Secular VIP of the Week: Dr. Andy Thomson

By Mark Kolsen

 

If god is a delusion, then why is religion such a widespread, long standing human practice?  RDF Trustee Andy Thomson’s book Why We Believe in God(s) demonstrates that religious belief is almost a natural result of our brain’s hard-wired faculties.  In fact, his list and explanation of contributing psychological mechanisms make you wonder how any human could NOT believe in god.  But don’t wonder too much:  disbelief, Andy says, “requires effort.”

RDF:  Although Freud is considered psychology’s godfather whose concept of human nature is mostly outdated, Why We Believe in God(s) refers to him often; in fact, your first chapter on attachment reminds me of “The Future of An Illusion,” Freud’s famous essay on religion.  In explaining religion, how relevant is Freud today?

AT:  In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens said “A Future of An Illusion” first engaged his attention to the nature of religious belief.   Freud was a materialist from a very early age.  He was very interested in why human minds are religious.  He made an attempt to understand it.  I think we must give him some credit.

RDF:  More recently, scientists have taken different approaches to understanding religious belief.  By electrically stimulating different brain regions, Michael Persinger has recreated so called religious experiences in his laboratory volunteers.  But studies attempting to replicate Persinger’s results have failed; when Richard Dawkins put on Persinger’s “god-creator” helmet, he only experienced a headache.  Yet, Persinger’s laboratory videotapes sure seem convincing to me.  Your thoughts on Persinger?

AT:  We are all human beings, but we vary in height, weight and other things, including our brains and its religious beliefs.  There are also state dependent variables:  one week, I could put Persinger’s helmet on and have one experience, but then go another week and have a different emotional experience.  Persinger’s work, like the work of others, also demonstrates that we have different selves, more than one self- concept.  The self is not a unitary thing.

RDF:  Your book marshals evidence that we are naturally moral.  For example, you point out that when shown images of suffering Haitians, people will react compassionately.  But what about those who view the same images indifferently?  Or, to take another example, what about many of the 1% who witness dire poverty with indifference?  Where is their natural morality?

AT:  Morality is like language.  We have an innate grammar, and we then learn the language of our tribe.  We have innate moral reactions, but then we learn what our culture thinks is fair and unfair.

RDF:   Given our individualistic, selfish culture, does that mean we have no hope for getting Americans to take action on big issues like climate change?  Should we assume that, thanks to our culture of self-interest and profits, our planet is doomed?

AT:   Altruism is a question the secular community has to grapple with.  But there’s exciting new information that we’re less selfish than we think.  In Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect,  a new book by Matthew Lieberman, he argues—and backs it up nicely—that we are born to connect, intensely social beings, and more social beings than standard psychology textbooks would have us.  Past texts argue that we are altruistic for selfish reasons.  Liebermann puts the lie to that, in my opinion.  We are altruistic simply because it feels good. . . if you can demonstrate [to students] the degree of selflessness people really have, it may act as a resistance to our cultural lone cowboy, lone wall street investor making tons of money. . . to the selfishness pervading our cultural ideals.

RDF:  In 1776, Thomas Paine’s famously effective book, Common Sense, appealed to people’s selflessness, but Paine had no qualms about getting into people’s faces.  Anyone who wouldn’t fight for posterity’s sake, for the sake of giving their children a better future, he ridiculed and called them “cowards.”  What do you think of his approach?

AT:  With regard to climate change, we have to try everything.  You have to appeal to the needs of future generations.  You have to appeal to people’s pride.  But you also have to shame them. . . [by saying] that not taking action is not a neutral stance; it’s a cowardly stance.  It’s our responsibility to do everything to change the public debate.

RDF:  Your book explains the persistence of religious beliefs and rituals, such as prayer, to which people still seem addicted.  But there is evidence that certain practices and rituals—such as attending church, reading the bible, and accepting different faiths—have been declining in popularity.  How would you explain those declines?

AT:  Religion is an umbrella for people to come together and meet their social needs.  People are finding more rewarding social connections outside church… workplaces are now more friendly than they were when we were growing up.  Workplaces are more egalitarian; there’s a lot more connectedness there  than when our parents worked in offices.

AT:  And as for reading the Bible, we are reading less, and there’s evidence our attention spans are growing shorter….if you start reading the Bible, it’s pretty awful stuff.  An intelligent person is going to be horrified. . .with the old testament, why would you spend your time reading this Bronze Age document that’s a blueprint for war, murder and rape?  Why would you read the new testament, which is about a human sacrifice we’re supposedly all responsible for? . . .It would also be hard to read the bible on a Sunday evening when you’ve got complex, phenomenally well done dramas like Homeland and Downton Abbey . .

RDF:  And so-called “religious diffusion,” illustrated in the willingness of people to marry those of different faiths?

AT:  Here’s where it really gets wild!  Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher have a new book [The Parasite Stress Theory of Values and Sociality:  Infectious Diseases, History and Human Values Worldwide] that shows that infectious disease burden is a major factor in religiosity!  They make a compelling case that religious groups were all about protecting people from infectious diseases. . .  this is why there are so many religious sects in the southern United States, where there is a higher infectious disease burden than in the North . . .so today there is greater diffusion among religious sects because there’s so much less human to human infectious disease.  It’s now safe for my son to marry someone from a different sect or culture . . .  a fascinating argument, well backed with data. . .

RDF:  Andy, if you could do two or three things to make our nation more open to science, reason, and secularism, what would top your wish list?

AT:  First, I would ask President Obama to remind the nation that we are a secular republic, “My fellow Americans,’ he would say, “I am pleased to announce that the problem of religion has been solved.  Scientists—many of whom are fellow Americans, of whom we can be proud—have mapped out how and why we have religious beliefs.  We can go on from here . . .”

RDF:  (after hard-to-control laughter):  And then?

AT:  I would next have national standards for scientific education that would teach not just evolution, but human evolution.  I think you should graduate from high school knowing how to draw the human family tree.  Finally, I would bring down all barriers to stem cell research.  So many good possibilities can come from continued stem cell research.

RDF:  Since you mentioned our good President, what do you think about Richard Dawkins’ belief that President Obama is a closet atheist, too smart to be religious?

AT:  I too once thought Obama was too smart.  But then I heard his speech after children were killed at Sandy Hook.  It was very religious, and that troubled me:  I thought, ‘maybe I’m wrong.”  But when you read his autobiography and you know about his mother, father, his developmental history:  I find it hard to believe he’s a believer.  I hope he’s a closet atheist.  We may never know.

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42 COMMENTS

  1. If god is a delusion, then why is religion such a widespread, long standing human practice?

    Because all humans have the same cognitive mechanisms a large chunk of which is evolved (optimising survival) to look for patterns, causality and agency and a tiny short term memory which has to focus on small data sets. The cognitive mechanisms are also lazy. It takes much more effort to think rationally and much of what we now know scientifically is counter intuitive. Invoking the infinite variable god as an explanation is nice and easy it pushes all the buttons that satisfy cognitions at a simple level and it saves you the trouble of looking any further.

    • Vorlund,

      With all respect. Althought what you have to say is much repeated and not without merit I must say that I entirely disagree with this kind of analysis. Basically, we can be bigger than going anywhere near arguments that relate believing to dimwittedness.

      If not towing the line may result in death then you had better be a believer. If your education was limited to one book written by people who didn’t even know that the world was round it is difficult for you to argue. If there are massive upsides like heaven and massive downsides like hell then it is better to take an insurance policy even if it is 10% of your income. But even these levers pail into insignifance compared to the massive barbed hooks such as “kill me a son” (Abraham/Dylan). It is the hooks that recruit the typical wealthy educated professional to become a suicide bomber in the West and he isn’t thick..

      You my wish to read, and challenge, what I have to say in my comments below.

  2. How funny it is to read: when Richard Dawkins put on the god- creator helmet, he only experienced a headache.
    (What about Piaget to explain a religious/scientific mindset instead of Freud? a scholar that dedicates his carrier to study Piaget, mentions in a book that: all Piaget´s life effort was to accomplish the understanding how scientific thought came to be, a wonderful and beautiful mind, for some considered the major philosopher of the xx century, well deserved I think.

  3. I can think of a few reasons why religions still have an appeal, beyond social ones:

    Some significant percentage of people have “spiritual” experiences which religions seem better able to explain than science.

    Religions are a way to step outside of fashionable worldviews and gain other perspectives on values, culture and beliefs. Religions offer a way to critique the modern world. The suggestion that watching popular television shows can replace reading the Bible is precisely the kind of cultural tunnel vision that religions challenge.

    Many people can’t come to grips with a world they don’t understand without religion. Not everyone is smart enough for science; for that matter, science doesn’t have all the answers. Religion is a way of trying to make peace with your limitations.

    Many people can’t cope with the nihilistic universe revealed by science. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft, the horror his characters experience when they grasp the true nature of reality is not too different from how many people feel contemplating a godless universe.

    A final thought: People throughout history have had explanations for why others don’t believe as they do, based on their own (incomplete, incorrect) worldviews. Never imagine that you are different, and don’t forget to be humble!

    • Many people can’t cope with the nihilistic universe revealed by science. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft, the horror his characters experience when they grasp the true nature of reality is not too different from how many people feel contemplating a godless universe.

      This state of affairs probably only applies to those who’ve been indoctrinated from birth. When this is not the case and one has been given real answers to questions from the start, a godless universe is no more forbidding than a universe without the panoply of ancient Greek deities. If you can comprehend a universe without Zeus or Aphrodite, you can comprehend a godless universe without falling into a pit of despair.

    • “Many people can’t come to grips with a world they don’t understand without religion. Not everyone is smart enough for science; for that matter, science doesn’t have all the answers. Religion is a way of trying to make peace with your limitations.”

      I think that’s a good quote to remember. However being “smart” enough for science is questionable. I’m not “smart” enough for brain surgery but I am smart enough to believe the brain surgeons.
      The problem is complex with indoctrination at birth and societal pressures.
      But I would like to bring up arrogance. Any thoughts on that?

      • Can we explain what seems contradiction:

        “(…)”Religion” to cope with our limitations…. because science cannot explain everything”

        or

        “(…) Many people can’t cope with the nihilistic universe revealed by science.”

        It must be the quite the oppsite scientists try to discover “order” in nature, not a caotic world where nothing can be predicted.

        Than, afterall, “religion” can explain better than science “spiritual” experience ????!!!!!

        Shall I continue, or, there´s no use at all.

      • That is not a good quote to remember and here’s why.
        The quote is blurring two different kinds of “answers” and thus suggesting science and religion as both having relevant answers on the same subject, just different “angles”. Do not be fooled by this attractive fallacy.
        First, you need to clearly understand that science gives answers that have to do with explaining reality in a purely academic sense. This is in no way related to the personal answers people seek in religion about their condition. The only thing that links them is that both give answers.
        When you say “science doesn’t have all the answers”, to which questions are you referring? Aren’t you just pretending that you’re so knowledgeable of humanity’s scientific progress, that you know its limitations, simply to insert your own personal, supernatural, wishful thinking explanation.

  4. @Imperius
    Many people can’t come to grips with a world they don’t understand without religion. Not everyone is smart enough for science; for that matter, science doesn’t have all the answers. Religion is a way of trying to make peace with your limitations.

    Those who have debated with fundamentalists would probably the recognise in them the retarding of later developmental stages, absence of them reaching the mature mental stage of “Formal Operations”, and signs of being stuck at earlier stages of mental development.

    It is not without motive that fundamentalist Xtians, tell their sheeples to be “like little children”, and do all they can to disparage evidenced rationality!

    http://psychology.about.com/od/piagetstheory/a/keyconcepts.htm

    Through his observations of his own children, Piaget developed a stage theory of intellectual development that included four distinct stages:
    the sensorimotor stage, from birth to age 2;
    the preoperational stage, from age 2 to about age 7;
    the concrete operational stage, from age 7 to 11;
    and the formal operational stage, which begins in adolescence and spans into adulthood.

    A Quick Summary of Cognitive Development

    The Sensorimotor Stage: During this stage, infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.
    The Preoperational Stage: At this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people.
    The Concrete Operational Stage: Kids at this point of development begin to think more logically, but their thinking can also be very rigid. They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts.

    The Formal Operational Stage: The final stage of Piaget’s theory involves an increase in logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas.

  5. “Many people can’t come to grips with a world they don’t understand
    without religion. Not everyone is smart enough for science; for that
    matter, science doesn’t have all the answers. Religion is a way of
    trying to make peace with your limitations”

    And not everyone can be smart enough for being an inspired priest, or a pope either ?-a supreme religious leader
    So, anyway, not everyone can participate deserving an equalitarian condition?
    Did you realize how democratic this sounds?
    Well, I guess that everyone can participate in the anthropologic discourse, without political limitations, that´s why it was made transdisciplinar? (beyond disciplines).
    That´s a poor sad condition the one you state here. Are you expecting to school this perspective? It you be, of course, a shame, when you have greedy young minds willing to learn, if not, willing some more respect for their intelligence-
    To support such a poor limitative view seems to be radically politically wrong besides. Hey, don´t paternalise others.
    Shouldn´t it be available for everyone to question his/her own humanity, and not be limited in his/her curiosity about the world?

  6. I did read some of the above article but found it to be boring and mistaken.

    Please may I introduce some things more profound.
    1.Let me start with the most profound statement on the existence or non-existence of an absolute being. “Just because man can ask a question, doesn’t mean there is an answer” (Kant). We progressed in our understanding of the world we live in, our cosmology, from animism to polytheism to monotheism to “objective knowledge”. If only Kant had been round to point out to the first to ask the question “is there an bsolute being?”

    • @ David
      We progressed in our understanding of the world we live in, our cosmology, from animism to polytheism to monotheism to “objective knowledge”. If only Kant had been round to point out to the first to ask the question “is there an absolute being?”

      That sequence merely reflects Christian tradition, and is only applicable to the history of the writing of the bible, with its god JEHOVA/YAHWEH evolving from EL and earlier Cannanite deities, and then being superseded by objective knowledge, mathematical probability and scientific thoughts on cosmology. There is no evidence of a general order of progression of sequential changes.

      Animism, polytheism, monotheism, and “objective scientific knowledge”, are all represented views in modern human cultures, in various parts of the world, as the first 3 also were in ancient times.

      • Alan4discussion,

        Thank you for your comment.

        “There is no evidence of a general order of progression of sequential changes.”

        Reply.
        We “go forward”, when we have freedom of thought and speech, by “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

        “Animism, polytheism, monotheism, and “objective scientific knowledge”, are all represented views in modern human cultures, in various parts of the world, as the first 3 also were in ancient times.”

        Reply.

        “Objective knowledge” isn’t a view. Subjective knowledge/opinion is a view. Objective knowledge starts as a view, a guess, an hypothesis. If, and only if, it is testable it can be tested by peers. If, and only if, it passes third party critical tests it becomes “objective knowledge” or “truth”. It remains on the shelf marked “truth” until it is superseded by a new theory that has better explantory power or truthlikeness.

  7. I did read some of the above article but found it to be boring and mistaken.

    Please may I introduce some things more profound.

    1.Let me start with the most profound statement on the existence or non-existence of an absolute being. “Just because man can ask a question, doesn’t mean there is an answer” (Kant). We progressed in our understanding of the world we live in, our cosmology, from animism to polytheism to monotheism to “objective knowledge”. If only Kant had been around to point out to the first to ask the question “is there an absolute being?” that it was in the category of questions that could be asked but couldn’t be answered.

    To help clarify the difference between bona-fide questions and silly or pointless questions I will remind you of your favourite number and colour.
    When you were about six years old you were asked your favourite number and colour by a peer in the school-yard. You felt it necessary to respond spontaniously. Later you may have wished that you had chosen 7 and red but now that you are an adult you have “no position” on either. Similarly, post Kant, part of man’s growing up, your position on the existence or non-existence of an absolute being should not be yeah or naigh but “no position”. Why take a position on a pseodo-question than can never be answered?
    We have a gate on answers, they have to be testable. It is time to recognise the gate on questions, they have to be answerble.
    No man is religious and no man has ever created a religion. Animism. polytheism and monotheism were science in their birth. The one superceded the other because it made more sense, had greater explanatory power and was a better cosmology. That a lot of folk haven’t moved on from monotheisim to “objective knowledge” is because this or that church depended on their funding and wouldn’t let them leave on pain of death (apostasy) or worse (no heaven but plenty of hell). The churches (not religions, they don’t exist) that are winning are those with the worst exit penalties and the biggest wall against the intrusion of truth, “objective knowledge”. Thus, their main enemy is the West and education.
    Lets not forget Soren Kirtegarte, the final apologist. Your nice friendly Christian church is not executing 1,700 mother’s sons and boasting that it is really 17,000. They did do such things in the past and could do them again tomorrow. Even the Buddist monks are not affaid of ethnic cleansing. Soren effectively hung a clean white sheet in front of your churches’ heavily patched blanket that was its cosmology. And the only words on the sheet were faith and belief. All non threatening but not when you remember that they still have bills to pay and the world to conquer.
    On death and religion. I’m sorry but your end is much like that of the insects that you accidentlly trod on today.

    I would love to argue the above. Any takers?

    • David, I think you’ve just proposed a discussion topic? Praise be! There’s a way to beat the system after all!
      I hope you get lots of responses. I’ll have to think about what you are actually saying before giving a reply. ;)

    • @David “Why take a position on a pseodo-question than can never be answered?
      We have a gate on answers, they have to be testable.”

      I would say it is easy to test whether a god of a certain religion or any personal god people speak of is real. You can test all the claims made about that god. Answering prayers, miracles, prophecies, and many more claims on reality can be shown to be false. Therefore, it isn’t helpful to stress the “never can be answered” angle and actually , it shows a lack of critical thinking. The never can be answered stance is held by 50/50 agnostics, and that stance clearly is an intellectual fallacy.

      • Nothink,

        Thank you for your comment.

        I am introducing a new position on the subject of “Goddo”, no position. Not believer, agnostic or athiest. Just recognising that the question “is there an absolute being?” is a pseudo question that, for example, wouldn’t generate Science Research Council funding if it were asked today.

        It isn’t a valid question and therefore the only valid answer is to have “no position”.

        This is not pandering to the “wets”, the agnostics. This wasn’t a valid position 150 years ago as it was post Hume and Kant then. Do we stand on the shoulders of giants or don’t we?

        We had an alternative theory of man’s existence 150 years ago which we called “the theory of evolution”. We don’t today. It has morphed into just being our history. And its competitor has dissappeared and now only claims to be a faith with no cosmology.

        • @David

          Thank you for the engaging response.

          First, I’ll admit my ignorance of real councils (inconsequential really..) and say that I’m going to assume you are referring to the Science Research Council under Starfleet.

          First I’d say your ending point of bringing up evolution, says to me that you see the question of “an absolute being” as being solely raised to answer the question of how did the human species come to exist from primordial soup. But the question of an intelligent beginning can be investigated more respectably if one was to consider the combination of the two following conclusions.
          1. Eternal existence is a valid concept since it is the only known conclusion that can result from the acceptance that, based on the anthropic principle, the state of “nothing” as we mean it when we ask “how can something come from nothing?”, cannot have ever existed.
          Design implies that individual parts uniquely have properties that, for no necessary reason other than due to the intentions of the designer, are able to cooperate with each other
          There is no necessary reason due to the statistical improbability of cooperative properties emerging randomly from the realm of all that is possible. I am ofcourse referring to the physical constants, and the way all the elements that make up the universe, from their simplest to most complex incarnations, from quarks to planets, at any and every level, interact compatibly as if all based on the same instruction guide to reality.

          The next question, once we accept the eternal, is “why not just stop at saying the universe always existed, instead of going further to an intelligent designer?”
          Then when we factor in the statistical improbability of cooperating elements, (sure oil and water don’t mix, but they interact with each other according to the same reality physics model)
          Also the postulation that the simple is more probable than the complex, in terms of explaining the “beginning” is based on our understanding of simple building to complex, which itself is based on a time model that is irrelevant once the “eternal” state is accepted.

          Lastly, I would say an invalid question is like “how fat is crying?” Invalid questions are not investigable by reason because the elements that make up the question are combined in a nonsensical way, without regard to how each element, in this example “fat” and “crying” are rationally understood to be useable in our vocabulary.

          You investigated the question, and perhaps you had a quick, seemingly obvious, epiphany that this “absolute being” question, in the way you understood it, was a poor if not irrational substitute for explaining human existence when compared with the truth of evolution.

          • nothink,

            You deserve a substantial reply and I have given one but lost it.

            May I give quick reply in bullet points.

            I divorced my new position from agnostisim, I even called them wets.
            I divorced myself from the evolutionists, I even called their theory nothing more than history.
            I am not going to chat about an ancient dogma from a schoolman, the argument from design, when we have objective knowledge on the table that absolutely dismisses it. If you wish to progress ID then you should get it through the rigourous discipline of peer review and independent third party testing and corroborration. All of our objective knowledge about ourselves and the world we live in had to survive this discipline.

            4, I love your rational in your something v nothing argument. It is so simple and rational. But convincing, no. Simple was regected by Kant and Popper and something v nothing is not a known but the subject of our enquiry into dark matter.

            Nice to talk to you.

  8. There’s another angle nitya touched on which may be more of a factor than being wired for belief: fundamentalists are made, not born. Without religious indoctrination, without cultural sanction, how many would be Xian or Muslim or Buddhist if they were never indoctrinated into it. How many would search later in life and turn into an Evangelical or Islamist. Yes we may be wired to see agency, and be afraid of an indifferent universe, some more than others, but when children are taught no religion at all they rarely need one later, and many fundies drop their indoctrination when they research it for themselves, think Dan Barker, Bart Ehrman, Jerry De Witt, John Loftus to name a few that represent a huge population that left their religious upbringing without writing a book on it or logged in their success here on Richard’s coming out page. As a developmental psychologist I seriously doubt that fundamentalists never made it to Piaget’s last stage of hypothetical and abstract thought. Religious folks compartmentalize and as Matt Dillahunty says keep their religious views safe from skepticism thereby. They can be quite rational folks in all other domains, yet hold illogical, absurd beliefs in whatever religion they were taught and all religions know you gotta get ‘em while they are young. If we continue to expose and attack religious cruelties and absurdities and re-educate the faithful and insulate the young from accepting bullshit blindly, I dont think religion as we know it today is a given of human nature. It is more a historical accident and like slavery was once thought for millenia to be an unquestioned behavior, an integral part of human nature…and it was just a bad idea we outgrew. Hitch was right we are yet in the infancy of our species. Look how far the New Enlightenment, in just ten years since Sam Harris and Richard’s and Hitchens books were published, has come in making the discussion and critique of religious claims acceptable and continuous in every form of discourse we have: newspapers, books, TV, social media, all the New (Atheist) Enlightenment blogs, celebrities, authors. Education is the key. Yes there is some social psych research that shows we can inherit conservative dispositions, but we are certainly not wired for any particular religion and may not be predisposed to religion at all. When people arent taught one they rarely gravitate to it. I’ve touched on these subjects in the past at wearedone.org. Great discussion, sounds like a good book, kudos to Dr. Thomson.

    • . . When people arent taught one they rarely gravitate to it.

      I’m not sure whether this would be appropriate in reply to @ David as well.

      I’ve had experience with those unexposed to religious indoctrination in various settings and I can attest to the fact that it would be possible to completely eliminate religious thinking if the community set out on such a quest. If questions are answered truthfully, giving scientific answers were possible and by explaining the way to tackle problems and find proper solutions, these answers will satisfy the developing intellect. When fanciful solutions are given as fact, this sort of reasoning will be the method employed by the young mind.

      I’ve had experience with those unencumbered by religious thinking. As well, my own children had no religious instruction until they attended RE at school. Lastly, I had no religious or superstitious ideas inserted into my brain for the first five years of my life.

      So, thinking of David’s challenge, there’s probably is no question to answer unless someone (anyone) believes they have an answer. After that, the battle begins.

      • Let’s break apart the eternal designer question into pieces.
        First the question of eternity. My question to you and everyone is..
        Do you accept the concept of eternity as truth?
        If not, or unsure, let me propose this critical thinking argument.

        Something and nothing are the only two states of existence.
        Something cannot exist in nothing.
        Something cannot come to exist from nothing.
        Something exists.
        Therefore, something always existed.

        • The only reason that question is relevant is because we understand what “nothing” is. No one is stuck on how something could come from something. Our interest in the question is based on our understanding that something exists in a linear timeline thus has to have a beginning.
          The crux of the question is reconciling the infinite regress into nothing and asking how the first something could possibly come about from a state of “nothing”. A state which is defined by the heart of the question.

          No one is asking about how the universe grew from simpler elements when they ask the question of something coming from nothing.

          Krauss might be a great scientist, but he is not a great critical thinker, and I’m embarrassed for Richard Dawkins in the clips I’ve seen of them together. Krauss is easily baited into an emotional attack defense because he himself does not have a firm grip on understanding the issues raised by questioners.

          • nothink Jul 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm

            The only reason that question is relevant is because we understand what “nothing” is.

            The problem arises because people THINK they know what “nothing” is.
            In our universe there is NOWHERE where NOTHING exists!

            An “empty” jar contains air. “Empty” interplanetary or interstellar space, contains photons, sparse molecules, and gravity.

            No one is stuck on how something could come from something. Our interest in the question is based on our understanding that something exists in a linear timeline thus has to have a beginning.

            Linear time-lines are somewhat simplistic in relativistic space-time.

            The discussion of “nothing” in physics is around positive and negative particles. Put +5 and -5 together and you have a balance of “nothing”, just as if you have a bank balance of £5 and an overdraft of £5.

            The crux of the question is reconciling the infinite regress into nothing and asking how the first something could possibly come about from a state of “nothing”. A state which is defined by the heart of the question.

            Infinite regress can’t be reconciled with preconceptions.

            No one is asking about how the universe grew from simpler elements when they ask the question of something coming from nothing.

            Perhaps they should accept that some things are not yet known, but that scientists produce speculations for testing as part of the investigative process.

            In any case:- “god-did-it-by-magic” is no answer at all! It is merely an illusion of an answer for the simple minded who crave certainty.

  9. Dismissing arguments for a personal god is easy because the claims about said god are so obviously self serving and baseless. But the question of infinite regress and cooperating parts is one I’d like to discuss. And if you haven’t already guessed, I wanted to see if there is space for an “intelligent designer”.
    First, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “nothing” in the sense that we use it when we ask how something could come from “nothing”. Obviously if we were to accept that there is a state called “nothing” in which by our definition nothing exists for anything to exist, then clearly that cannot be the case.
    So if there never could be a state of “nothing” then mustn’t we accept that there was always something or even if we were to use the scapegoat that our minds can’t fathom the alternatives to nothing or something, isn’t the something option clearly ahead of the nothing stance.
    Combine that with our understanding that for things to have properties that enable it to interact in cooperation with other things, those properties must be designed. For example, parts of a watch must be designed for them to work together. How is it that all elements must have had properties that speak to others, and this had to be true for all time or else nothing could exist that reflects the interaction between interactable elements. (which is everything we know to exist). Does the watchmaker fallacy apply correctly? I think not.
    I would not go further into claiming a intelligent designer as that is making claims that the evidence doesn’t neccessarily support, perhaps intelligence is in the elements themselves, and not in personified way, but more the utiliatrian view of intelligence and interacting properties.
    But the two positions I want to explore more is the conclusion that the state of “always existing” is a valid understanding based on the fact that “nothing” could not exist.
    And also the conclusion that the interaction of all elements suggests inherent cooperative properties which from our own experience with creating points to a possible intelligent designer as an answer.
    Sure we can say that if something had to always exist, why can’t it be the elements with the properties instead of a more complex combination like an intelligent designer.
    But if we are going to take the stance that we should look outside our human limit of understanding and thus say that even though elements with individual properties interact there must be an explanation outside our experience of understanding the nature of parts interacting coherently as being the result of design, then we must also say that it is entirely possible that simple and complex are not properly understood when weighing which is the more plausible “beginning”.

    • nothink Jul 8, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Dismissing arguments for a personal god is easy because the claims about said god are so obviously self serving and baseless. But the question of infinite regress and cooperating parts is one I’d like to discuss.

      Personal gods are just a projection of Earth-bound concepts of paternal tribal leaders.

      And also the conclusion that the interaction of all elements suggests inherent cooperative properties which from our own experience with creating points to a possible intelligent designer as an answer.

      I think like evolution, If these properties were different, then our type of universe would not exist. Maybe there are other universes with different properties.

      Sure we can say that if something had to always exist, why can’t it be the elements with the properties instead of a more complex combination like an intelligent designer.

      It can’t even be as complex as elements! It was not until the later stages of the Big-Bang that the energy expanded and cooled to form elements of hydrogen and helium. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphical_timeline_of_the_Big_Bang

      • “Maybe there are other universes with different properties.”

        Why must it be another universe in the first place? Doesn’t that imply a relation to the properties of our universe?
        If its a multiverse, or bubbleverse…, aren’t they interacting cooperatively on their shared borders?

        My point is that the same instruction guide must have been used for individual elements to have cooperating properties.

          • You wrote: “In our universe there is NOWHERE where NOTHING exists!”

            The “nothing” you are referring to in that statement, is what I am speaking of. You seem to understand that concept clearly.

  10. I was just thinking that the simplest element that makes everything up must contain all the properties we see in reality.
    For example, stacking rocks will build you a solid house, but could you ever stack enough rocks to make a cloud?

  11. I am not even a complete atheist, more of an agnostic yet very minimal common sense was required for me to leave Islam or any religion for that matter. It is astonishing how self aware, adult, religious individuals very rarely pause, to ponder over their beliefs that whether there is any logical reasoning behind them, and the same individuals then go on to claim that God made us superior to other creatures, because we have an innate ability to reason, and make rational decisions. Basically the common sense of Abrahamic faiths can be summed up as,

    LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!

    And that my friends, is how it all began, from nothingness, and after an incalculable amount of time equivalence which technically wasnot time, came light with an unknown source, and under the luminescence, God thought of filling up the empty vastness later named as The Universe.

    Continuing on with the Abrahamic faiths` fairytales and in trying to justify them, and how things might have proceeded once the universe was illuminated, I couldn’t think of any other screenplay

    So once the universe was Illuminated, God then ordered the angels and jinns and other never seen creatures to throw fireballs at random places accross the vastness. A safe assumption is that that the ball of fire was then surrounded by an array color full orbs and it was made sure they didnot collide. Then to add a little bling bling to it all, asteroids/ stars etc appeared. And the same procedure repeated accross the universe at distances spanning over billions of light years from each other. And all the orbs and fiery balls made up the various galaxies just appeared

    Now came the real issue, the fate of the spheres, such was the power of mysterious ways that the planet that is scientifically proven to be the only habitat that can support life form was populated in further mysterious ways.

    So basically first there was Adam, all the raw material i.e. Mud/Clay was used up in his production, hence he had to undergo a complicated surgical operation to have a rib removed, and then from that rib came Eve. Earth still looked pretty boring, and it was decided to strategically drop all kinds of animal species of random shapes and sizes, (which would evolve into altogether different features over the years) in different areas that were most suitable for the respective species to adapt to.

    Adam and Eve must`ve travelled the globe making different colored babies wherever they went, using the perfect combination of sperm and ova to provide each baby with the necessary features to aid them in surviving their respective topographical and geographic locations. These babies then grew up, and as a result of incestual intercourse, here we are.

    Oh wait we need to step back a bit for the next creation i.e. Sin. So when Adam was created all existing beings were ordered to bow down to him, the disrespect these beings mustve felt is completely understandable, but one of them the bad bad Lucifer, the ArchAngel, refused to comply, and makes perfect sense for an arch-angel to do so, and hence was banished from the heavens for eternity.
    Lucifer mustve been good at Roulette/BlackJack and placed a bet with God i.e how many of his created homo sapiens he can lure into his circle. God gladly accepted the bet, and among other criminal things (which common sense requires of a person to find criminal) declared other non criminal things which make people happy a Sin too. So basically here we are in a huge casino, while bets are being placed on us on the seventh sky (wherever that is).

    The famous forbidden fruit on a tree placed at a prominent place is bad enough, but telling a human not to eat it at any cost, without giving medical reasons would naturally arouse curiosity in any human. Makes one wonder if the fruit from the tree was so sinfully dangerous why create it then?. Anyways, Adam following his instincts and a motivational speech from Eve, ate the forbidden fruit, and exile being the custom punishment of the days, Adam and Eve were banished from heavens for eternity.
    So basically all of us are paying the price for Adam`s stupidity, when we had nothing to do with it. If only he had controlled the urge we would have been sitting next to a wine lake, drinking and merry making.

    Time flew by Dinosaurs came, then came the great extinction, meteor/s hitting the Earth, causing an unnatural drop in atmospheric temperature in some regions,and an unnatural heatwave in others, BUT, mankind managed to survive being stronger and with higher endurance levels than Dinosaurs (Not).

  12. nothink Jul 16, 2014 at 9:45 am

    You wrote: “In our universe there is NOWHERE where NOTHING exists!”

    The “nothing” you are referring to in that statement, is what I am speaking of. You seem to understand that concept clearly.

    I am no specialist on quantum physics, but I don’t think that absolute “nothing” exists, or that that is what cosmologists are talking about.

    As far as the laws of science in our universe go, I would see them as I would an evolved organism. If they were different the structure would be different, but in our universe they are as they are, and the universe is consequently as it is.
    That does not rule out speculations of other possibilities of variations in other universes.

    • “I am no specialist on quantum physics, but I don’t think that absolute “nothing” exists, or that that is what cosmologists are talking about.”

      You do not have to be a quantum physicist to ponder the absolute nothing question. We are the ones that define the word nothing, and so we can approach the question with our definition, which would not allow anything to exist at all. Ofcourse “nothing” never existed or else we wouldn’t be here.
      Your hesitation to accept the alternative, or to even voice it, is understandable as eternity is a concept which seems irrational.
      I’ve tried to think of what other choices there are, but rationally, I can only deduce that the only alternative to nothing is something, thus, there must’ve always existed “something”.
      The confusion of the word “nothing” is an attempt to evade the obvious question. Cosmologists should not attempt to hijack that word to sell more books or seem more profound. The common definition of nothing is clear. Why not use a different word to represent the beginning “something” state that cosmologists are investigating.

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