics envy” would have liked. But this really shouldn’t have been a surprise – it stands to reason. That’s a long story, but the point here is that NOTHING in the HGP has shaken Darwinism. It has merely added to its support. Actually the other genome projects have been more use in this respect – the HGP is more of a medical project than a biological one. Sequencing C.elegans and various bacteria has been more relevant. And they’ve confirmed Darwin’s theory in many ways, predominantly because they show very clearly how we later life-forms are directly related to these earlier ones and share a great many of our genes with them. Where these genes are different, it can often be shown how those differences have come about, due to accumulated mutation and natural selection – the differences are entirely consistent with and supportive of Darwinism. No other theory would simultaneously have predicted the uniformity AND the variations of the genetic history of life. Creationism might have argued that all life would be fundamentally similar at the genetic level because, well, why wouldn’t God have used the same framework instead of reinventing the wheel all the time? But that thesis wouldn’t explain the kinds of genetic variation we see. We see the way the errors developed, and the way random accumulated changes have led to innovations. We can see with our own eyes how species have become modified by the non-random selection of random mutations – it’s there in the genome. Nothing else can explain the facts. Darwin was right. He couldn’t have known these things at the time – he used brilliant inferences to conclude what modern molecular biology can now demonstrate.

      I’d have to do some looking-up to pick out really clear examples of all this – there’s just such a mass of them. I’ll get back to you, although it may be easiest just to point you at other people’s demonstrations. But I can tell you that modern biology has confirmed Darwin’s ideas very well, in ways he couldn’t even have dreamed of. The HGP isn’t the equivalent of Brahe’s tables – it’s not data which produces unease about the present paradigm and requires a Copernican revolution. Quite the opposite: it confirms the current paradigm and merely adds some interesting new twists that do, or probably will, explain many of the quite small gaps in the theory – gaps that one would expect in ANY scientific theory. Now, there WAS a mass of data, historically equivalent to Brahe’s tables, and it DID create a revolution. Those observations were available to Darwin and Wallace (and anyone else in the C19th who was willing to look closely enough). Natural selection WAS the Copernican revolution of biology. It overturned the previous paradigm, which was that God made all living things. The last dregs of that fight are what are happening now, between creationists and biologists. They’ve lost the war, but they’re using dirty tricks to regain some control – rather like the Germans firing V2s at London after the war had been conceded. And it’s working. It’s really working. People are being returned to ignorance because of the concerted attacks on evolution by ID proponents, who are demonstrably creationists acting on a religious agenda. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL4_x9KRVj8&feature=autofb for some insights).

    • stevegrand says:

      P.S. Sorry, I didn’t really give your first question a good answer:

      > I would be interested in some further explanation about the predictive nature of Darwin’s Theory. I did not mean to impugn Darwin’s work, since he really was a great scientist with tremendous powers of observation. But there seems to be nothing yet known in biology that could predict or replay in simulation, what direction evolution has taken/will take. To say that the fittest survive to produce more offspring looks to me like a tautology. It doesn’t say anything about what fitness actually is, apart from the hindsight that the survivors were more “fit” than the ones that died before they reproduced.

      There’s nothing wrong with tautologies – they can actually have explanatory power, but that’s another topic. I disagree that fitness is simply being circularly defined as “that which has survived”. Fitness is often (but not always) self-evident, and Darwin used this to induce the theory.

      His observations on finches, for example, didn’t merely note that finches on different islands had different beaks. He showed WHY these differences were relevant to survival. The finches’ beaks are highly adapted to survival on their own particular island, given its food sources. Darwin observed whilst on the Beagle that animals with dark coats are more prevalent on dark, basaltic islands. It seems self-evident that dark animals on dark rock are better camouflaged and hence less likely to be eaten. They are therefore more fit than white animals in that habitat – they occupy an ecological niche because they are specifically suited for it. But he went way beyond this and amassed a wealth of evidence, not just for selected variation but for WHY those variations must surely have been selected.

      In general, evolutionary theory can make a wide variety of predictions. Perhaps the simplest is that obviously related animals will vary in ways that make sense, given their habitat. It’s a trivial prediction but one that has been repeatedly confirmed. One striking extension of this is convergent evolution, where different, comparatively unrelated animals, have developed similar specializations by modifying demonstrably pre-existing yet unrelated organs. But more recently we’ve been able to see in the genetic code how many of these phenotypical changes came about – which actual genes mutated in which ways to allow specializations in the resultant phenotype. Molecular genetics is kind of like trying to decipher cuneiform, thinking you’ve got the hang of it, realizing you’re now able to read hundreds of stories and find they make sense, but always having a nagging doubt that you’re perhaps just fooling yourself, but then coming across the Rosetta Stone!

      As for simulation, that’s a bit more complex, because it’s currently impossible to recreate the exact complex circumstances of a creature’s genotype, phenotype and environment in order to do direct predictive simulations. The biggest hole in biology is not evolution but embryology. Nevertheless, natural selection can easily be shown in action. I’ve used artificial evolution to solve real practical problems in which fitness is an emergent property and not a given. People like Tom Ray have been able to show adaptations of unusual but expected biological kinds emerging in simulation – e.g. parasitism. None of this is conclusive but it shows that evolution DOES work and is sufficient to explain many features found in biological systems.

  15. Frank Wood says:

    Dear Steve,
    Sorry, it was Newton’s stepfather and uncle that were clergyman and Newton whilst a Christian was not happy with the prevailing Christianity.

    The point I’m making is that Darwinian evolution is not a complete proof. Theories over the ages have come and gone. David Bloor’s “Knowledge and Socail Imagery” discusses how the acquiring of knowledge is heavily influenced by the current paradigm.

    So, Darwinism is a useful theory but it can’t be said to be conclusively proved. It’s certainly a darn sight more plausible than Creationism.

    Take the Phologiston Theory which held sway for about 50 years before it was disproved. Now it might be correctly argued that phlogiston was finally debunked because of more qualitative experiments but then again who knows, Darwinism might be discredited a hundred years from now for the same reasons?

    That’s what I’m arguing about. The absolutist stand by Darwinists which could be said to be no better than the Creationists.

    As regards dirty tricks, I’m sure you Steve know all about the dirty tricks of academia which in many way are just as vicious as the Creationist propagandists.

    I accept your point about creationists out to destabilise science but hey that’s life and science should be able to defend itself against that. As I said scientists and academics are hardly wilting flowers when it comes to the cut and thrust of debate.

    As regards Matt, well lets just say I ignore personal attacks.

    Frank

    • stevegrand says:

      I think there are some matters of degree in what you say, so I’d like to tease them out a bit.

      No, evolutionary theory isn’t and can’t be conclusively proven. You’re right. We’ve known since Popper that theories can only be DIS-proved. And evolutionary theory is up there waiting to be disproved. It just hasn’t been, that’s all. VERY few things have even come close to disproving it, and many things that could have disproved it have only served to confirm it. I just want to emphasize the RATIO here. It’s absolutely not a situation in which evolution faces a jury who could go either way. That’s what creationists want people to believe but it just isn’t true. The overwhelming weight of evidence is in favor. By a massive factor.

      Now, that weight of evidence deserves defending. Even Richard Dawkins would be willing to stand up and say it’s wrong, IF it could be disproved. Not a single line of evidence has done this yet, but the ID proponents are putting out the story that evolution is contentious and a theory under threat. It really isn’t. That’s so not true that we HAVE to stick out our jaws and defend it. It’s almost impossible to even mention some of the minor deficiencies in the current version of the theory without everyone pouncing on them and saying “SEE? We TOLD you so!!!”.

      The other point I wanted to make is related to this. It’s not the dirty tricks against scientists that are the problem. We can handle that – debate and attack are everyday tools in science. No, the problem is the effect these dirty tricks are having on people who don’t have the time to figure out who’s right.

      Would you agree that evolutionary theory is at least well-enough supported that it should be taught in schools? If not then I’m going to want some good evidence why not. But it’s NOT BEING TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS, not in the US, not any more. Only a small proportion of biology teachers now dare to discuss it in the classroom, because of the influence of the creationists.

      These people masquerade as scientists, claiming that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory of equal weight to natural selection. That’s simply not true, but few know enough to see the sophistry that’s being employed. If IDers were genuinely putting forward a scientific theory and this theory carried acceptable weight among their peers, then perhaps it should be included in the curriculum. Perhaps. But none of this is true. ID is NOT a scientific theory, it is fundamentalist creationism in disguise. The Discovery Institute try to hide this but the proof is there in their own words. They want to promulgate ID, not because it is a valid scientific hypothesis but because they want to promote religious fundamentalism and its associated right-wing politics in the United States. They are creationists. They’re pushing a literal interpretation of the Bible and they’re trying to get this religion taught in schools. That’s against the Constitution, so they’re doing so by stealth. ID is their way of fooling people into thinking there is something scientifically legitimate about what is really Christian fundamentalism. The evidence for this is all there to see – I’m not making this up.

      And it has an impact, which science and rational thought are unable to prevent without a fight. People are being taught in US schools that God made man in his present form, and science is wrong. The consequence of this is to promote ignorance and religiosity. It’s all part of an evangelical package on behalf of fundamentalism. This is evil at work, not a legitimate debate between rival theories. American fundamentalist Christianity has a huge political agenda – it’s basically a kind of totalitarianism. No stem cell research; no abortion; no gay rights; no social services; a holy war with Islam… Evolutionary theory is just the battleground for this, BECAUSE evolutionary theory is inconsistent with a literal view of the Bible. THAT’S what this is about.

  16. Frank Wood says:

    Er what I said might be wrongly construed.

    When I said that you know all about dirty tricks I meant that you may have had experience of dirty doing in academias.

    Frank

  17. Matt Griffith says:

    I apologize, I thought you were just pulling the usual Creationist tactic. 🙂

    Darwinism isn’t an absolutist policy, but there sure are a lot of people who act like it is, however, in asking them, you will realize they will sway towards new evidence too. 🙂
    The absolutist stance you see is primarily out of annoyance against creationism slime tactics, nothing more. It just gets old fast to hear the same things over and over again trotted out by them with an air of confidence and smugness! No hard feelings, sorry about that!

  18. Frank Wood says:

    No probs Matt and no need to apologise cos there’s nothing to apologise for.

    Well I hope to hear more Darwinists state their stand is not absolutist.

    Frank

  19. Frank Wood says:

    Yes I can see how ID is a back door to make Creationism legitimate (in all senses of that word) but the problem I have (and presumably many others)is the often hysterical reaction of the atheists and the atheist humanists to the fundamentalists. This runs the risk of the fundamentalists getting sympathy they don’t deserve.

    I haven’t done a lot of research into this cos of other things I”ve chosen to do but I’d like to ask you a question.

    Are there any respected scientists that are not in the fundamentalist camp that don’t have some doubts?

    Also I’m not entirely convinced of your statement that science is that science would look kindly at any evidence or theory that throws doubt on Darwinism. Paradigm breakers have often been burnt at the stake (literally and metaphorically) for daring to challenge the scientific/academic establishment. And that oaf course put them on a par with the fundamentalists.

    Great discussison btw.

    Frank

    • stevegrand says:

      Heh! I take your point about the unwillingness to abandon theories. This is both natural and justified – science has to have some inertia. Physics is heading for a paradigm shift right now, IMHO. So many recent theories are perfectly legitimate extrapolations from apparently solid knowledge and yet are embarrassingly absurd. That’s usually a sign that a revolution is coming and old facts need to be interpreted in a new light. But physicists will quite rightly resist it. They have the confidence of thousands of observations and it will take a lot to make them abandon these. Nevertheless, they’ll do it eventually.

      Biology may do the same, but right now it’s not in such an unstable situation as physics. Evolution is so well supported that it’s only reasonable to stand up for it. It’s been “attacked” thousands of times. Every time a new fossil is picked up it becomes open to disproof. All someone has to do is find a human leg bone in the Jurassic and the whole thing will be over. But time and time again that fails to happen, and the oddities of new discoveries turn out to be further support, not contradiction.

      I think all of us doubt it to some degree or other, but usually this is in the fine details. I don’t think I agree with Richard Dawkins about the universality of gradualism, for instance (nor do I agree with Gould’s alternative view). The creationist Michael Behe has an argument about irreducible complexity, which is a valid challenge. I can see several ways in which his argument falls down, but I had to think about this, so it’s a fair debating point. Behe’s argument would be very powerful if it were true, but it isn’t, so it just acts as a challenge for us to explain certain details. The whole point of being a scientist is to challenge things, even when you find the evidence for them overwhelming. I do artificial evolution experiments, and I’ve learned a lot about the failings of simpler versions of the theory (for example the importance of embryology is still underrated by many). But on the whole my experiments simply remind me how much more powerful a simple theory like Darwin’s can be than it seems at first sight.

      I don’t know of anyone who actually knows what he’s talking about, who disagree with Darwinian theory as a whole, only the details. There are non-creationists who take pot-shots at it from time to time, but usually they just don’t know enough of the evidence to see what’s wrong with their ideas. For such a simple theory, it does require the piecing together of an awful lot of observations before its veracity becomes obvious.

  20. Frank Wood says:

    I agree resistance is natural and justifiable. But when resistance turns into censorship and persecution, where resistance may very well determine whether a scientist gets a grant or not then surely there is cause for concern?

    I better get some sleep now but I”ve enjoyed this and also like your very fair minded approach which is refreshing.

    I read your book Creation some time ago and still refer to it as it has many sides to it, not just about artificial creation.

  21. It us kind of late here in the UK, but I want to second Frank’s comment about how refreshing this conversation is.

    Intriguing, Steve, that you think physics is on the edge of a paradigm shift more than biology is 🙂

    Tomorrow I will re-read the exchanges above and respond (if I can find anything as illuminating to say as you have been able to – otherwise I’ll keep quiet!).

  22. stevegrand says:

    Thanks guys – it’s been interesting. Quite eye-opening in some ways.

    Frank: Yes, that would worry me and is indeed a cause for concern. Do you have an example in mind? I’d like to hear about it. I was involved in the grant refereeing process until recently, and I realize it’s not perfect, but censorship and persecution are another matter.

    Goodnight all!

  23. Frank Wood says:

    I don’t have any information in the field of evolution but in climatology I’ve been told that it is very difficult to get a grant to do research that might contradict Antrhopogenic Global Warming.

    As regards censorship and persecution, well it’s a bit more subtle. I think it’s generally acknowledged there is an ape man hierarchy in academia and that if due obeisance is not made to the alpha males then an academic’s position can be difficult, to say the least.

    I love science but not the way science is done. At the moment science is a walking PR disaster and that is not due to the evil fundamentalists but to the arrogant attitude of many scientists.

    Sometimes having a discussion with them is about a frustrating as having a discussion with fundamentalists

    I could go on but don’t want to go down that road because I’m sick and tired of discussing this point on a forum.

    Suffice it to say, that if scientists don’t change their attitude then their fight against the fundamentalists will be lost because they are pissing off so many people that at the moment are on the sidelines but rather enjoy seeing scientists getting (in their view) their comeuppannce.

    I’ll make some suggestions on how scientists could progress in another post.

    • stevegrand says:

      I’m really sorry that’s been your experience, Frank.

      I don’t necessarily believe the claim that legitimate, scientifically valid global warming research has been censored by the grant system. It’s true that peer review can be somewhat biased but I have direct experience of it in other fields and can vouch for the best intentions of those who referee and assess grant applications. The snag may be that the “humans have nothing to do with it” position is one that is taken by some very powerful and politically-motivated groups, quite apart from those who genuinely believe it, and these groups are absolutely not averse to telling lies, so I’d want more than hearsay before I can accept what you say.

      But my general experience of scientists has been a good one. They’re human beings, so yes, they are sometimes arrogant and often too busy to care much about someone else’s theories or interests, but that’s just human nature. Lots of people send me their often quite naive theories too, and it’s hard work giving them the consideration they deserve. It must be worse for professional academics.

      Academia as a body has been very cloistered and that’s a real shame, if understandable. Nevertheless, there are big changes happening. Are you aware of the various Open Science initiatives around the world? A lot is happening to engage non-academics, including making it more possible for them/us to contribute ideas and data, and access the data of others.

      I agree that the structure of science is no longer optimal, but I really think this is changing. Hell, I got the OBE and an honorary doctorate for my work and I’m just an uneducated amateur, so it must be possible. It was a struggle, though, and I can see why people get frustrated.

  24. Trevor says:

    Dear Steve,

    I’ve just reviewed the exchanges here and I still can’t make out the your apparent commitment to atheism. Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but aren’t your views arguments for agnosticism instead? I do not see that as a belief system, since it basically admits to not knowing the answers to certain questions. That seems to be a very different posture to atheism, which seems to make claims to knowing that there is definitely not a God. Given that, for example, Allah is defined as beyond all definition or conceptualisation, it is hard to see how anything could claim to be able to disprove his existence, any more than it could be proved. I only pick on Allah because Muslims seem to be very insistent on the inability of any human to conceptualise about him, which seems much stricter than the equivalent Christian conception, which is perhaps therefore easier to have a go at.

    BTW the idea that atheism is recent and maybe hasn’t had a chance to get its act together versus other systems is completely wrong. It was very popular in the Roman Republic, so it predates both Christianity and Islam. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucretius for some information on this.

    On the subject of paradigm shifts, are you aware of Steven Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science” published in 2002? He makes a bold attempt to create a unified theory of the universe based on the notion of the playing out of very simple algorithms to create ever greater complexity. He runs simulations using Mathematica (which he invented) to apply his ideas in a wide range of fields, including the evolution of such things as the patterns in the fur of mammals.

    Wolfram is a very distinguished physicist, so this isn’t just the work of a crank. He does suggest that there is a kind of universal variety generator that churns out stuff. He sees natural selection as merely a culling mechanism for killing off variety that is just too exotic to survive in its environment. He thinks that the diversity of life is too great to have evolved in the time available only by minor, random mutations which get passed on.

    I thought the book was very interesting, although the accompanying software was pretty feeble. He has released the Wolfram Alpha search engine based partly on the same ideas, but that doesn’t seem all that exciting either.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts on Wolfram’s ideas. They do not appear to be incompatible with any of the evidence, but might offer a way forward that could unify the world of physics and the world of biology. We do seem to need some way of accounting for the emergence of complex systems out of less complex systems that has more to say than that is is a random process (whatever that means). I think Wolfram is trying to offer some ideas to help out here.

    • Matt Griffith says:

      I realize this question is directed towards Steve, but I’d like to answer it too. To be intellectually honest, I must be agnostic to absolute claims, however, I can be atheistic towards the God’s humans preach of, and pray to, etc etc. That, to me, defines me as an atheist, in the sense that I do not believe in, nor do I believe the God’s of human discussion are even probable.

      I always leave room for the unknown and unexplained phenomena of the universe, and in that sense, all scientists share an agnosticism. I do not, however, give undue respect to the unknown.

      Even the loud and wonderful PZ Myers is still agnostic when it comes to the absolute question of God. He and I both share the improbable nature of a caring and picky God who gives a shit about humanity. 🙂

    • stevegrand says:

      This may be short because the power keeps going out – Thor is angry at me!

      “Agnostic” DOESN’T mean “not being absolutely sure”. If it did, then all of us are agnostic about everything! Am I absolutely sure that action and reaction are equal and opposite? That my name is Steve? That 1+1=2? No, I’m not.

      Agnostic means something much closer to sitting on the fence, or not being able to decide. I’m not agnostic, I’m an atheist – I am quite CONVINCED that the claims of the existence of God (or gods) are untrue. I see absolutely no convincing evidence for them. What arguments people have given have been, to my satisfaction, shown to be untrue. It’s a question of “beyond all reasonable doubt” – it’s not necessary to be 100.000% sure to be an atheist.

      Now, as Matt says, we have to be clear that we’re talking about the “gods humans preach of and pray to”. Anyone can come along and say “do you believe in randomness? Or forces? Or some vague notion that I believe in but can’t really articulate? Well then that’s what I mean by God”, but that line of reasoning is pretty much irrelevant. We have a fairly specific set of “theories” of gods to choose from, and none of them holds the slightest amount of water, as far as I can see. If someone comes up with a convincing argument I’ll change my mind, but for the moment I’ve examined the available arguments and consider it extremely unlikely, not to mention logically fraught with difficulties. I see no reason to believe in gods – no more reason than to believe in fairies. That makes me an atheist. And indeed an a-fairieist and a-spaghettimonsterist among the infinity of other things I see no reason to believe in.

      > Given that, for example, Allah is defined as beyond all definition or conceptualisation

      Yeah, well that sort of get-out clause is just a pile of crap. Never mind the question of what is there for me NOT to believe in – what is there for anyone to BELIEVE in? It’s a vacuous statement. Why should I believe in an indefinable unconceptualisable anything? It’s not an argument, it’s just an excuse for not actually having any arguments. Give me evidence.

      > BTW the idea that atheism is recent and maybe hasn’t had a chance to get its act together versus other systems is completely wrong.

      Yes, I realize that. In fact monotheism is just a blip in history. Before monotheism we had perhaps hundreds of thousands of years during which nobody believed in any of the three contenders for the “one true God”. And there have been atheist thinkers ever since biblical times, arguing from a philosophical perspective. However, human knowledge has progress HUGELY in the past few decades. The death knell perhaps began with Copernicus and the realization that we simply aren’t the center of the universe. Easily the biggest argument in favor of a creator has been the argument from incredulity – how on earth could all of this complexity have arisen all by itself? But we know that now, apart from the initial steps, and even these are not mysterious, just awaiting further evidence. Monotheistic religion is just one stage in a cosmology that has been shifting and developing. Animism, ancestor worship, polytheism and monotheism are all perfectly understandable stages in our explanation of how the world came to be, and what it means to be alive and conscious. Each stage was overturned by the next, and monotheism is now an anachronism like the others. As far as I can see, there is no longer any evidence for it, and we really have only two reasons to believe in a God: 1) because we want to – because it seems (as long as we don’t actually think about it too hard) to fill a human need; and 2) because it’s an assumption that has been inculcated in us since birth, and we find it very difficult to see that the emperor actually has no clothes. The latter point is easily demonstrated by the arbitrariness of people’s chosen god: if you’re born in a Muslim country, you’re vastly more likely to believe in Allah than in Jaweh or Vishnu. There’s no good reason to believe in one over another, and yet people kill each other over it.

      > We do seem to need some way of accounting for the emergence of complex systems out of less complex systems that has more to say than that is is a random process (whatever that means). I think Wolfram is trying to offer some ideas to help out here.

      Wolfram’s certainly not a crank, but he is a mathematician and hence a bit cloistered. As far as I can tell he’s just rediscovered (and claimed inventor’s rights over) things that some of us have known for years.

      I just don’t get why you think we lack an understanding of the emergence of complex systems, though. We can start by dismissing this nonsense about randomness. Evolution by natural selection is decidedly NOT a random process. It is the NON-random selection of random variations. And it’s trivial to show that this is amply able to give rise to complexity. ID proponents delight in quoting Fred Hoyle’s analogy that the spontaneous emergence of life on earth is about as likely as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and spontaneously assembling a 747, but Hoyle just completely missed the point, like quite a few physicists do. They aren’t used to thinking in the right way. You yourself understand why this is a lousy analogy, I take it?

      Once people grasp the essential idea of natural selection as a highly non-random ratchet, the next stumbling points are usually a failure to understand what embryology implies, how complexity can grow through pruning, and how the laws of physics create attractor basins. These are much harder things for people to grasp, but they ARE understood. We KNOW how complexity can emerge. There’s no significant gaps here. We don’t know a lot of the details, for sure. As I’ve said before, the biggest hole in biology is not evolution but embryology. But we DO understand the principles. Perhaps we just haven’t marketed them well enough yet, but that’s not surprising because we’ve only known some of these things for 20 years so far. Wolfram’s “rediscovery” of the patterns of complexity in 1D cellular automata are a small part of this shift in understanding, but it’s been around for quite a while now. Each of these things removes a layer from the argument from incredulity. A generation ago, few people had much understanding of how something as apparently “designed” as a human being can develop spontaneously, so it seemed implausible, but that’s no longer the case. There are a lot of details to discover, especially in morphogenesis, but nobody with enough exposure to complexity theory and the theory of self-organizing systems has any incredulity any more. We no longer have to believe in a creator to see where we came from. We have a better explanation, supported by evidence.

  25. Frank Wood says:

    Matt, I don’t think not believing in anthropomorphic god makes one an atheistic.

    Not sure what you mean about not giving undue respect of the unknown unless you mean you subscribe to the “we don’t understand why that happens/missing link blah blah but we’re sure that one day we will understand it and thus prove our theory (whatever that may be)” Which is of course very convenient.

    I have respect for those that say “We don’t know and we may never know about x however we’ll do our damnedst to learn”.

    • Matt Griffith says:

      We really may never know about most things. I don’t believe in the possibility of absolute or perfect knowledge. But as you said, I do my damnedst to honestly investigate the universe. We all have our own personal biases and as such, your bias is different than mine, and that’s totally fine.

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Personally, as far as gods are concerned, I have yet to see any real evidence for a god. The only thing man has ever been able to put their faith in was in the writings of other men who wrote about the gods. You must accept it at the merit of 1000-2000 year old men. Unlike Pythagoras’ theorem, we can’t just go out and talk to the gods and get a reply like these few did.

      Thus, I hold their untestable word as I do of men who email me trying to transfer Nigerian Gold into my bank account once they have my social security number. 🙂

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Uhh.. Brain fart. What I meant about Pythagoras’ theorem is that, the writings of this 1000-2000 year old man can be used to do actual work. 🙂

      (Though whether or not it was him alone who devised a^2 + b^2 = c^2 is still being discussed :))

  26. Trevor says:

    Dear Steve,

    > Given that, for example, Allah is defined as beyond all definition or conceptualisation

    >Yeah, well that sort of get-out clause is just a pile of crap.

    Sorry about that – I was just paraphrasing what it says in the Quran 🙂

    >Wolfram’s certainly not a crank, but he is a mathematician and hence a bit cloistered. As far as I can tell he’s just rediscovered (and claimed inventor’s rights over) things that some of us have known for years.

    You are clearly not impressed with Wolfram. What interested me was that he was attempting to apply a unified approach across a very diverse range of scientific domains, all the way from sub-atomic physics to biology. To split this up into separate pieces, then to accuse him of claiming inventor’s rights over them seems to miss the point of what he was trying to do. Maybe he just failed in the attempt?

    I think this debate has slipped into the usual rather dull rut, which is a shame. I think you misunderstand what religious traditions really are, since you assume they are in competition with science as methods of explanation of the world. A lot of religious people assume the same thing, which leads to the sort of fatuous power-struggle that is playing itself out at its worst in the USA. Religious traditions are mainly creators and sustainers of human culture, which covers a much wider brief than science does.

    The Quran, for example, can be seen as a piece of technology that created a resurgence of culture at a time when it was stuck in the doldrums. That is a much more interesting perspective than the assumption that it is just peddling an obsolete cosmology. It can be appreciated as such irrespective of whether you believe in it, just as I can appreciate a finely crafted hand-gun, whether or not I approve of hand-guns.

    But that perspective is probably of no interest to you or the readers of this blog, so I’ll drop the subject now.

    Thanks for taking the trouble to share your thoughts.

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Trevor,

      I think you misunderestimate me, as someone not incidental to this discussion once said.

      Wolfram is too complex a subject to get into right now. I’m all for unification but I do think he’s being too Platonic. I’ve worked with CAs for twenty years and so by default you might assume I’d be totally in favor, but I think he’s taken the idea too far and also finally woken up to things that only really seem surprising to mathematicians. That’s a whole other discussion, though.

      As for religions as cultural entities, I agree with what you say, but I think your analogy of a finely crafted hand-gun is very apt indeed: I can appreciate those too, but not when someone’s blood is spattered all over the barrel and their entrails are dripping down the wall. This conversation started with fundamentalism, and fundamentalism kills and abuses people every single day. This has to stop. THEISM is the concept that lies behind and permits religious fundamentalism – a belief in magic and the innate authority of certain ancient books (amongst other things). People do disgusting things to other people in the name of God.

      Religion is not just an excuse for doing harm that would have been done anyway, it’s the whole raison d’etre. Children are dying of AIDS because Catholics ban condoms; women are treated like cattle and stoned to death because the Qur’an makes it very clear they’re not equal members of society; women in the US are being harassed when they need abortions; mourners are harassed at funerals for dead soldiers; deadly apocalyptic thinking pervades certain aspects of American politics; stem cell research has been canceled, dooming thousands; suicide bombs are killing innocent people; American children are being brought up in ignorance of some of the most pertinent and important facts because they conflict with religious teaching; all of this is caused by religion. All of it is due, in a very real and palpable way, to an unsubstantiated metaphysical belief, the justification of actions on the basis of ancient books instead of reason, and the insistence that questioning these beliefs is taboo. I don’t care HOW beautiful and culturally interesting religion is; this can’t be allowed to continue. Just one death is too much, and we’re talking about millions. In ANY OTHER FIELD of human endeavor, this cost would be completely unacceptable.

      I appreciate religions for their historical value too. I love Gothic cathedrals and plainsong and many other trappings of religious expression. But I reserve my right to keep pointing out how anachronistic and dangerous these ideas are in a world where we now so much better understand the things that gave rise to them. There are better ways to create and sustain human culture and we should be free to look for them.

      Thanks for the discussion – I do appreciate it. It’s been helpful.

      • Nel says:

        I’m sorry Steve but you’re talking a load of crap.

        Children are dying of AIDS because men simply don’t like wearing condoms. Technically Christians can’t use any form of contraception but I don’t know many double-figure-children families at my church (or any actually). Christians routinely ignore rules which are inconvinient, such as the ban Jesus slapped on us being rich. I guarentee that if the Pope went to Africa and explicitly commanded the use of condoms, it would instantly make the “ignore” list because men hate them.

        If getting rid of HIV, nutters like Phelps, abuse of the vulnerable in third world countries and irrational fear of new technology was as simple as getting rid of religion Jesus would have been an atheist. But that’s not the magic silver bullet to cure the worlds ills and you know it. lol.

      • stevegrand says:

        No Nel, it is you who is talking a load of crap.

        You made several points in different places and I’ll try to cover them all here.

        Firstly, I take it you don’t know Richard Dawkins personally? I do and you’re wrong. That’s certainly how he is painted by creationists, who’ve run a very effective smear campaign against him. But he’s not full of hate at all; he just gets very frustrated and occasionally angry, and I really can’t say I blame him, given the dirty tricks he faces. You’re talking through your hat.

        Secondly, I disagree about the connection between condoms and Catholicism in Africa. The way your local church behaves tells us nothing about the behavior of people in Africa – they’re extremely different cultures. It’s certainly a live debate and I think I have ample reason to take the view I have, and I think your “guarantee” that it wouldn’t make a difference is meaningless. What makes you so certain? Faith, I suppose. Well many people who have to deal with these things for real disagree with you. There are hundreds of online commentaries to choose from, but I’ll just pick a few at random. One is by a catholic, writing in a catholic publication:
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/oct/09/aids
        http://www.religiousconsultation.org/News_Tracker/Catholics,_condoms_and_Africa.htm
        http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=19561

        There are dissenters, of course. Here’s the first contrary position I found on Google (not counting the Pope). I leave it to you to judge the scientific validity of a statistical argument with so many unfettered variables:

        http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/catholic_church_aids_africa.html

        Thirdly, this post was not about moderate Christianity, it was about religious fundamentalism, specifically creationism. I think maybe you’re unaware of the scale and insidiousness of this in countries that are not as secular as the UK. Check the facts for yourself. MILLIONS of people in the US believe in the literal truth of the Bible. They are not skeptics who feel able to cherry-pick the bits they want to believe from the bits they don’t (which I have to say I find just as hypocritical as they do). And these people are having a real and profound effect.

        Creationism IS TOTALLY incompatible with evolution, which is why this battle started. It’s the fundamentalists who have such a great deal to lose that they want to deny and suppress the truth. Don’t blame scientists – we’re just fighting a defense against their attack on reason. There seem to be lots of reasons why Biblical literalists exist and are so unwilling to listen to evidence; some of them quite unsavory. But they are a powerful lobby and their effect is not academic.

        Ok, lastly, let me re-emphasize that my post was a diatribe against the demonstrably ludicrous claims of creationists, not moderate religious people (including religious scientists). However, I do also have a beef against moderate religion. It’s too subtle to argue in a comment – perhaps I’ll risk another post some time. But I don’t think you can just blithely talk about science and religion being compatible. What you choose to believe individually is one thing, but as systems of philosophy the two are genuinely at odds, and taken overall they can’t just sit quietly side by side without hypocrisy or conflict.

        Just take the relationship between evolution and theism, since that was my topic. There are only six possibilities, as far as I can see:

        1. God created the heavens and the earth, and all living things, and evolution is wrong. We have masses of reasons to disregard this option and I assume you know them.

        2. Evolution does exist but God still meddles. Lots of people believe this but I’m not aware of any evidence to support it, apart from unsubstantiated claims of miracles. Are you?

        3. Evolution created everything we see, but God was a prime mover who started the universe off. This one is what most moderate Christians settle on, but it’s full of logical issues. Again I’m not aware of any actual evidence, just the argument from incredulity that universes don’t just come into existence “from nowhere” or exist forever. This argument is no more convincing than the counter-argument that universes require an intelligent creator, who in turn either came into existence from nowhere or existed forever. The belief in an intelligent prime mover only arose because nobody could understand how such complexity could self-organize (and the idea of a meddling god proved to be increasingly untenable). We understand most of that now, so the raison d’etre for the argument is gone. Given its logical problems and Occam’s Razor, you’ll need to come up with some actual evidence for it to convince me it’s a worthwhile theory.

        4. The universe spontaneously assembled, due to the factors we largely now understand, including evolution through natural selection. There is still a god but he had nothing to do with it. He just lives alongside the whole shebang, neither creating it nor interfering in its development. Perhaps he does interfere, but apparently only in small ways. Presumably he fiddles around with trillions of alien cultures too (and by extension with the social lives of frogs and bacteria), because the idea that we human beings are so special has now been quite exhaustively demolished. This option is also problematic in various ways, not least the fact that even the Bible and other religious texts don’t agree with it. Nor, I’m forced to conclude, does anyone who belongs to the major denominations of the Christian Church. It states quite categorically in the Anglican and Catholic catechisms (which all members of the church swear to God they hold true) that “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.”

        5. There’s some utterly ineffable mistake going on and all those millions of pieces of evidence are meaningless or being totally misinterpreted. Perhaps Subjective Idealism is the truth – there isn’t any universe at all. Nothing exists except thought. You don’t exist, except in my imagination, and I merely imagine that you’re imagining that you do exist and it’s really me who doesn’t. I’m happy to debate that one if you like – it’s way too bizarre to dismiss in a sentence!

        6. Evolution is true, there is an absolute universe out there, of which we are an infinitesimal part, the laws of physics have held up so well for very good reasons, and there is no God – it was a brave attempt to explain the world which is no longer appropriate or necessary.

        Anyway, my point is, ALL of these possibilities put science and theism (even moderate theism) into conflict of some kind. A few of them allow the two to coexist, but only in ways that require some serious modification on one or both sides. To ignore this is to bury one’s head in the sand – neither being a good theist nor a good scientist. I think it’s reasonable for me to debate this, no matter how taboo religious people prefer it to be. I’m sick of defending evolution against the – let’s be kind and say weak – counterarguments of creationists, when their own theories are even weaker. If they didn’t matter then it would just be academic, but these ideas are killing and abusing people every day. I’m not talking crap, and I challenge you to find some of the individuals whose lives have been wrecked because someone genuinely believed they were acting in the name of a magical being who told them what was right and wrong, and see how you would feel being stoned to death or blown up or forced to live indoors and play no part in society. I think it’s a matter all of us – Christians and humanists – need to take seriously, and it’s no longer acceptable just to keep quiet about it so as to avoid offending the harmless majority.

        Oh, and I didn’t say atheism was a magic bullet – just that abandoning a belief in magical beings who control the world through ancient books is a step in the right direction. I’ll pass quietly over the notion that if atheism was a solution then Jesus would have been an atheist. That was a joke, right?

  27. Trevor says:

    Thanks Steve for your thoughtful reflections.

    I obviously chose the analogy with a hand-gun rather well 🙂

    Your points are all sound, but the question of how to overcome this endemic ignorance is a tricky question. I doubt very much if it can be overcome by winding people up about their “absurd” beliefs. That is only likely to force them back into their bunkers.

    Also atheistic Soviet-style socialism doesn’t have a great record ti its name either. Its claims to be “scientific” were used to justify the destruction of millions of people, so “rational atheism” is no guarantee against the kind of terrible abuses the other systems stand guilty of.

    Maybe an appreciation of the hand-gun could lead to a better understanding of how to make sure the safety catch stays on? 🙂

    Thanks agian!

  28. Agostino P. says:

    http://www.biota.org/people/douglasadams/

    I just wanted to say hi. I’m enjoying your writings from time to time. I’ve found you while holistically searching for someone… His nickname is Innominate Nightmare. Do you happen to know him maybe?

    Anyway, I send you my kindest regards from Venice, Italy.

    Agostino.

    • stevegrand says:

      Haha! I couldn’t even locate Carmen Sandiego! I imagine if I knew who Innominate Nightmare really is, I would have promised to pretend I didn’t. But I don’t. Truly.

      Best wishes from Flagstaff, Arizona.

      Steve

  29. Dustin H says:

    If it turns out that I’m wrong, and there is a god who punishes nonbelievers with eternal hellfire and torture; when I kick the bucket and find myself at his feet (and mercy), I’m going to demand that he at least tell me why I, a male, have nipples, before sending me on my way to Perdition. I think I’m owed at least that much.

  30. Matt Griffith says:

    I think this has been the longest commenting session your blog has seen, Steve. What’s new? Blog~! 😀

  31. Feldman says:

    Dear Mr. Steve,

    being from Brazil, I just recently saw a video from Richard Dawkins in which he mentions a passage from your book “Creation: life and how to make it”. That distinct paragraph amazed me. Now I’m starting to read your blog and loving it! Humorous and thought-provoking at the same time – as any good collection of essays must be. Anyway, I wish you the best and hope, arduously, that “Creation: life and how to make it” gets published here in my country as soon as possible!

    Cheers!

  32. Stuart Gold says:

    Wow! Pure Steve Grand as I remember you. Wonderful how you just tell it as it is!

    Steve, I now live in West Africa and religion is a way of life here. I am still hoping that it is because of a lack of alternatives and I remain optimistic about that being the case.

    I will keep you posted on my findings 🙂

    An old friend…

    • stevegrand says:

      Hey Stuart! Long time no see! Goodness – what took you to Africa? Another friend recently moved to Borneo. I’m now in Arizona – is this some kind of Biotian diaspora?

      I have no experience to draw on but I imagine it’s going to be really hard for Africans (at least outside the cities) to let go of religion and replace it with anything else, because it’s so deep in their psyche. The very idea of a non-religious worldview seems so alien to their way of thinking about everything. I hadn’t really given it much thought, I confess. The kind of Western fundamentalism I’m worrying about is just a vestigial and anachronistic trace of that worldview.

      Nice to hear from you. I’ll drop you an email.

  33. Godfather says:

    So I’ve read these comments like I have, literally, in hundreds of others threads similar to this one. They’re all the same, except Steve has a level of endurance and patience I don’t witness in many of them.

    So I’m starting to believe that we In The Know are simply a sort of superior sub-race. And I do mean superior in literal terms. Of course to use words like that, there must be a statement of goal and a yard stick to measure the different levels of goal attainment using “brain experiments”, like, what if the whole world were populated with the various types of people being compared. So, the goal is obvious –> the best (ie, fastest) means to create the highest level of order across the entire universe. A sub-goal therein is the proliferation of (preferably) highly intelligent human beings and our eventual replacements (hopefully based on logically expressed, order creating “machines”, ie, software running on logic machines with simulated randomness). Maybe not a sub-goal, but the only thing we can do to do our part in the process (maybe there are other intelligent races that will meet us halfway [and more than likely eradicate us]). But anyway, the goal is using available local energy sources, like the sun, to create pockets of negative entropy (the laws of universal thermodynamics cannot and will not be disobeyed). So let’s do a simple 2 point experiment: 1) Replace the population of the Earth with fundamentalist theists, and 2) Replace the population of the world with we In The Know (ie, atheists as well defined above by Steve). Now let’s compare these two planets. I think it’s a simple conclusion that a world full of atheists will do better job of ordering this world, and eventually exporting order off this planet (see Diaspora, Greg Egan, for an artist’s rendering of this phenomena).

    So yes, purely scientific, logical minded people are absolutely superior beings. I truly believe this. To you huggy types, this sounds “divisive”. Is shining light on a divide that clearly preexists “divisive”. Maybe if it increases the distance of preexisting divide? If so, then guilty as charged. But that’s ultimately how revolutions start.

    NOW, that brings me to one of the points I want to make. We are a Darwinianally damned sub-group since we are the least likely to sell our “ideology” at the point of a gun. Instead we try to use our exclusive tools (scientific reason based arguments) to convince those that have actively rejected reason-based thinking. And some here have noted Saint Dawkin’s “hate filled” rhetoric. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you tried for years to teach your dog to talk with no results? At least the dog didn’t make a conscious decision to reject our brand of communication.

    I’m rambling, but where am I going with this? I’m not entirely sure. I’m trying to say that there is simply a club that I can’t express how happy I am to be a member of. It’s literally intoxicating to know that I am above those beneath me. It’s not a powerful feeling since they actually have far more power over me than I them. But I’m entirely fulfilled knowing that I and those like me represent the best humanity has to offer, and “float above” the other mindsets. I’m certainly not perfect (by my own metrics), but I know, roughly, what perfection is, and that’s a pretty good feeling in itself. We know who we are, and we can pretty quickly recognize each other as “family”. That’s about as good as it’s going to get in my lifetime. I’m grateful for the acceleration and capaciousness of information exchange we’ve found (books and ultimately, the internet). It has allowed us “freaks” of nature to connect and feel not so alone.

    It’s amazing to me though, that there seems to be a certain configuration of the mind, that once achieved, “gets it”, and all becomes clear, almost in an instant. It’s nearly “miraculous”. You can easily read threads like this and instantly recognize those who have received the Good News. There must be an equal (and opposite) feeling of clarity on the theistic side. But isn’t it dreadfully sad that their clarity is simply a sticky lie? Seriously, only the loss of one’s child seems sadder to me. It’s like watching a biological entity with the potential for greatness slip back into the primordial ooze.

    I’m very sorry for being so condescending. But I feel compelled to speak the truth. But here’s the happy part of the story!!! Even those that are drowning in the ooze can make a simple decision(!!) to stop believing in the words of Man (ie, Him) and instead look around you and believe only in that which demonstrably surpasses a relatively high degree of certainty (let’s say 90% for the sake of subjective argument). Start by believing in nothing! And look at a tree, then believe in trees. Look at a bird, then believe in birds. Drop a ball, then believe in gravity. Then let that scientific seed take root and transform you into one of us. It will be like what must be the “rebirth” Christians describe, except you’ll be being reborn into a higher race. A high degree of intellect is not a requirement (though it seems to help). It only takes the *courage* to believe in yourself and not other people. When it comes to other people, your most basic assumption should be that they want to exploit you for their own happiness. That shouldn’t be your destination with all people, but it should be your starting point.

    I repeat: be courageous and join us. You won’t believe the feeling of “rising above” 90% to 95% of the world population. It’s the closest thing to Heaven atheists have to offer. Just try it. Simply step outside the mind state you’ve been given by others and create your own mind state based on pure evidence.

    The initial change has to happen within. Then you can start to see others like the new you that have thought deeply about what it means to be one of us and written about it. Reading this stuff is simply after-glow since it’s all self-apparent once you “get it”. But a nice glow it is.

    I want to re-state one last time. Science (which is absolutely essentially identical to atheism) is demonstrably the best configuration for the human mind. *This* is the absolute truth. Not that other Truth *humans* may have tried peddling to you.

    I know, I’ve rambled. I would rather watch the Ryder Cup than take the time to organize my thoughts. But I think I got the main points across. I can only hope I’ve planted the seed in at least one (likely young) reader’s mind.

    Good night all.

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Although I personally encourage the idea of progressive humanism, in the sense of human transformation with technology — and I do see eye to eye with you on the view that 80% of humanity aren’t up to speed — I think humanity as a whole has a lot of growing up to do in other ways before we can challenge ourselves to do things such as what you say. I’m less convinced by your absolute truthisms, than anything else. I encourage you to read Straw Dogs for a more broader, yet realistic view of humanity, to a nihilist like myself. 🙂

      • Matt Griffith says:

        (Having just read Steve Grand’s post, I’d like to say that I took this in the social sense of superiority! Oops!) 😉

      • stevegrand says:

        Yeah, I’m still not entirely sure myself, Matt. Perhaps the two meanings are conflated. Maybe Godfather will clarify?

        Whether atheism is evolutionarily superior in the current world is an interesting question. And a hard one, I’d guess – there is, after all, a sense of parasitism (again in the biological sense, not the pejorative one). Fundamental religion is incompatible with science but it’s proponents still make good use of science’s products, so they can be said to parasitize on rationalists (dodging the question of whether rationism and atheism are synonymous). Parasites tend to do very well, as long as they don’t wipe out their hosts!

      • Matt Griffith says:

        I think the only challenge dealing with the world around us in a rational way is to remember that there are no more right answers than wrong, only metrics of right over wrong. For example, we “know” in our experiments that there are many subatomic particles — but this is due to our initial assumption that there are indeed subatomic particles to be dealt with. No matter how mathematically beautiful or sound our results are, we gain more questions than answers. And yet, the fact that we gain more questions for every answer isn’t a bad thing, it’s why rationalism has fared so well in this world. If we tried to understand the universe with a religiously enforced conscience, we would have given up on the greater mysteries of the universe ages ago, having realized that the universe is “unknowable”.

        Being rational about it allows the mind to accept the idea that the world isn’t black and white. It lets the mind dialog loudly with thoughts without fear that we are stepping on an authority’s feet. “There isn’t good and bad, there isn’t just one God, why not many Gods, what about no Gods, why do we need a God, what is a God and how is it useful to us?”

        If that sounds superior in any way, don’t take it as such, just realize my bias, and follow what I’m saying from a perspective that generated what we know about the world. 😉

      • Frank Wood says:

        I read Straw Dogs, Matt, and I love it. As I type this it’s on a shelf above me amongst the other of my best books.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        You and me both Frank! Sadly, it made me lose a large chunk of a faith in humanity… Or at least, faith in my ability to progress humanity in a good direction. Kinda like Julius Wilbrand regrets over inventing TNT due to it’s uses in the World Wars. 🙂

  34. Frank Wood says:

    Ha ha ha ha! Godfather’s post is gotta be the best post I”ve read on this forum! Ruthlessly and brilliantly satirises the whole attitude of atheists and those of the Darwin Taliban.

    A post to treasure indeed!

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Quick! Someone! Delete Godfather’s post! Our Athiest Darwinian Taliban Cabal’s plans might be found out…

  35. Frank Wood says:

    Of course on the other hand Godfather might actually be serious. 🙂

    Either way a very funny post!

  36. Margo says:

    I thought he was being ironic! Unless maybe he’s an American (I hear tell that they don’t *get* irony so much)? You know, because the Christians, back in the day, used to be very much in the minority and it was considered to be all terribly courageous and wonderful and inspirational that they were so committed to Jesus and God – *despite* the fact that the conventional wisdom of the day was that Jesus was a great big fraud.

    As a priest once said during a sermon – Atheism is arrogance! What hypocrisy!! It’s arrogant to believe in the non-existence of god, but to believe in the Biblical fairy stories is merely your duty as a Christian? Not arrogant at all….

  37. stevegrand says:

    I wondered myself, Frank, but no, he’s serious. And I take his point, although I can see how it will rankle, depending on one’s interpretation of the word “superior”.

    The irony of this is that the Religious Right – the very people I’m so angry with – are the ones who will automatically interpret “superior” in the social sense, rather than the Darwinian (which is the sense I take Godfather to mean, although the jury is still very much out on whether he’s right about that). If you interpret Godfather’s words in the social sense, you’ll be offended by them. If you interpret them in a Darwinian sense (ie. in the same sense as saying that an owl’s eyes are highly superior to ours for hunting at speed) then you won’t, even if you don’t agree with the statement. I think that makes them dangerous words, but the irony still amuses me.

    Authoritarianism (a belief in superiority in the social sense) goes hand-in-hand with both right-wing politics and fundamentalist religion. These are the very people who think there’s a pecking order. It’s absolutely fundamental and essential to their politics and philosophy. There are several extended psychological studies that show this is a characteristic trait of both conservatives and evangelicals, and there is a far more frightening psychological trait amongst *leaders* in both areas, who combine authoritarian leanings with psycopathic tendencies). They are the ones who believe that there are “the saved” and “the damned” (the one obviously being regarded as superior to the other). They are the ones who believe their god is better than everyone else’s. They are the ones who bow to a higher authority, whether it be the President or God (or they expect others to bow to them). They are the ones who, when they become preachers, feel that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else (just look at the biographies of people like Billy Graham, and watch videos by Jimmy Swaggart and Fred Phelps). They are the ones calling for the wiping out of infidels or atheists or the un-born-again. The concept of superiority is an essential aspect of their psychological make-up.

    Do you think I act like I feel “superior” in that sense, Frank? I know you think Richard Dawkins feels himself superior (and I can see why, even though I think you’re misinterpreting). What’s your assessment of Sam Harris? Or Christopher Hitchens? At the same time, what’s your assessment of Fred Phelps and other evangelicals? What about Michael Behe and other Intelligent Design proponents? Are they egalitarians? Are they meek and mild in their own attitude?

    • Frank Wood says:

      HI Steve, I’ll be brief (I’ve remerged briefly from under my desk) to say that I’ve witnessed viciousness and bigotry in academics that more than matches the viciousness and bigotry of religionists. They are every bit as authoritarian so I don’t buy this fiction that atheists and humanists are beacons of enlightenment.

      Right that’s my contribution so I’ll leave it at that.

      • stevegrand says:

        I find it hard to believe that an academic can top statements like “God hates fags” and “Thank God for 9/11”. But it’s the ideologies that should be compared, not the people – there are jerks in EVERY walk of life.

  38. Frank Wood says:

    Well, Margo, I’m sorting of hoping he’s being ironic or it could be satire directed at either the theists or atheists. Whatever, it’s a very funny post.

    Yes, Americans don’t seem to do irony much although that’s a dangerous generalisation as I know a few who do get irony.

    Whilst I avoid getting embroiled in the debate here I don’t know which to fear more, a theocracy or an atheocracy. Both of them get terribly serious about stuff and need to lighten up and get out more often or even maybe have a physical relationship with someone (“m using polite words here lol).

    I’ll now crawl under my desk now and whimper 🙂

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Actually, an atheocracy wouldn’t exist in any manageable way, I don’t know about you but us atheists don’t exactly look up to authoritarian sects. 🙂

  39. stevegrand says:

    🙂 I’ll lighten up just as soon as religion stops killing people. But I’m all for that physical relationship notion.

    • Margo says:

      The answer is obviously that a matriarchal society should be implemented at once…

      • Margo says:

        I firmly believe that religion was created by man, for men. So frankly it should be the men who sort out the mess it’s created. But I rather despair of that being accomplished in my lifetime….

      • stevegrand says:

        Monotheism was definitely by men for men – it barely has a kind word to say about women. But older, more feminine and far less warlike religions still peep through the cracks – look at Mariolatry in Roman Catholicism. Look how much White Goddess worship still lingers in places, albeit in disguise. I rather like that.

  40. Frank Wood says:

    I guess,, Matt, it was easier for me cos I never had faith in humanity to start with. I remember one time (before I read Straw Dogs) I posted on a LIstserv “We are but animals grunting and rutting in the mud” and nearly got barbecued for that.

    I’ve been accused of being nihilist and cynical but that is not the case. For an alcoholic to progress he must at first admit that he is an alcoholic (without the ghastly cheesy rhetoric of AA). Same with humanity, until humans admit that they are assholes with very little redeeming features and that it’s through sheer luck and nothing else that we’re still around – until that happens there is no hope of any progress.

    Darn, you’re dragging me into this convo lol. However the above may give you an indication of where I”m coming from and why I’m fairly hostile to both camps whilst at the same time acknowledging that both camps have some people with good points.

    I think religion is fine as long as it’s not of the fundamentalist type. Atheism is fine as long as those that practise it don’t indulge in the superiority game.

    I can’t help feeling that a lot of the hostility between religionists and atheists is more to do with Territorial Imperative with the alpa males of both ape tribes objecting to the other side horning in on their territory.

    Margo may have a point. A matriarchy might help.

    • stevegrand says:

      We used to have a matriarchy, but that damn monotheistic, macho judeo-christian-muslim religion thing came along and wiped it out!

    • Matt Griffith says:

      Coming from a cult, and then leaving it created a need to be strongly protective of my new beliefs, and then the thought that humanity is all I had left to believe in created a huge faith in humanity that replaced my old faith in God. Straw Dogs was a step in a fairer perspective. 🙂

  41. I agree that Godfather’s post is brilliant. If he really believes what he said, he exhibits the symptoms of membership of a cult to perfection. How wonderful it must be to be a member of the true Elect!

    Godfather, if you don’t already know about her, you really must check out Ayn Rand. You would like her Objectivist philosophy, since it accords closely to the views you expressed. Her novel Altlas Shrugged is apparently now being made into a Hollywood movie.

    She was Russian by origin, but moved to the USA in her youth. She is hugely influential in the USA, particularly amongst the financial elite. Alan Greenspan was one of her acolytes, although he now realizes that his beliefs about how to manage the US economy, based on her ideas, were totally mistaken.

    There are some interviews with her on YouTube. Objectivism basically says that the world would be perfect if only everyone was perfectly rstional and selfish. The YouTube interview I watched was fascinating, since it shows very clearly that she was completely bonkers. She claimed that she had always been perfectly rational ever since her earliest memory, at the age of two and a half. No sane person would make such a ridiculous claim. Obviously, some greedy and antisocial people love her philosophy, because it justifies their unpleasant tendencies as being those required to create a perfect society.

    The Idea that atheism and rationalism might be evolutionarily advantageous looks very shaky indeed. Societies that believe in Social Darwinism tend to collapse very rapidly (such as Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, which lasted 12 years). The French Revolution, which was dedicated to the Idea of elevating Reason over Superstition went from an Absolute Monarch to an Absolute Emperor in about ten years, with various factions of lawyers murdering each other in between. It then collapsed shortly afterwards.

    Atheistic Marxist Leninism murdered millions in the Soviet Union, then reached new heights with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which killed over 20 million people in four years.

    The record suggests that atheism and rationalism are belief systems which lead to disaster when applied to social systems.

    It seems to me that believing in any of this stuff is irrational! 🙂

    • Margo says:

      That’s very interesting stuff Trevor, about the unsuccessful implementations of social Darwinism. That suggests it’s not entirely the fault of religion. Which is something I’ve considered before – the *idea* of religion as a moral compass and as a comforting notion when considering one’s mortality, seems perfectly reasonable. The *way* in which it has been used however, is the real crime. Religion scares me much less than does human nature.

    • stevegrand says:

      > The record suggests that atheism and rationalism are belief systems which lead to disaster when applied to social systems.

      Oh, and history shows that religion does SO much better, does it? Give me a break!

      > Societies that believe in Social Darwinism tend to collapse very rapidly

      You’re mixing up the means with the implementation. Hitler was mad. Social Darwinism is NOT rational. They are not valid reasons to deny that rationality is worthless, only that POOR reason is worthless. The problems come from people committing logical fallacies, not from logic itself. These are different things.

      Social Darwinism is not in any sense a consequence of biological Darwinism, it’s worth pointing out. Nor was Hitler an atheist – he was a Catholic and he invoked Christ many times in his speeches and writings.

      Margo: I think it’s perfectly possible to develop a moral compass by reason. Indeed that’s what religious moral compasses really are – the attempts of mankind to figure these things out, not perfect solutions imposed from above. But the efforts of people to do this in Biblical times were not very applicable to today’s world, and the moral compass of the Bible is dubious at best. Apart from the Golden Rule, which is not a Christian or Jewish invention, most of the moral pronouncements in the Bible are outrageous nonsense!

  42. Dear Steve,

    Well, if you want to keep score, none of the religious traditions have managed to destroy so many human lives as Stalin and Mao managed between them.

    I agree that Social Darwinism is total nonsense, as is Objectivism, which you neglected to respond to. I suspect that you would have more trouble explaining why Objectivism is not logical than Social Darwinism.

    I do get a little puzzled as to why anyone who can program a computer thinks that being rational is such a big deal. Surely the most significant point about the invention of the computer is precisely that it shows that, if you want rationality, it is best done by a machine, not by a human?

    There is an argument from evolutionary psychology that says that humans have a lousy sense of smell because we “outsourced” smelling to our domestic dogs. Maybe we ought to “outsource” being rational to our computers? They are just so much better at it than we are 🙂

    Whenever humans decide to manage their affairs rationally, all they seem to do is provide employment for armies of lawyers. And good lawyers are good because they can manipulate juries into accepting their version of the truth, not because they are more rational than anyone else.

    • stevegrand says:

      You’re just trying to wind me up for a joke, aren’t you Trevor? Okay, I’ll play along.

      1) Stalin and Mao didn’t act IN THE NAME OF atheism – they just happened to be atheists as well as psychopaths. Millions of people have died explicitly IN THE NAME OF religion (sectarianism is a fundamental quality of most religions, with honorable exceptions that I’m sure you’ll cite if I don’t mention that I’m aware of them) and many more have died BECAUSE OF religion (for example the RC ban on condoms in Africa). You’re not making a fair comparison. Those two despots are rare examples of totalitarians who managed to succeed WITHOUT religion to shore them up. Usually totalitarians RELY on religion for their earthly power. Look at modern Iran.

      2) Why should I be an apologist for Ayn Rand??? I enjoyed “The Fountainhead”, in a prurient sort of way, but I don’t agree with her philosophy. I do believe in an objective reality and I do believe (note that I’m using “believe” in a very different sense to “faith”) that this reality exists independently of consciousness. That much isn’t really contentious unless you happen to be an idiot or a philosopher. But I don’t agree with her (or apparently with you) that reasoning is nothing but cold logic. Or at least that logical thinking is ever genuinely complete unless it takes account of pertinent factors like people’s feelings and needs. If you know anything about my work you’d see that.

      > I do get a little puzzled as to why anyone who can program a computer thinks that being rational is such a big deal.

      You’re kidding, right? Computers don’t reason – programmers do. Computers can perform blind Boolean algebra, but only by following equations that we programmers put there. WE are the ones who reason logically. And if you understood anything I’ve ever said about artificial intelligence you’d know that I am absolutely NOT an advocate of what we in the trade like to call Good Old-Fashioned AI. GOFAI is the kind of ruthless, cold, flawed logical “thinking” that you’re referring to. It doesn’t work. I don’t agree with the GOFAI stance in any way. Computers will never think successfully in that manner and the public is being deceived by that dwindling band who still insist in the kind of AI protrayed by Asimov and these days by Kurzweil. Don’t confuse me with one of them – I have VERY different views on both computers and intelligence.

      > Whenever humans decide to manage their affairs rationally, all they seem to do is provide employment for armies of lawyers. And good lawyers are good because they can manipulate juries into accepting their version of the truth, not because they are more rational than anyone else.

      I agree with your latter statement – lawyers are encouraged to employ SOPHISTRY, not valid reasoning, which is a shame. But that is also why I partially disagree with your former statement. What you’re complaining about is also sophistry or at best accidentally fallacious logic, not valid logic. If it were valid it wouldn’t be wrong – by definition.

      Anyway, what do you propose instead of humans handling their affairs rationally? Do you really think people should handle them IRRATIONALLY???

      I can only suppose you’re arguing that they should handle them in one specific kind of irrational way: by believing in divine guidance. That’s what religions consist of – the abandonment of personal reason and the placing of faith in the reason of others, who either believe or pretend that their thoughts come to them from a supernatural being. Given the amount of gibberish in the Bible I find it hard to see why people fail to see through that, but they do. “Father knows best”, otherwise known as authoritarianism, is a sickness of the mind and is, at best, an absolution from personal responsibility. It causes ENORMOUS harm in the world and I deeply, deeply disagree with your stance on this, it seems.

  43. Trevor says:

    Dear Steve,

    I own up – I was being deliberately provocative, and I appreciate the trouble you took to respond 🙂

    Actually, I think your responses are excellent and can’t really find anything to disagree with in them.

    Your position is a sophisticated one (in the best sense of the word), and very clearly thought out.

    I do think you are assuming that all religious thought can be tarred with the same brush as the familiar forms of Christianity that have been particularly rampant in Western Europe and the USA. From my reading of his work, Al Ghazzali, who died in 1111AD and is known as “The Proof of Islam” would have agreed with just about every point you have made. When he first published his books, they were burned by bigots all around the Mediterranean. They then took a closer look and changed their tune, but these days most Muslims make pious noises about him, then ignore what he actually said.

    I also think that heroically attacking bigotry and stupidity is counter-productive. What is needed is real education, but there is precious little of that going on 😦

    • stevegrand says:

      > I own up – I was being deliberately provocative

      Thank goodness (or whatever I’m in a position to thank) for that!!!

      > I do think you are assuming that all religious thought can be tarred with the same brush

      I hope not. I think it’s just that I get backed into a corner and have to defend my position, which distorts the nature of it. I have a great deal of respect for religions and religious thinkers. Religions are cosmologies – people’s best attempts to make sense of the world – how it came about; what it means; how we should behave in it. Some of the greatest ideas came from this a long time ago – like the Golden Rule. But as time moves on we discover new things and think new thoughts, and our cosmology must move with it. It always has – protestantism moved on from catholicism, say; transubstantiation started to look a bit foolish and a less literal view was taken; Jewish “eye for an eye” philosophy gave way to a somewhat less hard morality at the hands of another revolutionary philosopher – Jesus of Nazareth. Progress occurs and should occur. Old ideas give way to new, but this doesn’t mean a lack of respect for the old ideas, just a reognition that they don’t make as much sense as they seemed, in the light of new information.

      We’ve ammasses a lot of new information since the Renaissance, but some people can’t move with the times. Some rebel against this change for their own ends. This post was a diatribe agains those people who are deliberately trying to undermine education and bury our new understanding of the world, because it conflicts with the way they want to think. And because it conflicts with the way they want OTHERS to think, so that they can control them. This is not a nice way to behave and I loathe them for it. I reserve the right to tell them that they are loathsome jerks. It doesn’t mean I lack respect for the great thinkers of earlier times – the people who would have been delighted by our new discoveries – just because I have zero respect for the modern idiots, lunatics, bigots and evil psychopaths who use those ideas for harm and personal gain, long after they have lost their currency.

      I agree that we need education. I’m trying to play my part in that. The ONLY people I’m actually attacking – and I have no reservations about this – are the leaders; the people who are knowingly promulgating lies. I hope the rank and file will eventually see for themselves that they’re being lied to and manipulated, because that’s what I think is happening. They need to see that the emperor is naked, and for that we must attack the emperor.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Well said Steve, very well said. I agree 100% with what you just said. Likewise I too respect the great thinkers of past centuries, and I do not respect current thinkers who choose not to adapt to maintain power

  44. Godfather says:

    Hi again everybody. Thanks for taking the time to read my mini-manifesto and expressing your reactions. A few more things to know about Godfather:

    1) Above all else, I am legendarily lazy. After working to support my family and belongings (“the things you own, own you” –T. Durden), spending a few hours with my freakin awesome 4 year old daughter, hangin out with the baby-mama for a while, I just wanna vegetate for an hour or two and hit the sack. But ain’t that the case for most of the world’s population?

    2) Given #1, it’s rare that I hunker down and focus my wandering brain into a stream of barely connected paragraphs. A Vicodin or two can be helpful here.

    3) And, given that I’m an Ugly American hailing from no less than the swamps of Louisiana (I kid you not, I grew up swimming in rivers with alligators), I had to use the innertoobs to sort out meaning of this odd word: irony?? (still not sure how it’s pronounced) But Margo, persist I did!! And after eating a few jumbo shrimp, I feel I prepared to respond: — wait for it… the irony in my post began and ended with my pen name, Godfather (get it?).

    That’s right people. As one of my buddy’s put it when I pointed him to the above hmmm, what should I call it, diatribe? : “serious as a high-powered fan-driven swampboat”. (I’ve never actually ridden in one, but I think the simile is still galvanic)

    So I just wanted to say that on a night sometime soon, when I’m feeling sufficiently intellectually frisky, I’ll try to add a little nuance and maybe even, shock and horror, humility to my thoughts?? Ok, let’s not get crazy. But on that topic, you know what humbles me? Guys like Steve, Dicky, Sam, etc, that actually take the time to gather, choral, focus, edit and express the incredibly subtle truisms required to present the compelling alternatives to ghosts, fairies and that horrid noodle monster. I promise, it’s not an easy thing to do.

    And also on that topic, I hope everyone caught Sam Harris on The Daily Show last night. Funny that he was talking about 1) what should the goals of humanity be, and 2) how can we quantify different approaches to achieving those goals. That was exactly what my post tried to do in 1 page instead of 300. So you’ll understand, of course, if it was a bit of a butcher job. And, I swear it was an independent effort. I didn’t even know about the book until last night.

    So, once again, good night to all. I’ll return soon(ish).

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Godfather. Thanks for filling us in! I know those swamps quite well myself, having lived there for a few years. And the Walmart-sized churches on every corner.

      > Guys like Steve, Dicky, Sam

      Ooh wow! I’m listed amongst the Big Guys… 😉

      I didn’t know Sam Harris was on the Daily Show. Damn. Hopefully it’s online – I’ll look. I caught a nice interview with John Stewart on NPR the other day though, and I’m going to his rally in DC at the end of the month. Sam Harris is speaking in DC on the 12th, btw, if any of you live around there: http://www.lisner.org/eventdetails.asp?id=611. Shame I’ll miss that. I’ve not met him but I admire his logic and calm delivery. You missed Hitch off your list – hopefully that’s not an omen.

      So, folks, the laundry is washed and the irony fully ironed. Godfather’s post was neither an example of how arrogant and hotheaded we atheist types are, nor a parody of same by a fundamentalist. Is being an atheist superior to believing in magic? Clearly so, in some ways, no matter how offensive that sounds. The jury is out in others – perhaps we’re about to finally go extinct. A dark cloud gathers over Mordor, Frodo. A good friend from a past life in England messaged me on Facebook today, saying “I have spent quite a bit of time studying this. There is much evidence to support Intelligent Design.” It saddens me more than I can say.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Since you’re going to be in my nick of the woods, we should have a meet and greet! 🙂

        (Guess what happened in my nick of the woods yesterday? The Westboro Baptist church rallied one of our high schools… How weird is that?)

      • stevegrand says:

        Sure. Hope that’s possible (although I’ll only be in DC for a few days). You going to the rally?

        > The Westboro Baptist church rallied one of our high schools… How weird is that?

        Bless their simple-minded evil little hearts! Nowhere else in the realm of human endeavor (excepting politics, of course) can a seriously ill person with psychopathic personality disorder rise to high office and be allowed to get away with it instead of being locked up for the sake of society. What on earth were they protesting about? Got a link?

      • stevegrand says:

        Ah, you preempted me!

      • Matt Griffith says:

        DC is an hour away, but I could drive on up. I owe you a pint anyway! 🙂

      • stevegrand says:

        I’m flying this time, but funnily enough I drove through Hagerstown only a few days ago! In fact I stopped there for lunch and gas. If only I’d realized…

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Jeez, who’da thunk it! 🙂
        I don’t mind driving out to DC, but for that I deserve an autograph on my Creation book. 😉

      • stevegrand says:

        Trust me, the unsigned copies are the valuable ones. Both of them.

        We’ll see if we can hook up, although there will be a lot happening, so it may have to be next time.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Yep that’s fine, I don’t know your email address, otherwise I’d shoot you an email, but if you can send me an email to figure things out that would be cool!

  45. Frank Wood says:

    Thought I’d post this definition from the Urban Dictionary for a bit of light relief.

    October 6: Alltheist

    START
    A person who tries to claim ties to every religion out of fear of picking the “wrong” one. This in turn forms a paradox because some religions, such as Hinduism and Judiasm contradict each other as the former is polytheistic and the latter explicitly states that there is only one God.

    A typical Alltheist may believe in Jesus, Hindu gods, and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Guy: I don’t want to go to hell, so I’ll just become an Alltheist
    Girlfriend: Why am I even going out with you?
    END
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Alltheist&defid=2622979

  46. Christophe Devine says:

    It’s entirely a supposition, but the huge number of stars can be seen as a way of maximising the chances of having life appear during the course of this universe, without any (unethical) outside interference — the kind of interference that creationists so vehemently believe in. Being able to have life emerge only from the mechanical rules of this universe is more satisfying, imo than ad-hoc creation.

    • stevegrand says:

      Yes, I agree. One of our failing as humans is what I like to call “exponent blindness”. We can’t stop ourselves from behaving as if 10^25 is “just a little bit bigger” than 10^20, when of course it’s really a hundred thousand times larger. So we deeply, deeply underestimate how huge the universe is, and how long a time life has had in which to begin. In fact the only mystery to me is why life only appears to have started (or gained a foothold) ONCE on this planet. I think that’s a real puzzle. The fact that is started at all is no mystery – it’s surely practically inevitable, given 250 million human-sized generations and an entire planet-sized chemistry set. And like you say, the number of stars (and, it seems, planets) is just so staggeringly, unbelievably huge that just about anything that could possibly happen will have happened thousands or millions of times over, somewhere. And of course, it’s only where life HAS emerged that you have any sentient beings to be puzzled by it!

  47. Matt Griffith says:

    This is nice to see: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/dngag/iama_son_of_michael_behe_the_catholic_biochemist/?sort=confidence

    Sadly, I was in the same situation, and the backlash with my parents still continues. But that’s life. I feel good that I’m not the only one though. 🙂

    • stevegrand says:

      Yes, it is nice to see. Did you read all his comments? He’s being very calm and reasonable about what seems like a really uncomfortable situation. It’s a very interesting insight into Michael Behe’s mind, too. I’ve often wondered what motivates Behe, and this has crystallized things somewhat. He seems like an authoritarian personality type who’s desperate to prop up his own deeply-situated beliefs and will employ doublethink (and some extremely clever sophistry) in order to do it. I think that perhaps makes him a fairly willing accomplice to people with more sinister motives, rather than being an overtly political person himself. But then perhaps that’s true for all of them – perhaps everyone in the ID, creationist and fundamentalist camps is acting unconsciously in their own interests and shares a particular type of personality, so maybe the manipulation of people and of the truth for political purposes is a kind of emergent property, rather than something overt, deliberate and organized. It’s really hard to tell.

      • stevegrand says:

        P.S. Maybe one or both of you should set up a support group for people who’ve been through such a thing? There are cult support groups, but the only thing I know of in that area has itself been taken over by a bunch of scientologists and only *pretends* to help the parents of people who’ve been sucked into a cult, while actually promoting the cult’s interests! I don’t know of anywhere that people can go for mutual support if they’ve “merely” shaken off the shackles of their parents’ beliefs, rather than joined the Moonies, do you?

      • Matt Griffith says:

        I’ve always thought of that, an ex-cult support group. I’d really like to send out a message of calm such as “It Gets Better”. As you get through the initial shaky awful transition and loneliness, you realize your choices in life really can be beneficial. 🙂

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Yeah, my father and Behe would see eye to eye on this sort of passive “authoritativity”, haha. We used to have arguments about evolution all the time, and we’d have to end them with my father screaming at me at the top of his lungs. When you take these concepts to heart at such a deep level of emotional value, you do more harm than good.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Or maybe “authoritivity”?

      • stevegrand says:

        I read a book recently, called “Conservatives without Conscience”. It starts out with a tale of how the author and his wife got ruthlessly stitched up, after the Watergate scandal, and goes on to talk about the psychology of a growing number of people in the conservative movement.

        He describes a personality type: the authoritarian personality. Such people believe at a deep level in the essential existence of social hierarchies – “father knows best”.

        At one level this makes them natural-born followers, and the assertion was that the run-of-the-mill republican voter and/or fundamentalist Christian tends to be of this type. They believe in inequity – the Saved are better than the Damned; God’s word is better than Man’s; obey your elders and betters. At another level (and especially when it is mixed with psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies) it creates fundamentalist leaders, who feel it gives them the right to take advantage of the followers, as well as confirming their own status and a different set of rules that apply to them. He argues that neoconservativism and fundamentalist christianity are what happen when this explosive mix of personality types (can I say flaws?) gains a foothold. George Bush is a prime example of both aspects of the authoritarian personality.

        From my own observations I’d say he (and the psychologists he cites) are right, and these things are a natural result of a particular personality trait, more than thought-through, deliberate philosophies. It sounds like you and Behe’s son might recognize these traits in your own fathers!

      • Matt Griffith says:

        You pretty much psychoanalyzed 90% of the personalities in my former religion, my parents included. I feel the reason people like me have left is because we see the world from both perspectives since we were born into a religious household. My parents chose to join for themselves, where-as I had the misfortune of not being able to choose for myself and then having to accept the blacklisting of cultic authority. 🙂 its made that way for a reason. Control those sheepies 😉

      • stevegrand says:

        Control those sheep indeed!

        I heard a fascinating sermon on Christian radio recently, where it was explained that ONLY those who have really accepted Jesus into their hearts can possibly understand God’s word. Therefore:

        1) If non-believers argue with you, just tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about. If they believed they’d understand.

        2) If you have been saved you WILL understand it. Therefore, if you have any doubts you clearly can’t have accepted Jesus into your life properly, so it’ll be best if you keep your mouth shut and don’t admit it, so that we don’t have to run you out of town.

        3) Now that you’ve been saved, or at least are going to pretend that you’ve been saved so as not to embarrass yourself, we need you to send a lot of money to this P.O. box.

        Under circumstances like that, you can’t be told, see for yourself or dare admit that the emperor is naked!

        It’s clever stuff. And people actually fall for it.

      • Matt Griffith says:

        Yeah! The design of such a logical construct (the faith infinite loop) is totally genius, no wonder religion is one of the most ancient belief systems. 🙂

  48. Isaiah says:

    A whole lot of nothing to get bent up about. I believe in God because I’ve found a way to explain god scientifically to myself, and whether or not we were created or evolved, I don’t really care. Nobody should.

    Continuing to argument and be a proponent of either only perpetuates the idea that it even matters. And arguing with people who do this only encourages them.

    I’ve argued both sides too much, and then I actually sat down and realized that I don’t really care. Either could be right or wrong, and too much time has passed for either to be proven. We could all be miraculous chance over billions of years, or an all knowing creator could have beyond us created everything with both a future and a past. Who knows, and unless God sends an angel down on a lightning bolt to tell us what happened we will never know.

    One thing I want to point out is that you talk about God as if he was human. I couldn’t imagine God being further. Is his soul existence to keep balance in the universe? Is he capable of boredom? Could he think fast enough to create the universe? Is he even capable of thought?
    I like to think of God as something completely different. As an semi-intelligent force that acts as a immune system that restores balance throughout his being.

    Sorry^^
    got a bit carried away

    • Isaiah says:

      By the way, I apologize for my spelling. Bare with me, I’m a bit dyslexic.

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Isiah,

      Don’t worry about the dyslexia – I know how that goes.

      I think you have a point, but I think there are several issues being mixed together there. You’ve found a way to assign the word “God” to something that’s meaningful to you personally, and I can empathize with that. I think a lot of scientists do the same. I actually rather like the idea of a universal immune system – I can just about believe in that too, although I have reasons not to call it “God”.

      The thing is, I’m not arguing against the whole idea of “something” to which some people might choose to assign the label “God”. I’m arguing against one or a few particular interpretations of that word, which have real consequences in the world. The Judeo-Christian-Muslim ideas of God are very specific. My post was even more specific – it was aimed at evangelical Christians who espouse creationism. All three levels are harmful in their own ways. People really do die or have their lives severely hampered by them. A literal belief in the Bible is a very dangerous thing. The “burning of books” about utterly convincing scientific knowledge is abhorrent to me and is leading towards a generation of ignoramuses in certain places. Making decisions that affect people’s lives on the basis of superstition is not acceptable to me. The machismo that comes from All-father worship (i.e. a uniquely powerful and vindictive masculine God, as the God of Islam, Christianity and Judaism is) has created all sorts of iniquities and inequities. Justifying wars on the basis of religious in-group/out-group reasoning is infantile and yet is going on all over the world right now, killing and maiming people by the thousands. These are the things I have no respect for and think we must rebel against.

      But if you want to find something mystical or greater than us in the universe and decide that this is what you personally mean by God, then that’s fine. I’d rather you didn’t – I’d rather you just marveled at the Universe, as I do myself, without feeling the need to label it in that particular way, because of the associations it has in other people’s minds – but it’s pretty harmless compared to the very specific humanlike God, complete with the anachronistic and often downright evil edicts that come with it, that I’m objecting to. Like you say yourself, it’s ridiculous to think in such an anthropomorphic way, but people do, and they justify all sorts of ugly things on the basis of it. I don’t think it’s a whole lot of nothing to get bent up about.

  49. Frank Wood says:

    Thanks Isaiah for a breath of fresh air in this rather obsessive thread. It is as you say simply not worth it getting all het up about these people. We have all been “victims” in one way or another of bigoted people and indeed we ourselves are not immune from it.

    People kill for a variety of reasons and I suspect that people use religion as an excuse to torture and kill just as atheists do and people of every political leanings. It’s not religion or atheism or politics that kill it’s people.

    Just imagine what the world would be like if people didn’t enjoy killing and maiming or making excuses for those acts.

    Life if far too short to worry about these people. They will kill no matter what we do.

    • stevegrand says:

      Frank, if you find this thread so obsessive then I suggest you stop perpetuating it and go and bury your head in the sand somewhere else. This is my soapbox, and if people disagree with me then I’m both willing and determined to debate it with them as long as that remains productive. But simply repeating statements of unsupported opinion is getting us nowhere. I deeply disagree with you and I’ve tried to explain why but all you do is tell me I’m wrong as if that should be good enough. Just open your eyes and look out from beyond the comfort of home. If nothing else, just ask yourself why so many bad people should just HAPPEN to live in theocratic countries like Iran, if religion is not the reason for the widespread human rights abuses that happen daily in such places. It doesn’t make sense to say that religion has nothing to do with it, and to say that it is merely an excuse is to miss the point. Of course it’s an excuse, but it’s psychologically an extremely powerful excuse that permits what otherwise would be impermissible. You would doubtless cite Hitler’s Germany as an example of how (semi-) non-religious systems can also lead to atrocities, but that just demonstrates my point: Nazism led to atrocities, therefore Nazism should be abhorred; evangelical religions lead to atrocities, therefore evangelical religions should be abhorred. QED. But I can see you’re not going to be convinced after all this time, so just stop posting. If you post, you can expect a reply.

  50. Frank Wood says:

    Well Steve your blog comes in my email box so sometimes I decide to reply.

    Glad you make the distinction between evangelical religion and non evangelical religion.

    I remember you years back when you were laid back, doing brilliant work and even if you were an atheist you did not wear it on your sleeve like you do now.

    You were a truly independent scientist and I even remember we had a exchange of emails which were interesting and informative.

    And now? Well….

    I know all about religious extremism and like you used to worry and obsess about it but now I don’t get my knickers in a twist or think how I’m going to save the world by opposing these people. I’m too busy trying to improve myself and I assure you that’s a lifetime job lol!

    “For evil to flourish all it takes is a few do gooders to interfere” and that includes religious zealots and atheists!

    • stevegrand says:

      I respect your choice, Frank, even though it saddens me greatly. I hope you’ll respect mine.

      I’ll tell you why I’ve changed and can no longer remain silent like you. For years I thought it was enough that I knew in my own mind what nonsense it all is. What other people believe is their own business, I thought. But then I realized that’s just not true. It really started to dawn on me how many people’s lives are being deeply scarred because of evangelism or religious extremism. And religious extremism can, to some extent, only exist because of religious moderation. Belief in the supernatural is what makes all of it possible. Science has broken down just about every argument in favour of such a belief but it still won’t go away – in part because moderate, nice people continue to support it because it makes them feel better.

      When I came to live in the US I was exposed to a very different kind of Christianity. In the UK, there’s a relationship between Christianity and the politics of the middle-left: a social conscience is seen as a fundamental part of Jesus’s teaching. Over here that’s absolutely not so. Christianity (and more especially evangelical Christianity) is associated with far-right politics and apparently has no social conscience at all. In fact the two groups made an explicit pact to work together. There’s too much to tell about the significance of this, for now, but it opened my eyes somewhat. The innocuous nature of British Christianity hardly compares to what I see over here.

      And it DOES KILL PEOPLE. Even in this supposedly civilised country it does a great deal of harm. Children are growing up ignorant. Gay people are being hounded. Doctors at abortion clinics are being murdered. Women are being denied reasonable rights over their own bodies. And that’s nothing to being stoned to death for adultery or forced to live indoors because your country’s religion says that women are property.

      It’s not good enough and it has to stop. One death is too many, and there have already been thousands. A suicide bomber is not someone who chooses to kill for selfish reasons and merely justifies it in terms of religion – a belief in an afterlife and the concept of pleasing God are FUNDAMENTAL to why someone would blow themselves up in order to kill others.

      Yes, interfering do-gooders can sometimes cause trouble. But burying one’s head in the sand and saying nothing is far, far worse. Not speaking out is tantamount to complicity. I don’t believe for a second that my little rants will make much difference, but I do it in support of those who can.

      Someone you admire once told a parable about not walking by on the other side of the street, didn’t they?

      • Frank Wood says:

        Lol,I never said I especially admired Jesus although he did have some cool things to say and unfortunately it would appear that a lot of what he said has been edited out by church authorities.

        The parable is about not ignoring an individual. Jesus explicitly did not get involved in politics something which fundamentalists should note

        The problem is that your megaphone approach is just pissing a lot of people off that might support what you say – especially your frenzied attack on any idea of spirituality or idea of God (whatever that may mean to people).

        You said:

        “And religious extremism can, to some extent, only exist because of religious moderation. Belief in the supernatural is what makes all of it possible. Science has broken down just about every argument in favour of such a belief but it still won’t go away – in part because moderate, nice people continue to support it because it makes them feel better.”

        With those sentences you have guaranteed that you’ll never get anywhere because of your total lack of respect for other people’s beliefs and your strident declaration of your atheism and your assertion that you are right and everyone else is wrong.

        You are every bit as fundamentalist as the evangelical Christians you talk about.

        But as I’ve found, there is little point in having a discussion with someone like you who has such rigid beliefs and such a touching belief in the infallibility of science.

        You’ve won and silenced another person. The sad thing is you will lose the war until you start to respect other people’s views and stop blaming people who as you put it simplistically:

        ” Belief in the supernatural is what makes all of it possible. Science has broken down just about every argument in favour of such a belief but it still won’t go away – in part because moderate, nice people continue to support it because it makes them feel better.”

        They sure feel a lot better than you, lol.

      • stevegrand says:

        I disagree with almost everything you say, and I think you’re just becoming hysterical because i’m offending or threatening YOUR cherished beliefs.

        1. The historical Jesus, if there was one, was UNQUESTIONABLY political. He was a Jew who was violently opposed to the Judaism of the time. He overthrew tables in temples, contradicted Jewish law, gathered supporters around him and rallied. He was put to death by the government as an activist.

        And yes, the parable was about an individual. It is individuals who are getting hurt. Sakineh Mohammedi-Ashtiani is an individual. I don’t see your point.

        2. I don’t think I have a megaphone approach. I blog my thoughts. That’s what blogs are for. You don’t have to read them. I don’t thrust them in your face – they’re just on the Web along with millions of other people’s thoughts. I think I speak quite quietly in print compared to many, including you. But I can’t condone murder or cruelty, and I see that in religious extremism.

        3. I don’t have a total lack of respect for people’s beliefs, but I do have a respect for the truth. People can believe whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes but once they act on it outside that space (or even inside if it affects their family) then they have to stand up and be counted. Claiming religious immunity isn’t good enough.

        4. I’m not making a “frenzied attack” on anyone. That’s your affrontedness showing. I post my opinions, along with my reasoning, and I invite debate. The most “frenzied” I’ve ever been is to employ satire occasionally. And trust me, it’s tempting to go all out against the irrational vindictive shit I’ve had to endure from some people with opposing views.

        5. If I had fixed ideas I wouldn’t invite debate. I’d disable comments and not use up such a large amount of my time trying to discuss these things. HAVING ideas is not the same as having fixed ideas. Debating is not the same as dictating. Being forceful in one’s argument is no more than anyone should expect – how can anyone debate in a conciliatory fashion? But you’ve stopped presenting me with any ideas to discuss – you simply tell me I’m wrong and that’s that.

        6. I think I have a valid argument about religious moderation supporting religious extremism. It may seem simplistic to you but that’s because I only allowed myself a paragraph to discuss it. So I guess I’ll just have to accept you dismissing it in a sentence. I’d discuss it in more depth but you’ve just told me to shut up and stop talking about these things.

        If you find little point in discussing these topics with me then simply stop discussing them. This is my blog, not yours. You don’t have to post here. You don’t even have to read it. But I reserve the right to say it. I hold that right with a fuck sight more justification than, say, the Westboro Baptist church reserving the right to hold “god hates fags” rallies and interfere with the families grieving for dead soldiers.

        And don’t try to tell me that keeping quiet and respecting people’s beliefs has any more chance of working. It’s over 500 years since Copernicus.

      • stevegrand says:

        I’m sorry, Frank. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was irritated up by your suggestion that murder and cruelty in the name of God are not worth getting worked up about, so then I backed you into a corner from where you could only lash out and it became acrimonious. I should know better than that, so I’m sorry.

        Perhaps one day, though, you would indulge me by watching these men being stoned to death under Sharia law: http://www.apostatesofislam.com/media/stoning.htm. Remember that Sharia is 100% religious. It’s entirely predicated on the fear of God and strict obedience to the word of the Prophet. In no way is this punishment a misuse or misappropriation of Islam. But what if God doesn’t exist? What if it’s all a mistake? What if all those suicide bombers are wrong and they won’t go to heaven, nor their infidel victims to hell? What if lives are just getting cut short for nothing? It worries me.

        People are clearly getting sick of this thread. Me too, quite frankly. I thought it was all finished. I don’t want to censor people who want to call me a sad wanker by preventing further comments, so I’ll just promise not to reply to them.

        As Dave Allen used to say, may your God go with you, Frank.

  51. frodo says:

    Steve you sad wanker,
    get a life will you? Only mediocrities spend as much time as this taking the piss out of people who happen to disagree with them as opposed to saying something positive. You will convince nobody with this self-regarding tirade except the groupies who agreed with you all along. But you must know this. Could it be that you are in denial about how you really feel towards Xtianity? Anyway, I hope youre enjoying your mental masturbation!

    Frodo

    • stevegrand says:

      Thank you for your constructive and carefully reasoned contribution. I love you too.

    • Frank Wood says:

      Frodo (I’m sure that’s not your real name unless you have big feet lol),
      I think you summed up Steve’s blog well by calling it a “self serving tirade”. Not sure about the “sad wanker” bit lol. Sounds like a oxynoron!

      But then again I suppose that’s what blogging is all about, an indulgence in self serving tirades. Well that type of blog anyway. There are others that just provide info such as technical blogs.

      BTW Steve wrote a great book called “Creation – Life and How to Make It” and it’s among my top ten reads. My copy is heavily annotated cos it’s full of thought provoking material.

      Reading his blog here you’d never think it was the same bloke!

  52. Darchen Jurusli says:

    Pax, Romans, pax. Could we have some decorum, please, please.

    • Frank Wood says:

      Darchen whilst “sad wanker” may be strong (even by my statandards lol) but it is understandable given the sarcasm of Steve’s original post.

  53. Frank Wood says:

    You didn’t upset me Steve so there’s no need to apologise, I’m a hardened poster on the Internet and I’m not bothered by the cut and thrust of debate on the net. Heck I grew up on Newsgroups lol and there flaming was a way of life!

    If you want to fantasise that without religion murder, persecution and exploitation would be far lower that it is now, then be my guest.

    I’ve made my points and there’s no need to repeat them. I wish you luck in your campaign but as I’ve already said you ain’t gonna win because of your attitude.

  54. I’m no atheist but I also have no time for the nonsense of the received wisdom of most religions. However in following a line of thought that Nick Bostrum started with his simulation argument there may be a god but he/she/them obviously don’t mess with their simulation they just set it running. If consciousness isn’t substrate dependent then it’s quite logical that we could be a simulation running in a simulated universe & whoever’s running the programme would be god like to us. The idea certainly would solve a lot of problems in quantum theory & parapsychology (non locality etc) do you have any thoughts on this?

    • stevegrand says:

      Um, yes. It is entirely possible, as far as we know, that we’re in some kind of Matrix-like simulation created by a god, just like my own creatures were created by me. But it doesn’t make any actual sense. There’s no reason to suspect it. A trillion other things are entirely possible that we don’t even consider because there’s nothing there to explain. The oceans COULD be the tears of a giant galactic turtle, and we’re just fooling ourselves with our current explanation, but Occam’s Razor cautions against such a theory.

      There’s simply no need to invoke a Prime Mover to set it all in motion. It creates more questions than it answers. Yes, it is still baffling why the universe exists at all and appears to have had a beginning, but our explanations are only a few nanoseconds away from dealing with that moment now. The idea that something came from nothing (if, indeed that’s true, and I suspect it’s not the whole story) is hard to deal with. But so is the idea that there was an intelligence who just set it up deliberately. Why would “he” do that? Where did “he” come from himself? In what larger universe does our simulation run, and what it its own origin? What does it actually MEAN to do something deliberately, like create a universe? If this god was exercising free will when he chose to spend the afternoon making a universe, what rules governed his decision? None? If so then he was acting randomly and it wasn’t deliberate. Some? If so then he was acting lawfully and wasn’t a free agent… The questions go on and on and on. The theory that there was a prime mover explains nothing. It just creates more difficult (and often rather absurd and parochial) questions. It’s another example of Man making God in his own image.

      So I agree there’s nothing to make it impossible, but I can’t see any reason to put it forward as an hypothesis either. I don’t think it solves any quantum problems when you look closely – those are problems in our understanding, not problems in principle. The Copenhagen Interpretation has a lot to answer for, imho!

      • jbro37 says:

        Goodness, he/she/it is outside of time. We’re so accustomed to thinking in terms of before, during and after that “outside of” rarely resonates.

        Trust me on this…I is, are, was, am here, there and everywhere.

        Jbro37 has spoken.

        Jaybro37

      • stevegrand says:

        That’s very easy to say, but what does it actually MEAN?

  55. Jason brook says:

    So u believe in God then

  56. jbro37 says:

    Mean? Nobody said it had to MEAN anything. Goodness, sir!

  57. jbro37 says:

    Precisely. A great deal of what passes for meaning is simply manufactured. Additionally, much of what passes for fixed principles in the hard sciences is provisional, hence subject to revision. In HD’s world longevity is subject to either quick revision or the trashcan.

  58. Mysterics says:

    “I suppose if God made Man in His own image, that explains why He’s such a cantankerous old git.”
    -Oh how I /laughed/, I would love to quote that in a forum signature, but I fear issue will be taken.

  59. Even if that is true than couple of thousand (or even million years) compare to eternity is like 10 second for us. So creating universe and humans and stuff is not much of a long entertainment. It’s like chemistry experiment. Add this potion to this on… boom… and that is. Finished! And again couple of billion years of boredom.

  60. jbro37 says:

    Boredom! I don’t think so. He spends the interim pulling the legs off flies and miniature bin Ladens. One can’t keep a good god down!

  61. Icy says:

    Steve, first and foremost do you really believe that universe and everything else that exists just popped into existence, just with no cause? This eternal “consciousness” that created everything is called God. Now lets go to your understanding of the eternity concept. God was NOT before time because theres NO time before time. And you can not say God was, actually the better would be God IS that is exists in eternity, OUTSIDE time. What is he doing in eternity.. I think millions of unimaginable things to us, among them creating. Then, there is no hell in classical view, actually the word for hell used in NT is Gehenna, and the fire (again simbolical) will just destroy those who do not accept salvation. Then, heaven is a ‘kingdom’ which is ultimate purpose for believers. I’ll ask you one thing, can you being man find ways to live 2 happy lives? I know, yes. And the Almighty will find ways how to spend eternity. And not a person will live ‘billions of years’ because there will be no time, just eternity. And yes, it’s all about sin, human hearts work perfectly because they have free will to decidd wheher to accept him or not. And thats what ‘made under God’s image means’ free will, not hand, legs etc. Remember that God is almighty consciounsness that consists of Three Persons, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, yet one God. Have you ever personally counted stars and measured space so you know the size? Please read Bible more carefully and then comment. Do not leave sarcastic remarks like in this blog. Just comment. Fair enough?

    • stevegrand says:

      No, I’m afraid it’s not fair enough. I have no tolerance left for superstitious nonsense, nor respect for people who promulgate it. It causes far too much pain and suffering in the world. Sarcasm is the least it deserves, and just occasionally I cheer myself up by being sarcastic instead of fumingly furious about it.

      It’s pointless discussing your arguments because you simply made a bunch of assertions with no evidence to support them. But to clarify a couple of things: No, I don’t believe the universe just “popped into existence.” I know enough about cosmology not to be that stupid. I have read a good deal of the Bible carefully and I agree with most biblical scholars that it’s inconsistent, inaccurate and the work of Man. No, I haven’t personally counted the stars or measured the universe, but I don’t merely take it on faith – I know in some detail WHY we are certain that the universe is vast and contains billions of billions of stars, and I have made enough observations of my own to know why the evidence should be trusted. The two (mutually inconsistent) accounts of creation in Genesis, on the other hand, are utter nonsense and we’ve known why since the late Middle Ages.

      In this information age, ignorance is a deliberate choice, and if people would only stop being so willfully ignorant and superstitious, thousands of innocent people wouldn’t have to have their lives ruined. When that day finally comes, I’ll stop being sarcastic. In the meantime it deserves ridicule.

  62. cliff says:

    Since he made everything its his rules not yours. Without the third part of him in you you will never understand. Its just mechanics on how it works.Rules.Try following the rules without understanding. from what i just read your short. Take a chance. John 3-16 get you started. Dont fake it. Its not allowed. See what happens after that.You will be able to answer all your ?ions.

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