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Crafty_Dog
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« on: November 21, 2006, 09:32:38 AM »

A Free-for-All on Science and Religion
By GEORGE JOHNSON
Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that ?the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief,? or when a Nobelist in chemistry, Sir Harold Kroto, called for the John Templeton Foundation to give its next $1.5 million prize for ?progress in spiritual discoveries? to an atheist ? Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist whose book ?The God Delusion? is a national best-seller.
Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects ? testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.
Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.
Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.
She was not entirely kidding. ?We should let the success of the religious formula guide us,? Dr. Porco said. ?Let?s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome ? and even comforting ? than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.?
She displayed a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn and its glowing rings eclipsing the Sun, revealing in the shadow a barely noticeable speck called Earth.
There has been no shortage of conferences in recent years, commonly organized by the Templeton Foundation, seeking to smooth over the differences between science and religion and ending in a metaphysical draw. Sponsored instead by the Science Network, an educational organization based in California, and underwritten by a San Diego investor, Robert Zeps (who acknowledged his role as a kind of ?anti-Templeton?), the La Jolla meeting, ?Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival,? rapidly escalated into an invigorating intellectual free-for-all. (Unedited video of the proceedings will be posted on the Web at tsntv.org.)
A presentation by Joan Roughgarden, a Stanford University biologist, on using biblical metaphor to ease her fellow Christians into accepting evolution (a mutation is ?a mustard seed of DNA?) was dismissed by Dr. Dawkins as ?bad poetry,? while his own take-no-prisoners approach (religious education is ?brainwashing? and ?child abuse?) was condemned by the anthropologist Melvin J. Konner, who said he had ?not a flicker? of religious faith, as simplistic and uninformed.
After enduring two days of talks in which the Templeton Foundation came under the gun as smudging the line between science and faith, Charles L. Harper Jr., its senior vice president, lashed back, denouncing what he called ?pop conflict books? like Dr. Dawkins?s ?God Delusion,? as ?commercialized ideological scientism? ? promoting for profit the philosophy that science has a monopoly on truth.
That brought an angry rejoinder from Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, who said his own book, ?Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine,? was written to counter ?garbage research? financed by Templeton on, for example, the healing effects of prayer.
With atheists and agnostics outnumbering the faithful (a few believing scientists, like Francis S. Collins, author of ?The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,? were invited but could not attend), one speaker after another called on their colleagues to be less timid in challenging teachings about nature based only on scripture and belief. ?The core of science is not a mathematical model; it is intellectual honesty,? said Sam Harris, a doctoral student in neuroscience and the author of ?The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason? and ?Letter to a Christian Nation.?
?Every religion is making claims about the way the world is,? he said. ?These are claims about the divine origin of certain books, about the virgin birth of certain people, about the survival of the human personality after death. These claims purport to be about reality.?
By shying away from questioning people?s deeply felt beliefs, even the skeptics, Mr. Harris said, are providing safe harbor for ideas that are at best mistaken and at worst dangerous. ?I don?t know how many more engineers and architects need to fly planes into our buildings before we realize that this is not merely a matter of lack of education or economic despair,? he said.
Dr. Weinberg, who famously wrote toward the end of his 1977 book on cosmology, ?The First Three Minutes,? that ?the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,? went a step further: ?Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.?
With a rough consensus that the grand stories of evolution by natural selection and the blossoming of the universe from the Big Bang are losing out in the intellectual marketplace, most of the discussion came down to strategy. How can science fight back without appearing to be just one more ideology?
?There are six billion people in the world,? said Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Roman Catholic priest. ?If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming ? it is like believing in the fairy godmother.?
?People need to find meaning and purpose in life,? he said. ?I don?t think we want to take that away from them.?
Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University known for his staunch opposition to teaching creationism, found himself in the unfamiliar role of playing the moderate. ?I think we need to respect people?s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong,? he said.
?The Earth isn?t 6,000 years old,? he said. ?The Kennewick man was not a Umatilla Indian.? But whether there really is some kind of supernatural being ? Dr. Krauss said he was a nonbeliever ? is a question unanswerable by theology, philosophy or even science. ?Science does not make it impossible to believe in God,? Dr. Krauss insisted. ?We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.?
That was just the kind of accommodating attitude that drove Dr. Dawkins up the wall. ?I am utterly fed up with the respect that we ? all of us, including the secular among us ? are brainwashed into bestowing on religion,? he said. ?Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence.?
By the third day, the arguments had become so heated that Dr. Konner was reminded of ?a den of vipers.?
?With a few notable exceptions,? he said, ?the viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat??
His response to Mr. Harris and Dr. Dawkins was scathing. ?I think that you and Richard are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side,? he said, ?and that you generate more fear and hatred of science.?
Dr. Tyson put it more gently. ?Persuasion isn?t always ?Here are the facts ? you?re an idiot or you are not,? ? he said. ?I worry that your methods? ? he turned toward Dr. Dawkins ? ?how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.?
Chastened for a millisecond, Dr. Dawkins replied, ?I gratefully accept the rebuke.?
In the end it was Dr. Tyson?s celebration of discovery that stole the show. Scientists may scoff at people who fall back on explanations involving an intelligent designer, he said, but history shows that ?the most brilliant people who ever walked this earth were doing the same thing.? When Isaac Newton?s ?Principia Mathematica? failed to account for the stability of the solar system ? why the planets tugging at one another?s orbits have not collapsed into the Sun ? Newton proposed that propping up the mathematical mobile was ?an intelligent and powerful being.?
It was left to Pierre Simon Laplace, a century later, to take the next step. Hautily telling Napoleon that he had no need for the God hypothesis, Laplace extended Newton?s mathematics and opened the way to a purely physical theory.
?What concerns me now is that even if you?re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops ? it just stops,? Dr. Tyson said. ?You?re no good anymore for advancing that frontier, waiting for somebody else to come behind you who doesn?t have God on the brain and who says: ?That?s a really cool problem. I want to solve it.? ?
?Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,? he said. ?Something fundamental is going on in people?s minds when they confront things they don?t understand.?
He told of a time, more than a millennium ago, when Baghdad reigned as the intellectual center of the world, a history fossilized in the night sky. The names of the constellations are Greek and Roman, Dr. Tyson said, but two-thirds of the stars have Arabic names. The words ?algebra? and ?algorithm? are Arabic.
But sometime around 1100, a dark age descended. Mathematics became seen as the work of the devil, as Dr. Tyson put it. ?Revelation replaced investigation,? he said, and the intellectual foundation collapsed.
He did not have to say so, but the implication was that maybe a century, maybe a millennium from now, the names of new planets, stars and galaxies might be Chinese. Or there may be no one to name them at all.
Before he left to fly back home to Austin, Dr. Weinberg seemed to soften for a moment, describing religion a bit fondly as a crazy old aunt.
?She tells lies, and she stirs up all sorts of mischief and she?s getting on, and she may not have that much life left in her, but she was beautiful once,? he lamented. ?When she?s gone, we may miss her.?
Dr. Dawkins wasn?t buying it. ?I won't miss her at all,? he said. ?Not a scrap. Not a smidgen.?
« Last Edit: August 25, 2013, 06:37:51 PM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
thudbear
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2006, 10:29:09 AM »

C.D. ,

Great recap of a significant get together! Would you know of any transcripts that might be available? How about a source for the article?
And thanks for providing a new home for all the homeless OPers.

Jerry Moss
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2006, 06:33:21 PM »

Jerry:

I posted what I had-- sorry for the poor sourcing.

Anyway, as I posted nearby in the OPer thread, I'm hoping that you guys will get over your bashfulness and start kicking some things off.

Marc
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2007, 01:00:44 PM »

A major piece here, well worth the time to read it.  Comments?

================
March 4, 2007
Darwin’s God
By ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG

God has always been a puzzle for Scott Atran. When he was 10 years old, he scrawled a plaintive message on the wall of his bedroom in Baltimore. “God exists,” he wrote in black and orange paint, “or if he doesn’t, we’re in trouble.” Atran has been struggling with questions about religion ever since — why he himself no longer believes in God and why so many other people, everywhere in the world, apparently do.

Call it God; call it superstition; call it, as Atran does, “belief in hope beyond reason” — whatever you call it, there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science. “Why do we cross our fingers during turbulence, even the most atheistic among us?” asked Atran when we spoke at his Upper West Side pied-à-terre in January. Atran, who is 55, is an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, with joint appointments at the University of Michigan and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. His research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

Atran first conducted the magic-box demonstration in the 1980s, when he was at Cambridge University studying the nature of religious belief. He had received a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University and, in the course of his fieldwork, saw evidence of religion everywhere he looked — at archaeological digs in Israel, among the Mayans in Guatemala, in artifact drawers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Atran is Darwinian in his approach, which means he tries to explain behavior by how it might once have solved problems of survival and reproduction for our early ancestors. But it was not clear to him what evolutionary problems might have been solved by religious belief. Religion seemed to use up physical and mental resources without an obvious benefit for survival. Why, he wondered, was religion so pervasive, when it was something that seemed so costly from an evolutionary point of view?

The magic-box demonstration helped set Atran on a career studying why humans might have evolved to be religious, something few people were doing back in the ’80s. Today, the effort has gained momentum, as scientists search for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists — not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.

This is different from the scientific assault on religion that has been garnering attention recently, in the form of best-selling books from scientific atheists who see religion as a scourge. In “The God Delusion,” published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful,” Dawkins wrote. He is joined by two other best-selling authors — Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith,” and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote “Breaking the Spell.” The three men differ in their personal styles and whether they are engaged in a battle against religiosity, but their names are often mentioned together. They have been portrayed as an unholy trinity of neo-atheists, promoting their secular world view with a fervor that seems almost evangelical.

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

“All of our raptures and our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and beliefs . . . are equally organically founded,” William James wrote in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” James, who taught philosophy and experimental psychology at Harvard for more than 30 years, based his book on a 1901 lecture series in which he took some early tentative steps at breaching the science-religion divide.

In the century that followed, a polite convention generally separated science and religion, at least in much of the Western world. Science, as the old trope had it, was assigned the territory that describes how the heavens go; religion, how to go to heaven.
Anthropologists like Atran and psychologists as far back as James had been looking at the roots of religion, but the mutual hands-off policy really began to shift in the 1990s. Religion made incursions into the traditional domain of science with attempts to bring intelligent design into the biology classroom and to choke off human embryonic stem-cell research on religious grounds. Scientists responded with counterincursions. Experts from the hard sciences, like evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience, joined anthropologists and psychologists in the study of religion, making God an object of scientific inquiry.

The debate over why belief evolved is between byproduct theorists and adaptationists. You might think that the byproduct theorists would tend to be nonbelievers, looking for a way to explain religion as a fluke, while the adaptationists would be more likely to be believers who can intuit the emotional, spiritual and community advantages that accompany faith. Or you might think they would all be atheists, because what believer would want to subject his own devotion to rationalism’s cold, hard scrutiny? But a scientist’s personal religious view does not always predict which side he will take. And this is just one sign of how complex and surprising this debate has become.

Angels, demons, spirits, wizards, gods and witches have peppered folk religions since mankind first started telling stories. Charles Darwin noted this in “The Descent of Man.” “A belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies,” he wrote, “seems to be universal.” According to anthropologists, religions that share certain supernatural features — belief in a noncorporeal God or gods, belief in the afterlife, belief in the ability of prayer or ritual to change the course of human events — are found in virtually every culture on earth.
This is certainly true in the United States. About 6 in 10 Americans, according to a 2005 Harris Poll, believe in the devil and hell, and about 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and of life after death. A 2006 survey at Baylor University found that 92 percent of respondents believe in a personal God — that is, a God with a distinct set of character traits ranging from “distant” to “benevolent.”

When a trait is universal, evolutionary biologists look for a genetic explanation and wonder how that gene or genes might enhance survival or reproductive success. In many ways, it’s an exercise in post-hoc hypothesizing: what would have been the advantage, when the human species first evolved, for an individual who happened to have a mutation that led to, say, a smaller jaw, a bigger forehead, a better thumb? How about certain behavioral traits, like a tendency for risk-taking or for kindness?

Atran saw such questions as a puzzle when applied to religion. So many aspects of religious belief involve misattribution and misunderstanding of the real world. Wouldn’t this be a liability in the survival-of-the-fittest competition? To Atran, religious belief requires taking “what is materially false to be true” and “what is materially true to be false.” One example of this is the belief that even after someone dies and the body demonstrably disintegrates, that person will still exist, will still be able to laugh and cry, to feel pain and joy. This confusion “does not appear to be a reasonable evolutionary strategy,” Atran wrote in “In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion” in 2002. “Imagine another animal that took injury for health or big for small or fast for slow or dead for alive. It’s unlikely that such a species could survive.” He began to look for a sideways explanation: if religious belief was not adaptive, perhaps it was associated with something else that was.

Atran intended to study mathematics when he entered Columbia as a precocious 17-year-old. But he was distracted by the radical politics of the late ’60s. One day in his freshman year, he found himself at an antiwar rally listening to Margaret Mead, then perhaps the most famous anthropologist in America. Atran, dressed in a flamboyant Uncle Sam suit, stood up and called her a sellout for saying the protesters should be writing to their congressmen instead of staging demonstrations. “Young man,” the unflappable
Mead said, “why don’t you come see me in my office?”

Atran, equally unflappable, did go to see her — and ended up working for Mead, spending much of his time exploring the cabinets of curiosities in her tower office at the American Museum of Natural History. Soon he switched his major to anthropology.
Many of the museum specimens were religious, Atran says. So were the artifacts he dug up on archaeological excursions in Israel in the early ’70s. Wherever he turned, he encountered the passion of religious belief. Why, he wondered, did people work so hard against their preference for logical explanations to maintain two views of the world, the real and the unreal, the intuitive and the counterintuitive?

Maybe cognitive effort was precisely the point. Maybe it took less mental work than Atran realized to hold belief in God in one’s mind. Maybe, in fact, belief was the default position for the human mind, something that took no cognitive effort at all.
While still an undergraduate, Atran decided to explore these questions by organizing a conference on universal aspects of culture and inviting all his intellectual heroes: the linguist Noam Chomsky, the psychologist Jean Piaget, the anthropologists Claude Levi-Strauss and Gregory Bateson (who was also Margaret Mead’s ex-husband), the Nobel Prize-winning biologists Jacques Monod and Francois Jacob. It was 1974, and the only site he could find for the conference was at a location just outside Paris. Atran was a scraggly 22-year-old with a guitar who had learned his French from comic books. To his astonishment, everyone he invited agreed to come.

Atran is a sociable man with sharp hazel eyes, who sparks provocative conversations the way other men pick bar fights. As he traveled in the ’70s and ’80s, he accumulated friends who were thinking about the issues he was: how culture is transmitted among human groups and what evolutionary function it might serve. “I started looking at history, and I wondered why no society ever survived more than three generations without a religious foundation as its raison d’être,” he says. Soon he turned to an emerging subset of evolutionary theory — the evolution of human cognition.

Some cognitive scientists think of brain functioning in terms of modules, a series of interconnected machines, each one responsible for a particular mental trick. They do not tend to talk about a God module per se; they usually consider belief in God a consequence of other mental modules.

Religion, in this view, is “a family of cognitive phenomena that involves the extraordinary use of everyday cognitive processes,” Atran wrote in “In Gods We Trust.” “Religions do not exist apart from the individual minds that constitute them and the environments that constrain them, any more than biological species and varieties exist independently of the individual organisms that compose them and the environments that conform them.”

At around the time “In Gods We Trust” appeared five years ago, a handful of other scientists — Pascal Boyer, now at Washington University; Justin Barrett, now at Oxford; Paul Bloom at Yale — were addressing these same questions. In synchrony they were moving toward the byproduct theory.

Darwinians who study physical evolution distinguish between traits that are themselves adaptive, like having blood cells that can transport oxygen, and traits that are byproducts of adaptations, like the redness of blood. There is no survival advantage to blood’s being red instead of turquoise; it is just a byproduct of the trait that is adaptive, having blood that contains hemoglobin.
Something similar explains aspects of brain evolution, too, say the byproduct theorists. Which brings us to the idea of the spandrel.
Stephen Jay Gould, the famed evolutionary biologist at Harvard who died in 2002, and his colleague Richard Lewontin proposed “spandrel” to describe a trait that has no adaptive value of its own. They borrowed the term from architecture, where it originally referred to the V-shaped structure formed between two rounded arches. The structure is not there for any purpose; it is there because that is what happens when arches align.

In architecture, a spandrel can be neutral or it can be made functional. Building a staircase, for instance, creates a space underneath that is innocuous, just a blank sort of triangle. But if you put a closet there, the under-stairs space takes on a function, unrelated to the staircase’s but useful nonetheless. Either way, functional or nonfunctional, the space under the stairs is a spandrel, an unintended byproduct.

“Natural selection made the human brain big,” Gould wrote, “but most of our mental properties and potentials may be spandrels — that is, nonadaptive side consequences of building a device with such structural complexity.”

The possibility that God could be a spandrel offered Atran a new way of understanding the evolution of religion. But a spandrel of what, exactly?

Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among them the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to come up with causal narratives for natural events and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Psychologists call these tools, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind.

Agent detection evolved because assuming the presence of an agent — which is jargon for any creature with volitional, independent behavior — is more adaptive than assuming its absence. If you are a caveman on the savannah, you are better off presuming that the motion you detect out of the corner of your eye is an agent and something to run from, even if you are wrong. If it turns out to have been just the rustling of leaves, you are still alive; if what you took to be leaves rustling was really a hyena about to pounce, you are dead.

A classic experiment from the 1940s by the psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel suggested that imputing agency is so automatic that people may do it even for geometric shapes. For the experiment, subjects watched a film of triangles and circles moving around. When asked what they had been watching, the subjects used words like “chase” and “capture.” They did not just see the random movement of shapes on a screen; they saw pursuit, planning, escape.

So if there is motion just out of our line of sight, we presume it is caused by an agent, an animal or person with the ability to move independently. This usually operates in one direction only; lots of people mistake a rock for a bear, but almost no one mistakes a bear for a rock.

What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic. “The most central concepts in religions are related to agents,” Justin Barrett, a psychologist, wrote in his 2004 summary of the byproduct theory, “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” Religious agents are often supernatural, he wrote, “people with superpowers, statues that can answer requests or disembodied minds that can act on us and the world.”

A second mental module that primes us for religion is causal reasoning. The human brain has evolved the capacity to impose a narrative, complete with chronology and cause-and-effect logic, on whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random. “We automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us,” Barrett wrote, “and ‘stuff just happens’ is no explanation. Gods, by virtue of their strange physical properties and their mysterious superpowers, make fine candidates for causes of many of these unusual events.” The ancient Greeks believed thunder was the sound of Zeus’s thunderbolt. Similarly, a contemporary woman whose cancer treatment works despite 10-to-1 odds might look for a story to explain her survival. It fits better with her causal-reasoning tool for her recovery to be a miracle, or a reward for prayer, than for it to be just a lucky roll of the dice.

A third cognitive trick is a kind of social intuition known as theory of mind. It’s an odd phrase for something so automatic, since the word “theory” suggests formality and self-consciousness. Other terms have been used for the same concept, like intentional stance and social cognition. One good alternative is the term Atran uses: folkpsychology.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2007, 01:04:39 PM »

Folkpsychology, as Atran and his colleagues see it, is essential to getting along in the contemporary world, just as it has been since prehistoric times. It allows us to anticipate the actions of others and to lead others to believe what we want them to believe; it is at the heart of everything from marriage to office politics to poker. People without this trait, like those with severe autism, are impaired, unable to imagine themselves in other people’s heads.

The process begins with positing the existence of minds, our own and others’, that we cannot see or feel. This leaves us open, almost instinctively, to belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of “Descartes’ Baby,” published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.

The traditional psychological view has been that until about age 4, children think that minds are permeable and that everyone knows whatever the child himself knows. To a young child, everyone is infallible. All other people, especially Mother and Father, are thought to have the same sort of insight as an all-knowing God.

But at a certain point in development, this changes. (Some new research suggests this might occur as early as 15 months.) The “false-belief test” is a classic experiment that highlights the boundary. Children watch a puppet show with a simple plot: John comes onstage holding a marble, puts it in Box A and walks off. Mary comes onstage, opens Box A, takes out the marble, puts it in Box B and walks off. John comes back onstage. The children are asked, Where will John look for the marble?

Very young children, or autistic children of any age, say John will look in Box B, since they know that’s where the marble is. But older children give a more sophisticated answer. They know that John never saw Mary move the marble and that as far as he is concerned it is still where he put it, in Box A. Older children have developed a theory of mind; they understand that other people sometimes have false beliefs. Even though they know that the marble is in Box B, they respond that John will look for it in Box A.
The adaptive advantage of folkpsychology is obvious. According to Atran, our ancestors needed it to survive their harsh environment, since folkpsychology allowed them to “rapidly and economically” distinguish good guys from bad guys. But how did folkpsychology — an understanding of ordinary people’s ordinary minds — allow for a belief in supernatural, omniscient minds? And if the byproduct theorists are right and these beliefs were of little use in finding food or leaving more offspring, why did they persist?
Atran ascribes the persistence to evolutionary misdirection, which, he says, happens all the time: “Evolution always produces something that works for what it works for, and then there’s no control for however else it’s used.” On a sunny weekday morning, over breakfast at a French cafe on upper Broadway, he tried to think of an analogy and grinned when he came up with an old standby: women’s breasts. Because they are associated with female hormones, he explained, full breasts indicate a woman is fertile, and the evolution of the male brain’s preference for them was a clever mating strategy. But breasts are now used for purposes unrelated to reproduction, to sell anything from deodorant to beer. “A Martian anthropologist might look at this and say, ‘Oh, yes, so these breasts must have somehow evolved to sell hygienic stuff or food to human beings,’ ” Atran said. But the Martian would, of course, be wrong. Equally wrong would be to make the same mistake about religion, thinking it must have evolved to make people behave a certain way or feel a certain allegiance.

That is what most fascinated Atran. “Why is God in there?” he wondered.

The idea of an infallible God is comfortable and familiar, something children readily accept. You can see this in the experiment Justin Barrett conducted recently — a version of the traditional false-belief test but with a religious twist. Barrett showed young children a box with a picture of crackers on the outside. What do you think is inside this box? he asked, and the children said, “Crackers.” Next he opened it and showed them that the box was filled with rocks. Then he asked two follow-up questions: What would your mother say is inside this box? And what would God say?

As earlier theory-of-mind experiments already showed, 3- and 4-year-olds tended to think Mother was infallible, and since the children knew the right answer, they assumed she would know it, too. They usually responded that Mother would say the box contained rocks. But 5- and 6-year-olds had learned that Mother, like any other person, could hold a false belief in her mind, and they tended to respond that she would be fooled by the packaging and would say, “Crackers.”

And what would God say? No matter what their age, the children, who were all Protestants, told Barrett that God would answer, “Rocks.” This was true even for the older children, who, as Barrett understood it, had developed folkpsychology and had used it when predicting a wrong response for Mother. They had learned that, in certain situations, people could be fooled — but they had also learned that there is no fooling God.

The bottom line, according to byproduct theorists, is that children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial souls — and then they grow up in cultures that fill their minds, hard-wired for belief, with specifics. It is a little like language acquisition, Paul Bloom says, with the essential difference that language is a biological adaptation and religion, in his view, is not. We are born with an innate facility for language but the specific language we learn depends on the environment in which we are raised. In much the same way, he says, we are born with an innate tendency for belief, but the specifics of what we grow up believing — whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death — are culturally shaped.

Whatever the specifics, certain beliefs can be found in all religions. Those that prevail, according to the byproduct theorists, are those that fit most comfortably with our mental architecture. Psychologists have shown, for instance, that people attend to, and remember, things that are unfamiliar and strange, but not so strange as to be impossible to assimilate. Ideas about God or other supernatural agents tend to fit these criteria. They are what Pascal Boyer, an anthropologist and psychologist, called “minimally counterintuitive”: weird enough to get your attention and lodge in your memory but not so weird that you reject them altogether. A tree that talks is minimally counterintuitive, and you might believe it as a supernatural agent. A tree that talks and flies and time-travels is maximally counterintuitive, and you are more likely to reject it.

Atran, along with Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, studied the idea of minimally counterintuitive agents earlier this decade. They presented college students with lists of fantastical creatures and asked them to choose the ones that seemed most “religious.” The convincingly religious agents, the students said, were not the most outlandish — not the turtle that chatters and climbs or the squealing, flowering marble — but those that were just outlandish enough: giggling seaweed, a sobbing oak, a talking horse. Giggling seaweed meets the requirement of being minimally counterintuitive, Atran wrote. So does a God who has a human personality except that he knows everything or a God who has a mind but has no body.

It is not enough for an agent to be minimally counterintuitive for it to earn a spot in people’s belief systems. An emotional component is often needed, too, if belief is to take hold. “If your emotions are involved, then that’s the time when you’re most likely to believe whatever the religion tells you to believe,” Atran says. Religions stir up emotions through their rituals — swaying, singing, bowing in unison during group prayer, sometimes working people up to a state of physical arousal that can border on frenzy. And religions gain strength during the natural heightening of emotions that occurs in times of personal crisis, when the faithful often turn to shamans or priests. The most intense personal crisis, for which religion can offer powerfully comforting answers, is when someone comes face to face with mortality.

In John Updike’s celebrated early short story “Pigeon Feathers,” 14-year-old David spends a lot of time thinking about death. He suspects that adults are lying when they say his spirit will live on after he dies. He keeps catching them in inconsistencies when he asks where exactly his soul will spend eternity. “Don’t you see,” he cries to his mother, “if when we die there’s nothing, all your sun and fields and what not are all, ah, horror? It’s just an ocean of horror.”

The story ends with David’s tiny revelation and his boundless relief. The boy gets a gun for his 15th birthday, which he uses to shoot down some pigeons that have been nesting in his grandmother’s barn. Before he buries them, he studies the dead birds’ feathers. He is amazed by their swirls of color, “designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture.” And suddenly the fears that have plagued him are lifted, and with a “slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.”

Fear of death is an undercurrent of belief. The spirits of dead ancestors, ghosts, immortal deities, heaven and hell, the everlasting soul: the notion of spiritual existence after death is at the heart of almost every religion. According to some adaptationists, this is part of religion’s role, to help humans deal with the grim certainty of death. Believing in God and the afterlife, they say, is how we make sense of the brevity of our time on earth, how we give meaning to this brutish and short existence. Religion can offer solace to the bereaved and comfort to the frightened.

But the spandrelists counter that saying these beliefs are consolation does not mean they offered an adaptive advantage to our ancestors. “The human mind does not produce adequate comforting delusions against all situations of stress or fear,” wrote Pascal Boyer, a leading byproduct theorist, in “Religion Explained,” which came out a year before Atran’s book. “Indeed, any organism that was prone to such delusions would not survive long.”

Whether or not it is adaptive, belief in the afterlife gains power in two ways: from the intensity with which people wish it to be true and from the confirmation it seems to get from the real world. This brings us back to folkpsychology. We try to make sense of other people partly by imagining what it is like to be them, an adaptive trait that allowed our ancestors to outwit potential enemies. But when we think about being dead, we run into a cognitive wall. How can we possibly think about not thinking? “Try to fill your consciousness with the representation of no-consciousness, and you will see the impossibility of it,” the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote in “Tragic Sense of Life.” “The effort to comprehend it causes the most tormenting dizziness. We cannot conceive of ourselves as not existing.”

Much easier, then, to imagine that the thinking somehow continues. This is what young children seem to do, as a study at the Florida Atlantic University demonstrated a few years ago. Jesse Bering and David Bjorklund, the psychologists who conducted the study, used finger puppets to act out the story of a mouse, hungry and lost, who is spotted by an alligator. “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator,” the narrator says at the end. “Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

Afterward, Bering and Bjorklund asked their subjects, ages 4 to 12, what it meant for Brown Mouse to be “not alive anymore.” Is he still hungry? Is he still sleepy? Does he still want to go home? Most said the mouse no longer needed to eat or drink. But a large proportion, especially the younger ones, said that he still had thoughts, still loved his mother and still liked cheese. The children understood what it meant for the mouse’s body to cease to function, but many believed that something about the mouse was still alive.

“Our psychological architecture makes us think in particular ways,” says Bering, now at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “In this study, it seems, the reason afterlife beliefs are so prevalent is that underlying them is our inability to simulate our nonexistence.”

It might be just as impossible to simulate the nonexistence of loved ones. A large part of any relationship takes place in our minds, Bering said, so it’s natural for it to continue much as before after the other person’s death. It is easy to forget that your sister is dead when you reach for the phone to call her, since your relationship was based so much on memory and imagined conversations even when she was alive. In addition, our agent-detection device sometimes confirms the sensation that the dead are still with us. The wind brushes our cheek, a spectral shape somehow looks familiar and our agent detection goes into overdrive. Dreams, too, have a way of confirming belief in the afterlife, with dead relatives appearing in dreams as if from beyond the grave, seeming very much alive.

Belief is our fallback position, according to Bering; it is our reflexive style of thought. “We have a basic psychological capacity that allows anyone to reason about unexpected natural events, to see deeper meaning where there is none,” he says. “It’s natural; it’s how our minds work.”

Intriguing as the spandrel logic might be, there is another way to think about the evolution of religion: that religion evolved because it offered survival advantages to our distant ancestors. This is where the action is in the science of God debate, with a coterie of adaptationists arguing on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief.
The trick in thinking about adaptation is that even if a trait offers no survival advantage today, it might have had one long ago. This is how Darwinians explain how certain physical characteristics persist even if they do not currently seem adaptive — by asking whether they might have helped our distant ancestors form social groups, feed themselves, find suitable mates or keep from getting killed. A facility for storing calories as fat, for instance, which is a detriment in today’s food-rich society, probably helped our ancestors survive cyclical famines.

So trying to explain the adaptiveness of religion means looking for how it might have helped early humans survive and reproduce. As some adaptationists see it, this could have worked on two levels, individual and group. Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life . . . an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.”

Such sentiments, some adaptationists say, made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obedience and sober living. The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because they were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare.

One of the most vocal adaptationists is David Sloan Wilson, an occasional thorn in the side of both Scott Atran and Richard Dawkins. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, focuses much of his argument at the group level. “Organisms are a product of natural selection,” he wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society,” which came out in 2002, the same year as Atran’s book, and staked out the adaptationist view. “Through countless generations of variation and selection, [organisms] acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. My purpose is to see if human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense.”
Wilson’s father was Sloan Wilson, author of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” an emblem of mid-’50s suburban anomie that was turned into a film starring Gregory Peck. Sloan Wilson became a celebrity, with young women asking for his autograph, especially after his next novel, “A Summer Place,” became another blockbuster movie. The son grew up wanting to do something to make his famous father proud.
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2007, 01:05:43 PM »


“I knew I couldn’t be a novelist,” said Wilson, who crackled with intensity during a telephone interview, “so I chose something as far as possible from literature — I chose science.” He is disarmingly honest about what motivated him: “I was very ambitious, and I wanted to make a mark.” He chose to study human evolution, he said, in part because he had some of his father’s literary leanings and the field required a novelist’s attention to human motivations, struggles and alliances — as well as a novelist’s flair for narrative.
Wilson eventually chose to study religion not because religion mattered to him personally — he was raised in a secular Protestant household and says he has long been an atheist — but because it was a lens through which to look at and revivify a branch of evolution that had fallen into disrepute. When Wilson was a graduate student at Michigan State University in the 1970s, Darwinians were critical of group selection, the idea that human groups can function as single organisms the way beehives or anthills do. So he decided to become the man who rescued this discredited idea. “I thought, Wow, defending group selection — now, that would be big,” he recalled. It wasn’t until the 1990s, he said, that he realized that “religion offered an opportunity to show that group selection was right after all.”

Dawkins once called Wilson’s defense of group selection “sheer, wanton, head-in-bag perversity.” Atran, too, has been dismissive of this approach, calling it “mind blind” for essentially ignoring the role of the brain’s mental machinery. The adaptationists “cannot in principle distinguish Marxism from monotheism, ideology from religious belief,” Atran wrote. “They cannot explain why people can be more steadfast in their commitment to admittedly counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs — that Mary is both a mother and a virgin, and God is sentient but bodiless — than to the most politically, economically or scientifically persuasive account of the way things are or should be.”

Still, for all its controversial elements, the narrative Wilson devised about group selection and the evolution of religion is clear, perhaps a legacy of his novelist father. Begin, he says, with an imaginary flock of birds. Some birds serve as sentries, scanning the horizon for predators and calling out warnings. Having a sentry is good for the group but bad for the sentry, which is doubly harmed: by keeping watch, the sentry has less time to gather food, and by issuing a warning call, it is more likely to be spotted by the predator. So in the Darwinian struggle, the birds most likely to pass on their genes are the nonsentries. How, then, could the sentry gene survive for more than a generation or two?

To explain how a self-sacrificing gene can persist, Wilson looks to the level of the group. If there are 10 sentries in one group and none in the other, 3 or 4 of the sentries might be sacrificed. But the flock with sentries will probably outlast the flock that has no early-warning system, so the other 6 or 7 sentries will survive to pass on the genes. In other words, if the whole-group advantage outweighs the cost to any individual bird of being a sentry, then the sentry gene will prevail.

There are costs to any individual of being religious: the time and resources spent on rituals, the psychic energy devoted to following certain injunctions, the pain of some initiation rites. But in terms of intergroup struggle, according to Wilson, the costs can be outweighed by the benefits of being in a cohesive group that out-competes the others.

There is another element here too, unique to humans because it depends on language. A person’s behavior is observed not only by those in his immediate surroundings but also by anyone who can hear about it. There might be clear costs to taking on a role analogous to the sentry bird — a person who stands up to authority, for instance, risks losing his job, going to jail or getting beaten by the police — but in humans, these local costs might be outweighed by long-distance benefits. If a particular selfless trait enhances a person’s reputation, spread through the written and spoken word, it might give him an advantage in many of life’s challenges, like finding a mate. One way that reputation is enhanced is by being ostentatiously religious.

“The study of evolution is largely the study of trade-offs,” Wilson wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral.” It might seem disadvantageous, in terms of foraging for sustenance and safety, for someone to favor religious over rationalistic explanations that would point to where the food and danger are. But in some circumstances, he wrote, “a symbolic belief system that departs from factual reality fares better.” For the individual, it might be more adaptive to have “highly sophisticated mental modules for acquiring factual knowledge and for building symbolic belief systems” than to have only one or the other, according to Wilson. For the group, it might be that a mixture of hardheaded realists and symbolically minded visionaries is most adaptive and that “what seems to be an adversarial relationship” between theists and atheists within a community is really a division of cognitive labor that “keeps social groups as a whole on an even keel.”

Even if Wilson is right that religion enhances group fitness, the question remains: Where does God come in? Why is a religious group any different from groups for which a fitness argument is never even offered — a group of fraternity brothers, say, or Yankees fans?

Richard Sosis, an anthropologist with positions at the University of Connecticut and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has suggested a partial answer. Like many adaptationists, Sosis focuses on the way religion might be adaptive at the individual level. But even adaptations that help an individual survive can sometimes play themselves out through the group. Consider religious rituals.
“Religious and secular rituals can both promote cooperation,” Sosis wrote in American Scientist in 2004. But religious rituals “generate greater belief and commitment” because they depend on belief rather than on proof. The rituals are “beyond the possibility of examination,” he wrote, and a commitment to them is therefore emotional rather than logical — a commitment that is, in Sosis’s view, deeper and more long-lasting.

Rituals are a way of signaling a sincere commitment to the religion’s core beliefs, thereby earning loyalty from others in the group. “By donning several layers of clothing and standing out in the midday sun,” Sosis wrote, “ultraorthodox Jewish men are signaling to others: ‘Hey! Look, I’m a haredi’ — or extremely pious — ‘Jew. If you are also a member of this group, you can trust me because why else would I be dressed like this?’ ” These “signaling” rituals can grant the individual a sense of belonging and grant the group some freedom from constant and costly monitoring to ensure that their members are loyal and committed. The rituals are harsh enough to weed out the infidels, and both the group and the individual believers benefit.

In 2003, Sosis and Bradley Ruffle of Ben Gurion University in Israel sought an explanation for why Israel’s religious communes did better on average than secular communes in the wake of the economic crash of most of the country’s kibbutzim. They based their study on a standard economic game that measures cooperation. Individuals from religious communes played the game more cooperatively, while those from secular communes tended to be more selfish. It was the men who attended synagogue daily, not the religious women or the less observant men, who showed the biggest differences. To Sosis, this suggested that what mattered most was the frequent public display of devotion. These rituals, he wrote, led to greater cooperation in the religious communes, which helped them maintain their communal structure during economic hard times.

In 1997, Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay in Natural History that called for a truce between religion and science. “The net of science covers the empirical universe,” he wrote. “The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.” Gould was emphatic about keeping the domains separate, urging “respectful discourse” and “mutual humility.” He called the demarcation “nonoverlapping magisteria” from the Latin magister, meaning “canon.”

Richard Dawkins had a history of spirited arguments with Gould, with whom he disagreed about almost everything related to the timing and focus of evolution. But he reserved some of his most venomous words for nonoverlapping magisteria. “Gould carried the art of bending over backward to positively supine lengths,” he wrote in “The God Delusion.” “Why shouldn’t we comment on God, as scientists? . . . A universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?”

The separation, other critics said, left untapped the potential richness of letting one worldview inform the other. “Even if Gould was right that there were two domains, what religion does and what science does,” says Daniel Dennett (who, despite his neo-atheist label, is not as bluntly antireligious as Dawkins and Harris are), “that doesn’t mean science can’t study what religion does. It just means science can’t do what religion does.”

The idea that religion can be studied as a natural phenomenon might seem to require an atheistic philosophy as a starting point. Not necessarily. Even some neo-atheists aren’t entirely opposed to religion. Sam Harris practices Buddhist-inspired meditation. Daniel Dennett holds an annual Christmas sing-along, complete with hymns and carols that are not only harmonically lush but explicitly pious.

And one prominent member of the byproduct camp, Justin Barrett, is an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” as he wrote in an e-mail message. “I believe that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.”

At first blush, Barrett’s faith might seem confusing. How does his view of God as a byproduct of our mental architecture coexist with his Christianity? Why doesn’t the byproduct theory turn him into a skeptic?

“Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people,” Barrett wrote in his e-mail message. “Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them, he wrote. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”

What can be made of atheists, then? If the evolutionary view of religion is true, they have to work hard at being atheists, to resist slipping into intrinsic habits of mind that make it easier to believe than not to believe. Atran says he faces an emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world, and he suspects that is where his little superstitions come from, his passing thought about crossing his fingers during turbulence or knocking on wood just in case. It is like an atavistic theism erupting when his guard is down. The comforts and consolations of belief are alluring even to him, he says, and probably will become more so as he gets closer to the end of his life. He fights it because he is a scientist and holds the values of rationalism higher than the values of spiritualism.

This internal push and pull between the spiritual and the rational reflects what used to be called the “God of the gaps” view of religion. The presumption was that as science was able to answer more questions about the natural world, God would be invoked to answer fewer, and religion would eventually recede. Research about the evolution of religion suggests otherwise. No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural. The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.

Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer, has written recently for the magazine about the neurobiology of lying and about obesity.
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2008, 10:26:49 AM »

Steven Swinford

THE scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome is to publish a book explaining why he now believes in the existence of God and is convinced that miracles are real.

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man “closer to God”.

His book, The Language of God, to be published in September, will reopen the age-old debate about the relationship between science and faith. “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war,” said Collins, 56.

“I don’t see that as necessary at all and I think it is deeply disappointing that the shrill voices that occupy the extremes of this spectrum have dominated the stage for the past 20 years.”

For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God”.

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

Collins joins a line of scientists whose research deepened their belief in God. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

Although Einstein revolutionised our thinking about time, gravity and the conversion of matter to energy, he believed the universe had a creator. “I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details,” he said. However Galileo was famously questioned by the inquisition and put on trial in 1633 for the “heresy” of claiming that the earth moved around the sun.

Among Collins’s most controversial beliefs is that of “theistic evolution”, which claims natural selection is the tool that God chose to create man. In his version of the theory, he argues that man will not evolve further.

“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.

“Scientifically, the forces of evolution by natural selection have been profoundly affected for humankind by the changes in culture and environment and the expansion of the human species to 6 billion members. So what you see is pretty much what you get.”

Collins was an atheist until the age of 27, when as a young doctor he was impressed by the strength that faith gave to some of his most critical patients.
“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “That was interesting, puzzling and unsettling.”

He decided to visit a Methodist minister and was given a copy of C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which argues that God is a rational possibility. The book transformed his life. “It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said.

“I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.”

His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: “It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, ‘I cannot resist this another moment’.”

Collins believes that science cannot be used to refute the existence of God because it is confined to the “natural” world. In this light he believes miracles are a real possibility. “If one is willing to accept the existence of God or some supernatural force outside nature then it is not a logical problem to admit that, occasionally, a supernatural force might stage an invasion,” he says.
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2008, 02:06:32 PM »

From Grand Truths to Grand Caverns
by Alexander Green
Dear Reader,
Two summers ago, I toured Grand Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley.

It is a fabulous example of subterranean beauty. Awestruck, I walked from one room to the next, surrounded by shimmering red and yellow walls, giant stalagmites, and crystal-clear pools from underground streams. Near the end of the tour, I asked our guide – a girl of high-school age who was probably working a summer job – the approximate age of the caverns.

"Less than 6,000 years," she answered.

"6,000 years?" I said, incredulous. "But these caverns must be millions of years old."

"Well, I’m a Pentecostal," she explained. "And since we believe the earth is only 6,000 years old, the caverns can't be any older than that."

"What if you were Presbyterian," I asked with a wink. "How old would the caverns be then?"

She said she didn't understand the question. We left it at that.

I learned later that geologists estimate the caverns were formed more than 400 million years ago, during the Paleozoic era. (In case you were wondering.)

Ah, the age-old conflict between science and religion. Of all the religious wars, this one may be the battiest.

After all, science explains how the world is. Religion offers a vision of how it ought to be. Science tells us how the universe behaves. Religion suggests how we should.

Science has given us computers and vaccines, probed the recesses of the atom and the hinterlands of outer space. It is responsible for everything from anesthesia to supersonic travel to our understanding of quantum mechanics. New theories are tested experimentally every day. Some of them advance our knowledge. Those found wanting are rejected.

"If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong," says the Dalai Lama, "then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe Buddhism enriches its own worldview."

Talk about enlightenment…

I'm not suggesting that science is without shortcomings. You'll notice, for example, that while science can tell us how to build an atomic bomb, it doesn't address the somewhat significant matter of whether to drop it on someone.

Clearly, that's one reason why Einstein remarked that, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Similarly, the late Stephen Jay Gould, an Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and professor of geology at Harvard, argued that science and religion operate in entirely separate realms or, as he called them, "Non-Overlapping Magisteria."

"Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts," says Gould. "Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different realm of human purposes, meanings, and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve… Science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven."

Some, however, would argue that science is uncovering so much about Nature that it is diminishing the majesty and mystery of life. And while it's true that science has revealed a lot about our natural history, it is safe to assume that it will never explain how everything could have sprung from nothing. That leaves plenty of room for science to co-exist with a genuine sense of spirituality.

After all, scientific principles don't contradict the universal spiritual values of everyday life. I have never heard a physicist or biologist argue against compassion… or forgiveness… or gratitude… or charity.

Moreover, many scientists and philosophers have written lucidly - even poetically - about the glories of creation.

The astronomer Carl Sagan said, "I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship."

Eric Chaisson, author of "Cosmic Dawn," writes that, "Without life, galaxies would twirl and stars would shine, but no one would appreciate the grandeur of it all."

Michael Shermer of Scientific American writes that, "Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one's place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves."

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein proclaimed that, "The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is."

Einstein wrote, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

And the Austrian philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend declared that a worthwhile life is not one devoted to scientific achievement, but to love. In the first draft of his autobiography, completed just before he died in 1994, he said love is all that matters in life. Without it, he said, "Even the noblest achievements and the most fundamental principles remain pale, empty and dangerous."

Clearly, there is plenty of common ground here. If science and religion oppose one another, perhaps it is only as your thumb opposes your fingers. And together you can use them to grasp the truth about life.

As the German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote a few hundred years ago, "The highest happiness of man… is to have probed what is knowable and quietly to revere what is unknowable."

Carpe Diem,

Alex

 
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medicmatt
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« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2008, 01:26:34 PM »

Here's my personal take on the issue.  I consider myself athiest so that should give you an idea where I'm coming from.  The problem with the science vs. god issue is that you cannot find an answer.  One of the basic principles of science as well as logic and philosophy is that you cannot prove something DOES NOT
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« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2008, 01:34:15 PM »

I have no idea what just happened but let me finish. 

You cannot prove that something DOES NOT exist.  No matter what you believe you cannot prove that the other is truly wrong in this case.  The best you can say is that it has never been witnessed or repeated.  The god question has existed as long as people have been around to ask questions be it 6000 years or millions of years.  If you believe in something then you think its real.  There is no way around that.  That is why the biggest, smartest, most articulate scientist in the world can argue all they want but they cannot say with absolute certainty that god does not exist.  Can't be proven.

I myself think simply this.  I do not believe in a god.  However, I couldn't tell you why things like "miracles" happen.  Or what happens after death.  Or who created the universe if it wasn't a "BIG BANG".  But at the same time I can also say that there is no proof anywhere that the god you believe in is the right one.  You can believe in God, Allah, Jupiter, Ares, Isis, Shango, etc.  There is nothing that says you are right and the others are wrong.  I think once people get that through their heads then a lot will be settled.  Believe in what you want just don't tread on me.
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« Reply #10 on: June 27, 2008, 06:59:46 PM »

I kind of agree with you in a lot of ways. I find it interesting that many people within the scientific community will speak very boldly about their denial of any supernatural being, but their own process seems to be not too friendly with the idea of completely denying something has happened or existed without proper evidence to support that fact. I think someone who was completely adhering to scientific ideals would probably look at all sides of the argument and exclaim: "We're probably all wrong!"

I myself, just as a little tidbit as to my take on the issue, am a bit of a deist. I have no doubt that there's something "other than natural" floating around out there, but I wouldn't say it's a shiny man on a throne who apparently needs gobs of cash. I also believe in evolution, which for some is surprising. I don't really understand why there has to be an argument amongst the two fields. God doesn't necessarily have to come into the scientific equation, so I don't see why it is that many scientists allow their opinions on the issue to flood the scene. I guess it's a human issue, for, as you can see, the super religious do the same thing. rolleyes

I've always tried to anchor my "religious" thought with scientific theory. The Big Bang is admittedly a wonderful possibility, but many scientists will admit that the theory really doesn't cover all the bases. I've seen and heard many scientists mention that it's just "the best theory we've come up with". When I look at the law of conservation of matter and energy, it's clear that all matter and energy has a source, and can't necessarily come out of nothing, so it's hard to look at it Genesis style where everything is just "made" out of nothing (it would seem), but the scientific theory doesn't give us a source of all energy and matter. So, to me, they're deadlocked. There is no reason for the controversy, in my opinion.

Did that make sense?
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« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2008, 04:17:01 PM »

Oh dear, am I really going to post in this thread? Yep...

I think it is important to point out that the burden of proof is in the hands of the believer. All this talk of "proving god doesn't exist" is nonsense. If I am expected to believe in UFOs, or bigfoot, or a literal creator, then it is the believers job to show me proof... or minimally to keep it to himself if he doesn't want to open the discussion to such things as "evidence."

I have never seen a single miracle, or angel, or demon. I have not seen one event that would lead me to conclude that the current Christan incarnation of the creator is any more real than Zeus, or Odin. Everything indicates to me that people most often believe the same things that the community they were raised in believed. God seems to be cultural, not literal.

This of course is not saying that others are prohibited from believing anything they want... as long as that belief isn't dangerous to me feel free to believe in the hollow earth.  Tongue When you start making public policy based around belief in that absurdity then you will get angry people that are atheists about the hollow earth. I think Dawkins, Weinburg, and company are a fairly natural reaction to the fundamentalists (both Islamic and Christian) making a lot of noise recently.
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« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2009, 08:12:04 PM »

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126911.300-our-world-may-be-a-giant-hologram.html?full=true
========================

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn't look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves - ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Susskind and 't Hooft's remarkable idea was motivated by ground-breaking work on black holes by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge. In the mid-1970s, Hawking showed that black holes are in fact not entirely "black" but instead slowly emit radiation, which causes them to evaporate and eventually disappear. This poses a puzzle, because Hawking radiation does not convey any information about the interior of a black hole. When the black hole has gone, all the information about the star that collapsed to form the black hole has vanished, which contradicts the widely affirmed principle that information cannot be destroyed. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Bekenstein's work provided an important clue in resolving the paradox. He discovered that a black hole's entropy - which is synonymous with its information content - is proportional to the surface area of its event horizon. This is the theoretical surface that cloaks the black hole and marks the point of no return for infalling matter or light. Theorists have since shown that microscopic quantum ripples at the event horizon can encode the information inside the black hole, so there is no mysterious information loss as the black hole evaporates.

Crucially, this provides a deep physical insight: the 3D information about a precursor star can be completely encoded in the 2D horizon of the subsequent black hole - not unlike the 3D image of an object being encoded in a 2D hologram. Susskind and 't Hooft extended the insight to the universe as a whole on the basis that the cosmos has a horizon too - the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe. What's more, work by several string theorists, most notably Juan Maldacena at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has confirmed that the idea is on the right track. He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary.

According to Hogan, the holographic principle radically changes our picture of space-time. Theoretical physicists have long believed that quantum effects will cause space-time to convulse wildly on the tiniest scales. At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton. This distance is known as the Planck length, a mere 10-35 metres. The Planck length is far beyond the reach of any conceivable experiment, so nobody dared dream that the graininess of space-time might be discernable.

That is, not until Hogan realised that the holographic principle changes everything. If space-time is a grainy hologram, then you can think of the universe as a sphere whose outer surface is papered in Planck length-sized squares, each containing one bit of information. The holographic principle says that the amount of information papering the outside must match the number of bits contained inside the volume of the universe.

Since the volume of the spherical universe is much bigger than its outer surface, how could this be true? Hogan realised that in order to have the same number of bits inside the universe as on the boundary, the world inside must be made up of grains bigger than the Planck length. "Or, to put it another way, a holographic universe is blurry," says Hogan.

This is good news for anyone trying to probe the smallest unit of space-time. "Contrary to all expectations, it brings its microscopic quantum structure within reach of current experiments," says Hogan. So while the Planck length is too small for experiments to detect, the holographic "projection" of that graininess could be much, much larger, at around 10-16 metres. "If you lived inside a hologram, you could tell by measuring the blurring," he says.

When Hogan first realised this, he wondered if any experiment might be able to detect the holographic blurriness of space-time. That's where GEO600 comes in.

Gravitational wave detectors like GEO600 are essentially fantastically sensitive rulers. The idea is that if a gravitational wave passes through GEO600, it will alternately stretch space in one direction and squeeze it in another. To measure this, the GEO600 team fires a single laser through a half-silvered mirror called a beam splitter. This divides the light into two beams, which pass down the instrument's 600-metre perpendicular arms and bounce back again. The returning light beams merge together at the beam splitter and create an interference pattern of light and dark regions where the light waves either cancel out or reinforce each other. Any shift in the position of those regions tells you that the relative lengths of the arms has changed.

"The key thing is that such experiments are sensitive to changes in the length of the rulers that are far smaller than the diameter of a proton," says Hogan.

So would they be able to detect a holographic projection of grainy space-time? Of the five gravitational wave detectors around the world, Hogan realised that the Anglo-German GEO600 experiment ought to be the most sensitive to what he had in mind. He predicted that if the experiment's beam splitter is buffeted by the quantum convulsions of space-time, this will show up in its measurements (Physical Review D, vol 77, p 104031). "This random jitter would cause noise in the laser light signal," says Hogan.

In June he sent his prediction to the GEO600 team. "Incredibly, I discovered that the experiment was picking up unexpected noise," says Hogan. GEO600's principal investigator Karsten Danzmann of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, and also the University of Hanover, admits that the excess noise, with frequencies of between 300 and 1500 hertz, had been bothering the team for a long time. He replied to Hogan and sent him a plot of the noise. "It looked exactly the same as my prediction," says Hogan. "It was as if the beam splitter had an extra sideways jitter."

Incredibly, the experiment was picking up unexpected noise - as if quantum convulsions were causing an extra sideways jitter
No one - including Hogan - is yet claiming that GEO600 has found evidence that we live in a holographic universe. It is far too soon to say. "There could still be a mundane source of the noise," Hogan admits.

Gravitational-wave detectors are extremely sensitive, so those who operate them have to work harder than most to rule out noise. They have to take into account passing clouds, distant traffic, seismological rumbles and many, many other sources that could mask a real signal. "The daily business of improving the sensitivity of these experiments always throws up some excess noise," says Danzmann. "We work to identify its cause, get rid of it and tackle the next source of excess noise." At present there are no clear candidate sources for the noise GEO600 is experiencing. "In this respect I would consider the present situation unpleasant, but not really worrying."

For a while, the GEO600 team thought the noise Hogan was interested in was caused by fluctuations in temperature across the beam splitter. However, the team worked out that this could account for only one-third of the noise at most.

Danzmann says several planned upgrades should improve the sensitivity of GEO600 and eliminate some possible experimental sources of excess noise. "If the noise remains where it is now after these measures, then we have to think again," he says.

If GEO600 really has discovered holographic noise from quantum convulsions of space-time, then it presents a double-edged sword for gravitational wave researchers. One on hand, the noise will handicap their attempts to detect gravitational waves. On the other, it could represent an even more fundamental discovery.

Such a situation would not be unprecedented in physics. Giant detectors built to look for a hypothetical form of radioactivity in which protons decay never found such a thing. Instead, they discovered that neutrinos can change from one type into another - arguably more important because it could tell us how the universe came to be filled with matter and not antimatter (New Scientist, 12 April 2008, p 26).

It would be ironic if an instrument built to detect something as vast as astrophysical sources of gravitational waves inadvertently detected the minuscule graininess of space-time. "Speaking as a fundamental physicist, I see discovering holographic noise as far more interesting," says Hogan.

Small price to pay

Despite the fact that if Hogan is right, and holographic noise will spoil GEO600's ability to detect gravitational waves, Danzmann is upbeat. "Even if it limits GEO600's sensitivity in some frequency range, it would be a price we would be happy to pay in return for the first detection of the graininess of space-time." he says. "You bet we would be pleased. It would be one of the most remarkable discoveries in a long time."

However Danzmann is cautious about Hogan's proposal and believes more theoretical work needs to be done. "It's intriguing," he says. "But it's not really a theory yet, more just an idea." Like many others, Danzmann agrees it is too early to make any definitive claims. "Let's wait and see," he says. "We think it's at least a year too early to get excited."

The longer the puzzle remains, however, the stronger the motivation becomes to build a dedicated instrument to probe holographic noise. John Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle agrees. It was a "lucky accident" that Hogan's predictions could be connected to the GEO600 experiment, he says. "It seems clear that much better experimental investigations could be mounted if they were focused specifically on the measurement and characterisation of holographic noise and related phenomena."

One possibility, according to Hogan, would be to use a device called an atom interferometer. These operate using the same principle as laser-based detectors but use beams made of ultracold atoms rather than laser light. Because atoms can behave as waves with a much smaller wavelength than light, atom interferometers are significantly smaller and therefore cheaper to build than their gravitational-wave-detector counterparts.

So what would it mean it if holographic noise has been found? Cramer likens it to the discovery of unexpected noise by an antenna at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1964. That noise turned out to be the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the big bang fireball. "Not only did it earn Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson a Nobel prize, but it confirmed the big bang and opened up a whole field of cosmology," says Cramer.

Hogan is more specific. "Forget Quantum of Solace, we would have directly observed the quantum of time," says Hogan. "It's the smallest possible interval of time - the Planck length divided by the speed of light."

More importantly, confirming the holographic principle would be a big help to researchers trying to unite quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity. Today the most popular approach to quantum gravity is string theory, which researchers hope could describe happenings in the universe at the most fundamental level. But it is not the only show in town. "Holographic space-time is used in certain approaches to quantising gravity that have a strong connection to string theory," says Cramer. "Consequently, some quantum gravity theories might be falsified and others reinforced."

Hogan agrees that if the holographic principle is confirmed, it rules out all approaches to quantum gravity that do not incorporate the holographic principle. Conversely, it would be a boost for those that do - including some derived from string theory and something called matrix theory. "Ultimately, we may have our first indication of how space-time emerges out of quantum theory." As serendipitous discoveries go, it's hard to get more ground-breaking than that.

Check out other weird cosmology features from New Scientist

Marcus Chown is the author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (Faber, 2008)
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G M
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« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2009, 08:24:45 PM »

For me, the more I know of science, the more I see the hand of god.
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2009, 08:57:32 PM »

Any one here ever read this book.  It is quite interesting and a good read that covers both well.

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Universe-in-a-Single-Atom/Dalai-Lama/e/9780767920667

"In this rare, personal investigation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama discusses his vision of science and faith working hand in hand to alleviate human suffering. "
 rolleyes
« Last Edit: January 19, 2009, 08:59:39 PM by C-Kaju Dog » Logged

Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2009, 10:08:25 PM »

"For me, the more I know of science, the more I see the hand of god."

Exactly so.
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« Reply #16 on: March 10, 2009, 02:30:08 PM »

Winning Smugly
You just won the stem-cell war. Don't lose your soul.

On Monday, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding of stem-cell research using destroyed human embryos. If you support this research, congratulations: You won. Now for your next challenge: Don't lose your soul.

Obama announces the end of the ban on stem-cell research


The best way to understand this peril is to look at an issue that has become the mirror image of the stem-cell fight. That issue is torture. On Jan. 22, Obama signed an executive order prohibiting interrogation methods used by the Bush administration to extract information from accused terrorists. "We can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," the president declared. "We are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."

The next day, former Bush aide Karl Rove accused Obama of endangering the country by impeding interrogations of the enemy. "They don't recognize we're in a war," said Rove. "In a war, you do not take tools that are working and stop using them and say we'll get back to you in four months, six months, eight months, a year, and tell you what we're going to do to replace this valuable tool which has helped keep America safe."'

To most of us, Rove's attack is familiar and infuriating. We believe, as Obama does, that it's possible to save lives without crossing a moral line that might corrupt us. We reject the Bush administration's insistence on using all available methods rather than waiting for scrupulous alternatives. We see how Rove twists Obama's position to hide the moral question and make Obama look obtuse and irresponsible.

The same Bush-Rove tactics are being used today in the stem-cell fight. But they're not coming from the right. They're coming from the left. Proponents of embryo research are insisting that because we're in a life-and-death struggle—in this case, a scientific struggle—anyone who impedes that struggle by renouncing effective tools is irrational and irresponsible. The war on disease is like the war on terror: Either you're with science, or you're against it.

Obama announced his executive order on stem cells in tandem with a memo authorizing the removal of "politics" and "ideology" from science. The ban on funding of embryo-destructive research "has no basis in science," according to a White House fact sheet, and the president was lifting it "to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry." Harold Varmus, the co-chairman of Obama's scientific advisory council, told reporters:

We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs. This is consistent with the president's determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy.

Research proponents everywhere are parroting this spin. Obama's stem-cell order shows "his commitment to evidence and biomedical hope over his predecessor's ideological distortion of science," says the Center for American Progress. The order will "remove politics from science," says the president of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. It will "keep politics out of science," says the vice president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It signals that policy will no longer be "driven more by ideology than by facts," says the director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology.

Think about what's being dismissed here as "politics" and "ideology." You don't have to equate embryos with full-grown human beings—I don't—to appreciate the danger of exploiting them. Embryos are the beginnings of people. They're not parts of people. They're the whole thing, in very early form. Harvesting them, whether for research or medicine, is different from harvesting other kinds of cells. It's the difference between using an object and using a subject. How long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?

If you have trouble taking this question seriously—if you think it's just the hypersensitivity of fetus-lovers—try shifting the context from stem cells to torture. There, the question is: How much ruthless violence should we use to defeat ruthless violence? The paradox and the dilemma are easy to recognize. Creating and destroying embryos to save lives presents a similar, though not equal, dilemma.

At their best, proponents of stem-cell research have turned the question on its head. They have asked pro-lifers: How precious is that little embryo? Precious enough to forswear research that might save the life of a 50-year-old man? Precious enough to give up on a 6-year-old girl? How many people, in the name of life, are you willing to surrender to death?

To most of us, the dilemma is more compelling from this angle. It seems worse to let the girl die for the embryo's sake than to kill the embryo for the girl's sake, particularly since embryos left over from fertility treatments will be discarded or left to die, anyway. But it's still a dilemma. And as technology advances, the dilemmas will become more difficult. Already, researchers are clamoring to extend Obama's policy so they can use federal money to create and destroy customized embryos, not just use the ones left over from fertility treatments.

The danger of seeing the stem-cell war as a contest between science and ideology is that you bury these dilemmas. You forget the moral problem. You start lying to yourself and others about what you're doing. You invent euphemisms like pre-embryo, pre-conception, and clonote. Your ethical lines begin to slide. A few years ago, I went to a forum sponsored by proponents of stem-cell research. One of the speakers, a rabbi, told the audience that under Jewish law, embryos were insignificant until 40 days. I pointed out that if we grew embryos to 40 days, we could get transplantable tissue from them. I asked the rabbi: Would that be OK? He answered: Yes.

If you don't want to end up this way—dead to ethics and drifting wherever science takes you—you have to keep the dilemmas alive. You have to remember that conflicting values are at stake. On this point, Obama has been wiser than his supporters. "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research," the president acknowledged on Monday. "We will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted."

Several months ago, opponents of embryo-destructive research gathered in Washington to celebrate Eric Cohen's book In the Shadow of Progress, which explores the moral costs of biotechnology. They asked me what I thought of the book. I told them that the book was beautiful and important because it represented the losing side of history. It spoke for values threatened with extinction by the coming triumph of utilitarianism.

They didn't like hearing that. Nobody wants to be a loser. Losing is hard.

But winning is hard, too. In politics, to be a good winner, you have to pick up the banner of your fallen enemy. You have to recognize what he stood for, absorb his truths, and carry them forward. Otherwise, those truths will be lost, and so will you. The stem-cell fight wasn't a fight between ideology and science. It was a fight between 5-day-olds and 50-year-olds. The 50-year-olds won. The question now is what to do with our 5-day-olds, our 5-week-olds, and our increasingly useful parts.

(Now playing at the Human Nature blog: 1. The political battlefield over IVF. 2. The myth of Obama's gray hair. 3) Economic stress, creativity, and selling body parts. )

William Saletan is Slate's national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2213287/

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #17 on: March 11, 2009, 12:25:40 AM »

Good article.  Nice to see someone think and write with intellectual integrity.
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« Reply #18 on: May 05, 2009, 06:39:52 AM »

God Talk
In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?”

The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.

And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how the material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do. When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of “the telescope and the microscope” religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important,” Eagleton replies, “But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”

Eagleton likes this turn of speech, and he has recourse to it often when making the same point: “elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.” Running for a bus is a focused empirical act and the steps you take are instrumental to its end. The positions one assumes in ballet have no such end; they are after something else, and that something doesn’t yield to the usual forms of measurement. Religion, Eagleton is saying, is like ballet (and Chekhov); it’s after something else.

After what? Eagleton, of course, does not tell us, except in the most general terms: “The coming kingdom of God, a condition of justice, fellowship, and self-fulfillment far beyond anything that might normally be considered possible or even desirable in the more well-heeled quarters of Oxford and Washington.” Such a condition would not be desirable in Oxford and Washington because, according to Eagleton, the inhabitants of those places are complacently in bondage to the false idols of wealth, power and progress. That is, they feel little of the tragedy and pain of the human condition, but instead “adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress” and put their baseless “trust in the efficacy of a spot of social engineering here and a dose of liberal enlightenment there.”

Progress, liberalism and enlightenment — these are the watchwords of those, like Hitchens, who believe that in a modern world, religion has nothing to offer us. Don’t we discover cures for diseases every day? Doesn’t technology continually extend our powers and offer the promise of mastering nature? Who needs an outmoded, left-over medieval superstition?

Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.”

That kind of belief will have little use for a creed that has at its center “one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.” No wonder “Ditchkins” — Eagleton’s contemptuous amalgam of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, perhaps with a sidelong glance at Luke 6:39, “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” — seems incapable of responding to “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.”

You won’t be interested in any such promise, you won’t see the point of clinging to it, if you think that “apart from the odd, stubbornly lingering spot of barbarism here and there, history on the whole is still steadily on the up,” if you think that “not only is the salvation of the human species possible but that contrary to all we read in the newspapers, it has in principle already taken place.” How, Eagleton asks, can a civilization “which regards itself as pretty well self-sufficient” see any point in or need of “faith or hope”?

“Self-sufficient” gets to the heart of what Eagleton sees as wrong with the “brittle triumphalism” of liberal rationalism and its ideology of science. From the perspective of a theistic religion, the cardinal error is the claim of the creature to be “self-originating”: “Self-authorship,” Eagleton proclaims, “is the bourgeois fantasy par excellence,” and he could have cited in support the words of that great bourgeois villain, Milton’s Satan, who, upon being reminded that he was created by another, retorts , “[W]ho saw/ When this creation was…?/ We know no time when we were not as now/Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised” (Paradise Lost, V, 856-860).That is, we created ourselves (although how there can be agency before there is being and therefore an agent is not explained), and if we are able to do that, why can’t we just keep on going and pull progress and eventual perfection out of our own entrails?

That is where science and reason come in. Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.

“Ditchkins,” Eagleton observes, cannot ground his belief “in the value of individual freedom” in scientific observation. It is for him an article of faith, and once in place, it generates facts and reasons and judgments of right and wrong. “Faith and knowledge,” Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but “interwoven.” You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: “All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.” Meaning, value and truth are not “reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.” Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny.

For Eagleton the choice is obvious, although he does not have complete faith in the faith he prefers. “There are no guarantees,” he concedes that a “transfigured future will ever be born.” But we can be sure that it will never be born, he says in his last sentence, “if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals . . . continue to stand in its way.”

One more point. The book starts out witty and then gets angrier and angrier. (There is the possibility, of course, that the later chapters were written first; I’m just talking about the temporal experience of reading it.) I spent some time trying to figure out why the anger was there and I came up with two explanations.

One is given by Eagleton, and it is personal. Christianity may or may not be the faith he holds to (he doesn’t tell us), but he speaks, he says, “partly in defense of my own forbearers, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.”

The other source of his anger is implied but never quite made explicit. He is angry, I think, at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. I know just how he feels.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2009, 10:37:53 AM »

Man vs. God


We commissioned Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins to respond independently to the question "Where does evolution leave God?" Neither knew what the other would say. Here are the results.

Karen Armstrong says we need God to grasp the wonder of our existence
Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive. The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful. Human beings were not the pinnacle of a purposeful creation; like everything else, they evolved by trial and error and God had no direct hand in their making. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians find their faith shaken to the core.

 
Nippon Television Network
 .Richard Dawkins argues that evolution leaves God with nothing to do .But Darwin may have done religion—and God—a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped—even primitive. In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call "God" is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.

But by the end of the 17th century, instead of looking through the symbol to "the God beyond God," Christians were transforming it into hard fact. Sir Isaac Newton had claimed that his cosmic system proved beyond doubt the existence of an intelligent, omniscient and omnipotent creator, who was obviously "very well skilled in Mechanicks and Geometry." Enthralled by the prospect of such cast-iron certainty, churchmen started to develop a scientifically-based theology that eventually made Newton's Mechanick and, later, William Paley's Intelligent Designer essential to Western Christianity.

But the Great Mechanick was little more than an idol, the kind of human projection that theology, at its best, was supposed to avoid. God had been essential to Newtonian physics but it was not long before other scientists were able to dispense with the God-hypothesis and, finally, Darwin showed that there could be no proof for God's existence. This would not have been a disaster had not Christians become so dependent upon their scientific religion that they had lost the older habits of thought and were left without other resource.

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WSJ Illustration
 .Symbolism was essential to premodern religion, because it was only possible to speak about the ultimate reality—God, Tao, Brahman or Nirvana—analogically, since it lay beyond the reach of words. Jews and Christians both developed audaciously innovative and figurative methods of reading the Bible, and every statement of the Quran is called an ayah ("parable"). St Augustine (354-430), a major authority for both Catholics and Protestants, insisted that if a biblical text contradicted reputable science, it must be interpreted allegorically. This remained standard practice in the West until the 17th century, when in an effort to emulate the exact scientific method, Christians began to read scripture with a literalness that is without parallel in religious history.

Most cultures believed that there were two recognized ways of arriving at truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary, each with its own sphere of competence. Logos ("reason") was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to function effectively in the world and had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. But it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life's struggle. For that people turned to mythos, stories that made no pretensions to historical accuracy but should rather be seen as an early form of psychology; if translated into ritual or ethical action, a good myth showed you how to cope with mortality, discover an inner source of strength, and endure pain and sorrow with serenity.

In the ancient world, a cosmology was not regarded as factual but was primarily therapeutic; it was recited when people needed an infusion of that mysterious power that had—somehow—brought something out of primal nothingness: at a sickbed, a coronation or during a political crisis. Some cosmologies taught people how to unlock their own creativity, others made them aware of the struggle required to maintain social and political order. The Genesis creation hymn, written during the Israelites' exile in Babylonia in the 6th century BC, was a gentle polemic against Babylonian religion. Its vision of an ordered universe where everything had its place was probably consoling to a displaced people, though—as we can see in the Bible—some of the exiles preferred a more aggressive cosmology.

There can never be a definitive version of a myth, because it refers to the more imponderable aspects of life. To remain effective, it must respond to contemporary circumstance. In the 16th century, when Jews were being expelled from one region of Europe after another, the mystic Isaac Luria constructed an entirely new creation myth that bore no resemblance to the Genesis story. But instead of being reviled for contradicting the Bible, it inspired a mass-movement among Jews, because it was such a telling description of the arbitrary world they now lived in; backed up with special rituals, it also helped them face up to their pain and discover a source of strength.

Religion was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace; today, however, many have opted for unsustainable certainty instead. But can we respond religiously to evolutionary theory? Can we use it to recover a more authentic notion of God?

Darwin made it clear once again that—as Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas and Eckhart had already pointed out—we cannot regard God simply as a divine personality, who single-handedly created the world. This could direct our attention away from the idols of certainty and back to the "God beyond God." The best theology is a spiritual exercise, akin to poetry. Religion is not an exact science but a kind of art form that, like music or painting, introduces us to a mode of knowledge that is different from the purely rational and which cannot easily be put into words. At its best, it holds us in an attitude of wonder, which is, perhaps, not unlike the awe that Mr. Dawkins experiences—and has helped me to appreciate —when he contemplates the marvels of natural selection.

But what of the pain and waste that Darwin unveiled? All the major traditions insist that the faithful meditate on the ubiquitous suffering that is an inescapable part of life; because, if we do not acknowledge this uncomfortable fact, the compassion that lies at the heart of faith is impossible. The almost unbearable spectacle of the myriad species passing painfully into oblivion is not unlike some classic Buddhist meditations on the First Noble Truth ("Existence is suffering"), the indispensable prerequisite for the transcendent enlightenment that some call Nirvana—and others call God.

—Ms. Armstrong is the author of numerous books on theology and religious affairs. The latest, "The Case for God," will be published by Knopf later this month.
Richard Dawkins argues that evolution leaves God with nothing to do
Before 1859 it would have seemed natural to agree with the Reverend William Paley, in "Natural Theology," that the creation of life was God's greatest work. Especially (vanity might add) human life. Today we'd amend the statement: Evolution is the universe's greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated. Evolution, to quote a T-shirt sent me by an anonymous well-wisher, is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town.

Indeed, evolution is probably the greatest show in the entire universe. Most scientists' hunch is that there are independently evolved life forms dotted around planetary islands throughout the universe—though sadly too thinly scattered to encounter one another. And if there is life elsewhere, it is something stronger than a hunch to say that it will turn out to be Darwinian life. The argument in favor of alien life's existing at all is weaker than the argument that—if it exists at all—it will be Darwinian life. But it is also possible that we really are alone in the universe, in which case Earth, with its greatest show, is the most remarkable planet in the universe.

 
Bettmann/CORBIS
 
Charles Darwin
.What is so special about life? It never violates the laws of physics. Nothing does (if anything did, physicists would just have to formulate new laws—it's happened often enough in the history of science). But although life never violates the laws of physics, it pushes them into unexpected avenues that stagger the imagination. If we didn't know about life we wouldn't believe it was possible—except, of course, that there'd then be nobody around to do the disbelieving!

The laws of physics, before Darwinian evolution bursts out from their midst, can make rocks and sand, gas clouds and stars, whirlpools and waves, whirlpool-shaped galaxies and light that travels as waves while behaving like particles. It is an interesting, fascinating and, in many ways, deeply mysterious universe. But now, enter life. Look, through the eyes of a physicist, at a bounding kangaroo, a swooping bat, a leaping dolphin, a soaring Coast Redwood. There never was a rock that bounded like a kangaroo, never a pebble that crawled like a beetle seeking a mate, never a sand grain that swam like a water flea. Not once do any of these creatures disobey one jot or tittle of the laws of physics. Far from violating the laws of thermodynamics (as is often ignorantly alleged) they are relentlessly driven by them. Far from violating the laws of motion, animals exploit them to their advantage as they walk, run, dodge and jink, leap and fly, pounce on prey or spring to safety.

Never once are the laws of physics violated, yet life emerges into uncharted territory. And how is the trick done? The answer is a process that, although variable in its wondrous detail, is sufficiently uniform to deserve one single name: Darwinian evolution, the nonrandom survival of randomly varying coded information. We know, as certainly as we know anything in science, that this is the process that has generated life on our own planet. And my bet, as I said, is that the same process is in operation wherever life may be found, anywhere in the universe.

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WSJ Illustration
 .What if the greatest show on earth is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them? Would they indeed be gods? Wouldn't we be tempted to fall on our knees and worship them, as a medieval peasant might if suddenly confronted with such miracles as a Boeing 747, a mobile telephone or Google Earth? But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us. Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.

To midwife such emergence is the singular achievement of Darwinian evolution. It starts with primeval simplicity and fosters, by slow, explicable degrees, the emergence of complexity: seemingly limitless complexity—certainly up to our human level of complexity and very probably way beyond. There may be worlds on which superhuman life thrives, superhuman to a level that our imaginations cannot grasp. But superhuman does not mean supernatural. Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences. Once it has done so, of course, those intelligences can create other complex things: works of art and music, advanced technology, computers, the Internet and who knows what in the future? Darwinian evolution may not be the only such generative process in the universe. There may be other "cranes" (Daniel Dennett's term, which he opposes to "skyhooks") that we have not yet discovered or imagined. But, however wonderful and however different from Darwinian evolution those putative cranes may be, they cannot be magic. They will share with Darwinian evolution the facility to raise up complexity, as an emergent property, out of simplicity, while never violating natural law.

Where does that leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God's redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.

Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: "Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn't matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism."

Well, if that's what floats your canoe, you'll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.

—Mr. Dawkins is the author of "The Selfish Gene," "The Ancestor's Tale," "The God Delusion." His latest book, "The Greatest Show on Earth," will be published by Free Press on Sept. 22.
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #20 on: September 24, 2009, 10:40:54 AM »

Creationists Given Academic Credit for Trolling
SCIENCE | Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 6:12:01 pm PDT

William Dembski, the “intelligent design” creationist who is a professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has some rather interesting requirements for students of his creationism courses — 20% of their final grade comes from having written 10 posts promoting ID on “hostile” websites: Academic Year 2009-2010.

This may explain a few commenters we’ve had at LGF.

Spring 2009

Intelligent Design (SOUTHERN EVANGELICAL SEMINARY #AP 410, 510, and 810; May 11 – 16, 2009)

NEW! THE DUE DATE FOR ALL WORK IN THIS COURSE IS AUGUST 14, 2009. Here’s what you will need to do to wrap things up:

AP410 — This is the undegrad [sic] course. You have three things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 40% of your grade); (2) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 40% of your grade); (3) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

AP510 — This is the masters course. You have four things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 30% of your grade); (2) write a 1,500- to 2,000-word critical review of Francis Collins’s The Language of God — for instructions, see below (20% of your grade); (3) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 30% of your grade); (4) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 3,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

That’s far from the only jaw-dropper in Dembski’s syllabus. Students needing extra credit are invited to write an essay explaining how Christians can use the lessons in communist labor activist Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to advocate for creationism and other fundamentalist objectives.

EXTRA CREDIT: For those who think they need mercy on missed or poorly answered quizzes, please get Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and write a 750 to 1000 word reflection on lessons to be drawn from that book for Christian apologetics. You need to have spent at least 6 hours carefully reading the book and sign your name to that effect (i.e., your paper must include something like “I have spent at least six uninterrupted hours reading Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. –Jane Doe”).

But the final exam for the Christian Faith and Science class crosses the line into downright sinister territory, asking students to come up with a 20-year plan to promote theocracy in America:

Trace the connections between Darwinian evolution, eugenics, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Why are materialists so ready to embrace these as a package deal? What view of humanity and reality is required to resist them?

[...]

You are the Templeton Foundation’s new program director and are charged with overseeing its programs and directing its funds. Sketch out a 20-year plan for defeating scientific materialism and the evolutionary worldview it has fostered if you had $50,000,000 per year in current value to do so. What sorts of programs would you institute? How would you spend the money?

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/34417_Creationists_Given_Academic_Credit_for_Trolling
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #21 on: November 25, 2009, 07:30:12 AM »

Vive la différence! – but how did it begin?

Did Darwin forget to ask how sexual reproduction evolved?

We have published several articles this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species. MercatorNet has been presenting articles on both sides of the debate. Below, Dorothy Vining wonders if Darwin forgot to ask how sex evolved. Join the discussion on this topic on MercatorNet's Facebook group.  In my twenties, I was responsible for indexing Darwin's works for the Great Books Syntopicon under the direction of the well-known philosopher Mortimer Adler. At the time I swallowed the Darwinian "natural selection" scenario hook, line, and sinker. It was so beautiful, so overarching, so all-explanatory. But later on I came to realize that too much was left unexplained.

One question that has baffled me is the origin of sexual reproduction. As far as I can see, this is an unsolved puzzle amongst scientists.

Apparently Darwin did not wonder about it. Either it has not occurred to his followers that they have no explanation for the beginning of sexual differentiation into male and female, or they are deliberately ignoring it.

Evolutionists point out that sexual differentiation has both costs and benefits. They point out that reproducing sexually is costly in that time and energy have to be devoted to finding a suitable partner. There is a risk of remaining unmated. There is a risk of producing offspring less fit than the parent because of recombination. Other things being equal, asexual reproduction is quicker and easier. Asexual reproduction is more common in species little troubled by disease.

On the other hand, sexual reproduction increases diversity and the likelihood of survival in changing circumstances. It purges the species of damaging mutations so that they can evolve new defenses against infections. Some animals actually breed sexually and asexually at different times!

But as to how sexual reproduction originated there is little said. In Why Have Sex? The Population Genetics of Sex and Recombination, (2006) Otto and Gerstein mention some of the reasons for sex listed in the previous paragraph. But they offer no answer as to how it all got started.

Confronted with the fact that sexual differentiation actually does exist in most multicellular animals, we have to surmise that at some point throughout the millenia one of these creatures in the process of cell division just happened to develop a cell with only half the usual complement of genetic material. We might call this a rudimentary egg (oocyte or ovum). Whatever could be the advantage of producing an egg? An egg would be of absolutely no use unless there was a sperm to fertilize it. If this animal found no mate, it would, of course, have been the first and last of its kind!

Well, perhaps another creature of the same species accidentally produced a sperm, complete with a tail. Why do you suppose it would grow a tail when it didn’t have a clue that it would have to go swimming after an egg? And of course it would not be genetically preprogrammed to recognize an egg if it should chance to run into one!

If we accept evolutionary theory we are required to imagine that each animal that today reproduces sexually, in the distant past was going about its business of reproducing asexually, dividing and budding away, when all of a sudden it accidentally produced an egg and at the same time, in the same locale, another animal of the same species just happened to make a sperm cell. Also, simultaneously and independently they each accidentally acquired the apparatus to get the egg and sperm together so they could produce offspring with a full set of genes.

Are you buying this?

If ever there was a case of "irreducible complexity", we have one in the transition from asexual to sexual reproduction. Irreducible complexity means simply that the process cannot be reduced to a series of simple steps one after another. If a number of things do not happen and come together all at once, nothing works. Irreducible complexity has been defined in various ways but I prefer Darwin's own language: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case" (Origin of Species, Chapter VI).

But as far as I can see, sexual differentiation is such a case.

Asexual reproduction results in progeny identical to the parent, unless there is a genetic mutation which will produce some change in the DNA. For an organism to initiate sexual reproduction additional genetic information is required, not only added to one organism but added simultaneously to two organisms of the same type, at the same time, and differing so that the changes will be complementary. There is no point in having a genetically female animal if there is no matching male anywhere around.

Accidental genetic mutations are almost always deleterious and have never been shown to involve an increase in genetic information. Consider that the informational content of the DNA in a single human cell equals that of 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Where did all the new additional information required for sexual differentiation come from?

I have never seen any even remotely plausible explanation of how sexual differentiation might have first evolved in the Darwinian scheme of things. To my mind, the very fact of sexual differentiation necessitates, yes, demands a plan. And a plan demands a planner. "Male and female He created them," not "Male and female they decided to become."

Dorothy Vining once worked for the philosopher Mortimer Adler on the Syntopicon, an index to the ideas in the 54 volume set of The Great Books of the Western World. As her field was the biological sciences, she was assigned to index the biological works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Harvey, Galen, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man. An enthusiast then, she became increasingly critical of Darwin’s theories. She blogs at Musings at 85.
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rachelg
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« Reply #22 on: December 27, 2009, 06:38:18 PM »


        I generally don't post in this thread  because  personally I don't struggle with Science VsGod issues. I think it is very reasonable to say God and evolution can coexist. I see God working through nature and that being very miraculous.

I recently  heard a very reasonable theory about how  males were created.     
       

Y Descent of Men: The Descent of Men

~ Steve Jones

Steve Jones, a geneticist and author of Darwin's Ghost, traces the development of maleness from its origins as a parasitic stratagem by which certain microbes forced others to replicate their genes for them,

There is also a very entertaining  radiolab show on sperm and Steve Jobs has a section on it which goes into more details on the development of males .

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2008/11/21
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« Reply #23 on: February 06, 2010, 05:12:26 AM »

 I think the egg came before the sperm and it's femaleness that is parasitic and enslaves the male to do their bidding. cry grin Kidding. Actually, maleness and femaleness are not aspects of separate organisms. Many creatures have both male and female reproductive organs and a single individual can fertilize its own eggs and conceive. Males and females of a species are the same animal and one is not parasitic to the other, quite the contrary they work together for the survival of their kind. This guy Steve Jones is an idiot that's trying to use science to back up the modern progressive view point that maleness is the root of all evil. It's the same kind of thing that was done back in the day when so called "science" was used to prove one race was superior to another.
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« Last Edit: February 06, 2010, 05:47:24 AM by prentice crawford » Logged

Rarick
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« Reply #24 on: February 06, 2010, 05:47:18 AM »

With the recent discovery of a bipedal, upright walker, with hands, existing before Lucy and separatre from the ape line of descent the scientists are now working on theories how walking became evolutionarily needed.

One Scientist suggested that, since the skull of this creature did not have canines for display, some other form of mate development was required.  The scientist (unsure of gender) suggests that the male learned to walk upright and developed improved hands because it was necessary to bring food back to the mate and young.  The better providers enjoyed better sucess with the females, and so on......

As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on that one, but another point to consider too, is how do science and religion resolves the "self awareness" issue?

My opinion is mainly christian based since that is what I am most familiar with.  Some recent science studies have traced DNA down the male and female branches of the current "homo sapiens" tree.  they actually trace migration and some evolution changes all the way back to "Adam" and "Eve".  Two totally independant teams ended up in the same location...........  East Africa.     It is also where the first Bows and Arrows show up.  The is proof that Neaderthal and our ancestral branch were running around Europe at the same time.   So what is the difference?  Neandethals and us have all sorts of measurable similarities, what selected us instead of them?   I suspect the difference is that we have the "quantum function" that can pull things from imagination.  I suspect that the Neanderthals, being an earlier branch and having migrated and adapted, simply did not have that function.  That is where god comes into it, neandethals did feel for their dead, but did they have religion?

I suspect that the ability to concieve god and concieve science are based on the same exact thing that makes us different, and therefore closely related enough, that if we neglect one, we are neglecting the other.   Heck, who would imagine that a discussion like this would be taking place on a website for a bunch of guys that find beating each other with sticks fun?   It is the Dichotomy again, God and Science are two sides of the same coin, you can have a proper body of knowledge without developing both sides.  The same goes with the physical and mental.  I am not the least bit surprised this discussion is here.
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Boyo
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« Reply #25 on: February 06, 2010, 08:04:52 AM »

 
Random thoughts on the topic:
The problem with science is that they try to define God on man's terms not God's.So what is a billion years to God if time is relative ?If you are closer to the point of creation would time not pass differently than it does now?Much like it would when you are closer to a piont of intense gravity.If there is a limited gene pool would not genetic deffects be expected over time?Why do the scientists in guro crafty's first post sound more like extreme preachers trying to establish a new religion than scientists?

They ridicule people for a belief in GOD but yet there are elements on the periodic table that are theorized about .They say that a belief in something bigger than ones self like God is silly yet they get all giddy about string theory.

Faith in God gives people hope and comfort while a belief in "thier" science not all is hard empty and hollow much like religion can be when compaired to faith .

I guess the question really boils down to can we do something vs should we do something?If we could "cure" homo sexuality  in the womb using genetics would we or should we?

Boyo
PS. I have a BS from Eastern Michigan University in Earth Science and a minor in Chemistry and am endorsed to teach both but currently work in an enviromental chem lab as an analyst.

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Boyo
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« Reply #26 on: February 06, 2010, 08:12:26 AM »

One last thing : I didn't make the game I just gotta play by the rules.

Boyo
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rachelg
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« Reply #27 on: February 07, 2010, 10:19:13 AM »


Steve Jones does have some very lame sexist theories that have nothing to do with actually data and I don't agree with them.   I should have mentioned that in my original post  rather than just not quoting them.  If Jones's theory is correct and  sperm are parasitic it would still have nothing to do with men being parasitic because men don't equal sperm. I in no way shape or form think men (or women) are parasites.   Steve Jones does say that sperm are very useful evolutionary because they enable organism  to capitalize on helpful mutations.  I posted the article to defend evolution not to criticize men.    I wish there  was  transcript of the RadioLap show because  isn't' reasonable to ask you to listen to it but it was very interesting and had nothing to do with the sexist part of his theories.

I do see why religion thinks that evolution could be dangerous to view people as just products of survival  of the fittest(  I feel like lots of people who use that quote don't understand It)  instead of  being made in God's image  but you don't need to falsify science to teach values. 
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #28 on: February 07, 2010, 08:22:49 PM »

Woof,
 Well that's the thing, both religion and science can be misused, misinterpreted and misunderstood. The  evil devil is in the details, God is everywhere and we float in nonreality with our feet on the ground, fascinated by shiny objects and befuddled by vacuum cleaner salesmen.
                                          P.C.
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« Reply #29 on: February 08, 2010, 04:12:41 AM »

To continue the thought:

 I think there are some basic misconceptions that both the religious faithful and scientist have that causes them to have almost mirror image doubts about the veracity and truth of the other's theories or beliefs concerning creation and God. The misconceptions are exacerbated by the fact that both equate a belief in God or the possibility of a creator in nature, with religion. Men have taught and handed down religious writings and teachings that they say came from God and represents God's will. So, who do people put their faith in? God right? And if you don't believe it you're going against God. Right? Well not exactly; who is it that people have to put their faith in first when it comes to religion, God or man? It's actually man; notice that it is man that tells you that the teachings come from God. You either believe this premise put forth by man and have faith in that or you don't. Of course the believers say they don't put any faith in man and that they know God exists because the Bible tells them so. That kind of reasoning drives scientist nuts. On the other hand the faithful can't rationalize the limits that scientist place on themselves through knowledge. People intuitively know that there is something beyond our understanding at work in the universe. All we need to do is look around us at the perfect cycles of life on our planet and the obvious innate intelligence at work in nature for us to get a sense of the creative force in nature. However, for all the life we see around us in its many forms none is newly created and for all our knowledge we can not create life or even understand what's needed to replicate the conditions that life might be created in. From what we can tell, all life on earth came from one creation event, and has evolved into what we see today. I think both scientist and believers in God need to focus more on that event and its implications and less on the religious connection to the creator. I believe there is a creative force in nature; I don't know if this can be called God but I'm quite positive that it exists and I'm equally certain that no man, now or from the past, from any religious tradition or dogma, knows what its will is, any more than some scientist could quantify it and grasp its workings with scientific understanding.
                                                             P.C.
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« Reply #30 on: February 11, 2010, 10:04:19 PM »

  I've always found it fascinating that molecular life has a handed preference and non living molecular structures do not. Besides the fact that life has the wherewithal to select handedness, which mystifies me as to what determines this, it might not seem to be all that big a deal. As it turns out, it's a very big deal when you consider the architecture of the uniform spiral double helix of DNA. There are any number of different types of sugar and amino acids that have left or right handed molecular structure but life only chooses right handed sugars and left handed amino acids and it's only these that can maintain the perfect symmetry needed to form chains of DNA.
                          P.C.
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Rarick
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« Reply #31 on: March 13, 2010, 07:07:15 AM »

I tend to notice bigger things.  In the tropics with high temperatures and high humidity wher you sweat a lot, a nifty little fruit can be found.  The banana, a couple bananas a day give you all the electrolytes you need to compensate for sweat, and they are light seeting with a nice calorie boost when you are active.  A nice little match and is that science that evolved that particular fruit right where it was needed, or the hand of the diety?
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #32 on: May 18, 2010, 07:58:30 AM »

A New Clue to Explain Existence
By DENNIS OVERBYE
Published: May 17, 2010

Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are reporting that they have discovered a new clue that could help unravel one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology: why the universe is composed of matter and not its evil-twin opposite, antimatter. If confirmed, the finding portends fundamental discoveries at the new Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, as well as a possible explanation for our own existence.


In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.

Sifting data from collisions of protons and antiprotons at Fermilab’s Tevatron, which until last winter was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the team, known as the DZero collaboration, found that the fireballs produced pairs of the particles known as muons, which are sort of fat electrons, slightly more often than they produced pairs of anti-muons. So the miniature universe inside the accelerator went from being neutral to being about 1 percent more matter than antimatter.

“This result may provide an important input for explaining the matter dominance in our universe,” Guennadi Borissov, a co-leader of the study from Lancaster University, in England, said in a talk Friday at Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill. Over the weekend, word spread quickly among physicists. Maria Spiropulu of CERN and the California Institute of Technology called the results “very impressive and inexplicable.”

The results have now been posted on the Internet and submitted to the Physical Review.

It was Andrei Sakharov, the Russian dissident and physicist, who first provided a recipe for how matter could prevail over antimatter in the early universe. Among his conditions was that there be a slight difference in the properties of particles and antiparticles known technically as CP violation. In effect, when the charges and spins of particles are reversed, they should behave slightly differently. Over the years, physicists have discovered a few examples of CP violation in rare reactions between subatomic particles that tilt slightly in favor of matter over antimatter, but “not enough to explain our existence,” in the words of Gustaaf Brooijmans of Columbia, who is a member of the DZero team.

The new effect hinges on the behavior of particularly strange particles called neutral B-mesons, which are famous for not being able to make up their minds. They oscillate back and forth trillions of times a second between their regular state and their antimatter state. As it happens, the mesons, created in the proton-antiproton collisions, seem to go from their antimatter state to their matter state more rapidly than they go the other way around, leading to an eventual preponderance of matter over antimatter of about 1 percent, when they decay to muons.

Whether this is enough to explain our existence is a question that cannot be answered until the cause of the still-mysterious behavior of the B-mesons is directly observed, said Dr. Brooijmans, who called the situation “fairly encouraging.”

The observed preponderance is about 50 times what is predicted by the Standard Model, the suite of theories that has ruled particle physics for a generation, meaning that whatever is causing the B-meson to act this way is “new physics” that physicists have been yearning for almost as long.

Dr. Brooijmans said that the most likely explanations were some new particle not predicted by the Standard Model or some new kind of interaction between particles. Luckily, he said, “this is something we should be able to poke at with the Large Hadron Collider.”

Neal Weiner of New York University said, “If this holds up, the L.H.C. is going to be producing some fantastic results.”

Nevertheless, physicists will be holding their breath until the results are confirmed by other experiments.

Joe Lykken, a theorist at Fermilab, said, “So I would not say that this announcement is the equivalent of seeing the face of God, but it might turn out to be the toe of God.”
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #33 on: September 07, 2010, 11:14:44 PM »

Although recently I have been connecting more with spiritual things, this article seems worthy of posting here:

By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS
Physicist Stephen Hawking has done it again. This time he's sent shock waves around the world by arguing that God didn't create the universe; it was created spontaneously. Shocking or not, he actually understated the case.

For over 2,000 years the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has captured theologians and philosophers. While usually framed as a religious or philosophical question, it is equally a question about the natural world. So an appropriate place to try and resolve it is with science.

As a scientist, I have never quite understood the conviction, at the basis of essentially all the world's religions, that creation requires a creator. Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to rainbows after a late afternoon summer shower.

Yet no one but the most ardent fundamentalists would suggest that every such object is painstakingly and purposefully created by divine intelligence. In fact, we revel in our ability to explain how snowflakes and rainbows can spontaneously appear based on the simple, elegant laws of physics.

So if we can explain a raindrop, why can't we explain a universe? Mr. Hawking based his argument on the possible existence of extra dimensions—and perhaps an infinite number of universes, which would indeed make the spontaneous appearance of a universe like ours seem almost trivial.

Yet there are remarkable, testable arguments that provide firmer empirical evidence of the possibility that our universe arose from nothing.

One of the greatest sagas in physics over the past century has been the effort to "weigh the universe." Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity explained that space is curved and therefore our universe can exist in one of three different geometries: open, closed or flat. A closed universe is like a three-dimensional sphere, which may be impossible to imagine, but is easy to describe. If you looked far enough in one direction in such a universe you would see the back of your head.

While these exotic geometries are fun to talk about, operationally there is a much more important consequence of their existence. A closed universe whose energy density is dominated by matter will one day recollapse. An open universe will continue to expand forever at a finite rate, and a flat universe is just at the boundary—slowing down, but never quite stopping.

Some of us have spent our careers trying to figure out what kind of universe we live in so we could be the first ones to know how the universe would end. After 80 years of trying we have actually determined the answer. Observations of the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang have unambiguously confirmed that we live in a precisely flat universe.

It appears that the dominant energy in our universe doesn't reside in normal matter, or even mysterious dark matter. Rather, it is located in a much more mysterious form of energy in empty space. Figuring out why empty space has energy is perhaps the biggest mystery in physics and cosmology today.

The existence of this energy, called dark energy, has another consequence: It changes the picture so that knowing the geometry of the universe is no longer enough to determine its future. While this may be a disappointment, the existence of dark energy and a flat universe has profound implications for those of us who suspected the universe might arise from nothing.

Why? Because if you add up the total energy of a flat universe, the result is precisely zero. How can this be? When you include the effects of gravity, energy comes in two forms. Mass corresponds to positive energy, but the gravitational attraction between massive objects can correspond to negative energy. If the positive energy and the negative gravitational energy of the universe cancel out, we end up in a flat universe.

Think about it: If our universe arose spontaneously from nothing at all, one might predict that its total energy should be zero. And when we measure the total energy of the universe, which could have been anything, the answer turns out to be the only one consistent with this possibility.

Coincidence? Maybe. But data like this coming in from our revolutionary new tools promise to turn much of what is now metaphysics into physics. Whether God survives is anyone's guess.

Mr. Krauss, a cosmologist, is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His newest book, "A Universe From Nothing" will be published by Free Press in 2011.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #34 on: September 08, 2010, 05:33:23 AM »

 And scientifically speaking, why would something come from nothing, if there was nothing before, why isn't there nothing now? Could we spontaneously disappear to nothing again? Scientifically how could that work? What law of physics covers that exactly? And if not, then how did it work the other way around? No physics? To say something took place in time and space for no reason, out of nothing, goes against the very principles of scientific thought. I don't think they should be so quick to replace the word creation with spontaneous, with nothing as the basis for their theory. There's nothing worse than a scientist that thinks he has all the answers.
                                   P.C.
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rachelg
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« Reply #35 on: September 08, 2010, 06:38:43 AM »

This conveniently  arrived in my e-mail last night. 
  Stephen Hawking Challenges God
 Rabbi Slifkin

The relationship of science to religion is always a hot topic, but it became
especially fiery in the last few days with the announcement of a new book
co-authored by legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. "Stephen Hawking Says
God Did Not Create The Universe" is the incendiary headline in many news
outlets. His new work, The Grand Design, co-authored with Caltech physicist
Leonard Mlodinow, seeks to give a scientific explanation for our remarkable
universe which writes God out of the picture.

Although always an atheist, Hawking had previously given more room for those
who believe in a Creator. In his bestselling (albeit usually unread) A Brief
History of Time, Hawking acknowledged that even if an all-encompassing set
of scientific equations for the universe is discovered, it does not
necessarily account for the universe's existence: "Even if there is only one
possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it
that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to
describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model
cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model
to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?"

But in his latest book, Hawking strikes a different note. In a September 3rd
adapted extract that appeared in The Wall Street Journal under the title
"Why God Did Not Create the Universe," Hawking and Mlodinow claim that "as
recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory
allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing." They further argue
that many theories in modern cosmology predict the multiverse model-that
"our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws." A small
number of this multitude of universes allow for the formation of life, and
we inhabit one of them. Accordingly, there is no need to look for a bigger
explanation for our universe. Is this true?

There are several ways in which science is employed to give rational support
for belief in a Creator. (I will not be including the anti-evolution
arguments of the Intelligent Design movement, to which I object on both
theological and scientific grounds.) These do not automatically direct us to
the God of the Jewish faith, for they do not necessarily lead to the
conclusion that the designer possesses the attributes that we ascribe to God
(as opposed to those ascribed to God by Aristotle and others). Nevertheless,
they certainly greatly enhance religious belief and help ground it in a
rational foundation.

One way in which science supports belief in God is that the laws of science
themselves require a lawmaker. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene
Wigner pointed out, it is "a miracle that in spite of the baffling
complexity of the world, certain regularities in the events could be
discovered. It is not at all natural that 'laws of nature' exist, much less
that man is able to discover them." Einstein, no believer in a conscious
God, nevertheless often expressed amazement at the comprehensibility of the
universe. As historians of science have shown, the idea of looking for such
regularities in nature was an outgrowth of monotheism, which proposed an
underlying unity to creation. When the scientific revolution picked up
momentum, many forgot its roots. But as science advanced, discovering
relatively simple equations that govern phenomena across the universe, many
physicists have begun to ask where these laws came from. Even if Hawking is
correct that the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to
appear spontaneously from nothing, that they somehow breathe fire into
themselves, he has not explained how these laws themselves came to be
legislated.

The second way in which science is employed to give rational support for
faith is that were the laws of nature to be different in the slightest way,
our universe would not be possible. Some famous atheists such as Douglas
Adams dismissed this argument, claiming that it is like a puddle marveling
that its hole in the ground is exactly the right shape for it. But this
entirely misses the fact that our universe is not any old universe, but
rather an amazing universe that allows for the formation of such complex
phenomena as matter, planetary systems, life, and intelligence.

Hawking attempts to address this with the multiverse model, claiming that
since there is a multitude of universes, of course some of them will be of
an extraordinary nature. In response to this, it is first important to note
that the multiverse model is entirely speculative, with no actual evidence
whatsoever. In an article appropriately entitled "Outrageous Fortune," which
marveled at the unlikely and fortuitous nature of our universe, the leading
scientific journal Nature pointed out that "there are no apparent
measurements that would confirm whether we exist within a cosmic landscape
of multiple universes, or if ours is the only one."

But let us suppose that it is indeed the case that there are an infinite or
very large number of universes, which would mean that some of them possess
remarkable characteristics. Would this mean that Hawking has successfully
made his case? Others point out that it means no such thing. As renowned
physicist Paul Davies once wrote in The New York Times, "The multiverse
theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn't so much explain the laws of
physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to
make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will
require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has
simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the
meta-laws of the multiverse."

As we enter Rosh HaShanah, the festival marking the new year and the
creation of the universe, we still have reason to marvel at our universe-at
its nature, and at the laws and possibly meta-laws governing its nature. As
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch wrote, "Each discovery in the natural sciences
only confirms the fundamental truth first set forth by Judaism: There can be
no thought without a thinker, no order without a regulator, no law without a
lawgiver, no culture without a creative spirit, no world without God and no
man without the gift of free-willed morality."

Shanah tovah!

(For extensive further discussion of all these ideas, see "The Challenge Of
Creation," available in Jewish bookstores worldwide and online at
www.zootorah.com)

===============
(c) Copyright by Rabbi Natan Slifkin 2010, zoorabbi@zootorah.com. All rights
reserved. This essay may be further distributed free of charge, provided
that the header and footer information is preserved intact.

To subscribe to this list send an e-mail to essays-subscribe@zootorah.com.
To unsubscribe send an e-mail to essays-unsubscribe@zootorah.com.

Zoo Torah is a non-profit educational enterprise that offers a series of
books, programs for both adults and children, zoo tours, and safaris, all on
the theme of Judaism and the natural world. For more details and a taste of
the experience, see www.zootorah.com. For more of Rabbi Slifkin's writings
regarding Torah and science, see www.RationalistJudaism.com.
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G M
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« Reply #36 on: September 08, 2010, 08:19:10 AM »

It's funny how much faith is required to be an atheist.  grin
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #37 on: September 08, 2010, 09:02:55 PM »

Woof,
 They pretend to have the answer to how the universe exists, while at the same time they can't answer how life began. It's one thing to claim that the existence of matter spontaneously came from nothing but are they going to claim that life came from nothing as well? They can't create life now and they can't recreate the conditions or process that began life. All life, every living thing on this planet, came from one starting point. All life, present now, comes from other existing life, there isn't any new life being created. Spontaneously life started from nothing, in the distant past? Then how about man's consciousness? They don't know how that came about as well; spontaneous awareness from nothing? Taoism has a better explanation of spontaneity and creation than Hawking does. Besides, this is just hype to get the word out about his latest book anyway; momma needs a new pair of shoes!
 
 Are we to believe that just by coincidence, three key events of spontaneity led to our existence? First the beginning of the universe, the beginning of life and then conscious awareness in man? Is it also a coincidence that these three events have from the earliest history of mankind been attributed to God; the creation of the universe and the creation of life on Earth and the creation of man? The only other source of spontaneous creation comes from man himself and I often wonder if smart guys like Hawking aren't jealous of people coming up with stuff out of nothing. I'm sure he would like writing a hit song or coming up with something useful like the wheel. And why is it man can do these things? Is there an equation that explains that? Could it be that men were made in the image of God and we too have the ability to create spontaneously something from nothing? Don't get me wrong here, I'm not a Hell fire and brimstone preacher and I my doubts about man's ability to know God's will are equal to my doubts about God needing or wanting our worship. Religions seem to me to be based on the same thing that Hawking bases his theory on. Nothing. That being said, God still exists, and in my mind all Hawking has done is given a new name to God. Spontaneous!
                                                  P.C.
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Vicbowling
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« Reply #38 on: September 10, 2010, 04:39:20 PM »

Woof,
 They pretend to have the answer to how the universe exists, while at the same time they can't answer how life began. It's one thing to claim that the existence of matter spontaneously came from nothing but are they going to claim that life came from nothing as well? They can't create life now and they can't recreate the conditions or process that began life. All life, every living thing on this planet, came from one starting point. All life, present now, comes from other existing life, there isn't any new life being created. Spontaneously life started from nothing, in the distant past? Then how about man's consciousness? They don't know how that came about as well; spontaneous awareness from nothing? Taoism has a better explanation of spontaneity and creation than Hawking does. Besides, this is just hype to get the word out about his latest book anyway; momma needs a new pair of shoes!
 
 Are we to believe that just by coincidence, three key events of spontaneity led to our existence? First the beginning of the universe, the beginning of life and then conscious awareness in man? Is it also a coincidence that these three events have from the earliest history of mankind been attributed to God; the creation of the universe and the creation of life on Earth and the creation of man? The only other source of spontaneous creation comes from man himself and I often wonder if smart guys like Hawking aren't jealous of people coming up with stuff out of nothing. I'm sure he would like writing a hit song or coming up with something useful like the wheel. And why is it man can do these things? Is there an equation that explains that? Could it be that men were made in the image of God and we too have the ability to create spontaneously something from nothing? Don't get me wrong here, I'm not a Hell fire and brimstone preacher and I my doubts about man's ability to know God's will are equal to my doubts about God needing or wanting our worship. Religions seem to me to be based on the same thing that Hawking bases his theory on. Nothing. That being said, God still exists, and in my mind all Hawking has done is given a new name to God. Spontaneous!
                                                  P.C.

On one hand, as someone who has installed several home security systems just to disprove (successfully) religious mysteries, I do enjoy the mystery of our existence and really wonder if Science shouldn't just leave that one alone?

As I see modern advances in reading/translating brain waves, creating major organs, enabling the re-growth of lost limbs with DNA, etc.. I feel like a lot of the exciting mystery of how we work is getting spoiled!

Next thing you know scientists will have found some way to save us from the big-bang process, some automated method of saving our genetics and re-seeding the next planet that forms when ours is gone, totally giving us a head start on the next cycle and making a missing link between primates and humanoids.

Cheaters..
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G M
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« Reply #39 on: September 10, 2010, 04:57:51 PM »

Ok, how does an alarm system disprove a religious mystery?  huh
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Rarick
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« Reply #40 on: September 11, 2010, 05:22:43 AM »

I do not see the need for a VS. in there.  An all knowing and all powerful god would not have allowed science to exist, if he did not want it there for some purpose.  I believe that science is just another tool human beings have to learn with and use for good- or evil. 
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DougMacG
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« Reply #41 on: September 11, 2010, 11:20:52 AM »

Rarick wrote: "I do not see the need for a vs. in there."

Agree.  Science is (IMHO) only our puny and primitive understanding of a creation we cannot begin to fathom.  Sort of a journalistic tool to write and talk about things.  Take gravity or the speed of light for examples.  We can observe and measure and ponder and predict things, maybe even find better ways to make use of forces already occurring in nature, but we have no clue how it really happens or how to make it happen.  Because we don't really understand how things work we keep finding we were wrong about assumptions and conclusions and keep updating the 'science'.

Beware anytime you hear the words: 'the science is settled'.  I doubt the best intergalactic scientist alive today knows 1/10th of a percent of how it all works, same for the best in medical science truly understanding human physiology.

The science is the study of..., not ever the full knowledge of it.  It really is the system of trying to acquire knowledge.  When we are honest about it we call our best practitioners specialists, not experts.
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ccp
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« Reply #42 on: September 11, 2010, 08:04:42 PM »

Stephen Hawking seems to think we don't need God or philisophy.  We have science.  This Economist writer did not think much of his book:   

http://www.economist.com/node/16990802?story_id=16990802

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ccp
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« Reply #43 on: January 26, 2011, 01:08:18 PM »

Hubble spots most ancient galaxy to date
Updated 9m ago | Comments 4  | Recommend    E-mail | Save | Print | Reprints & Permissions |   
 
 
 Enlarge NASA/AFP/Getty Images
 
This is the image of the sky in the region of the Hubble Ultra-Deep field taken with the new Wide Field Camera 3 Infra-red imager (WFC3/IR). It's the deepest image of the sky ever obtained in the near-infrared.
 

 
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By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Hubble space telescope astronomers Wednesday unveiled a view of a galaxy that took shape within 480 million years of the Big Bang, offering a glimpse of the universe as it gave birth to its first stars.
Galaxies are the vast archipelagoes of stars filling space, such as our own spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy. The new "UDFj-39546284" galaxy is the most distant and ancient one yet spotted by astronomers.

Roughly 10 times smaller than the Milky Way galaxy, the new star-packed discovery confirms that a period of rapid star-birth unfolded in the era after the Big Bang, which took place about 13.75 billion years ago.

"The nighttime sky would have looked very different then," says study lead author Rychard Bouwens of the University of California Santa Cruz.

Massive blue stars created by dense clouds of hydrogen gas would have been born and died within millions of years' time, quick by cosmic standards, their death blasts filling space with charged, radioactive particles. "Probably, it wouldn't have been a very healthy time for life, if planets even existed then," Bouwens adds.

The report, in this week's edition of the journal Nature, shows stars formed in the galaxy at a rate 10 times slower than they did in galaxies only slightly older, ones dating to about 700 million years after the Big Bang. Those galaxies themselves were much busier star factories than today's comparatively quiet ones.

Newly installed instruments aboard the Hubble space telescope, 30 times more sensitive than their predecessors, allowed astronomers to peer deeply into space to find the galaxy, one of 6,000 contained in a "deep-field" view collected over 100 hours of telescope viewing time. "We have pushed Hubble about as far back as it can go," Bouwens adds.

"Just as archaeologists sift through deeper layers of sand to uncover the past, cosmologists use large telescopes and sensitive detectors to study galaxies at ever greater distances from Earth," says Naveen Reddy of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, in a commentary on the study. Because the speed of light, 5.9 trillion miles per year, is finite, he notes, looking at more and more distant stars allows astronomers to "peer farther back in time."

Discovery of UDFj-39546284, Reddy adds, "paves the way for a bright future in studying faint and distant galaxies." A better look at the era of the first stars will most likely come from NASA's troubled James Webb Space Telescope, which the space agency announced late last year was about $1.5 billion over budget, pointing to a total cost of $6.5 billion and a 2015 launch.

Once launched, the bigger mirrors and near-infrared spectrum sensitivity of the James Webb Space Telescope should allow a full survey of the first galaxies, now established as ripe for observation by Hubble's latest discovery.

 
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #44 on: February 09, 2011, 03:33:15 PM »

Subject: God vs. Science


‘Let me explain the problem science has with religion.'


The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.


'You're a Christian, aren't you, son?'


'Yes sir,' the student says.


'So you believe in God?'
 

'Absolutely.'


'Is God good?'


'Sure! God's good.'


'Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?'


'Yes'


'Are you good or evil?'


'The Bible says I'm evil.'


The professor grins knowingly. 'Aha! The Bible! He considers for a moment. 'Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?'


'Yes sir, I would.'


'So you're good...!'


'I wouldn't say that.'


'But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't.'


The student does not answer, so the professor continues. 'He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Can you answer that one?'


The student remains silent. 'No, you can't, can you?' the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. 'Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?'


'Er... yes,' the student says.


'Is Satan good?'


The student doesn't hesitate on this one. 'No.'


'Then where does Satan come from?'


The student falters. 'From God'


'That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?'


'Yes, sir..'


'Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?'


'Yes'


'So who created evil?' The professor continued, 'If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.'


Again, the student has no answer. 'Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?'


The student squirms on his feet. 'Yes.'


'So who created them?'


The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. 'Who created them?' There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. 'Tell me,' he continues onto another student. 'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?'


The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 'Yes, professor, I do.'


The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?'


'No sir. I've never seen Him.'


'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?'


'No, sir, I have not...'


'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?'


'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.'


'Yet you still believe in him?'


'Yes'


'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist... What do you say to that, son?'


'Nothing,' the student replies.. 'I only have my faith.'


'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats. 'And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.'


The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. 'Professor, is there such thing as heat? '


'Yes.'


'And is there such a thing as cold?'


'Yes, son, there's cold too.'


'No sir, there isn't.'


The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. 'You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit down to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.'


Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.


'What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?'


'Yes,' the professor replies without hesitation.. 'What is night if it isn't darkness?'


'You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?'


The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. 'So what point are you making, young man?'


'Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.'


The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. 'Flawed? Can you explain how?'


'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains.. 'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.' 'It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.' 'Now tell me, professor.. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?'


'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.'


'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?'


The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.


'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?'


The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided. 'To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.' The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?' The class breaks out into laughter. 'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.' 'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?'


Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I Guess you'll have to take them on faith.'


'Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,' the student continues. 'Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?' Now uncertain, the professor responds, 'Of course, there is. We see it Everyday. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in The multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.'


To this the student replied, 'Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.'


The professor sat down.
 





If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail to your friends and family with the title 'God vs. Science'
 

PS: the student was Albert Einstein.    Albert Einstein wrote a book titled God vs. Science in 1921.
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G M
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« Reply #45 on: February 09, 2011, 03:53:18 PM »

http://www.snopes.com/religion/einstein.asp

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #46 on: February 09, 2011, 04:09:57 PM »

Party pooper!
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G M
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« Reply #47 on: February 09, 2011, 04:13:13 PM »

Trust, but verify.  grin

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DougMacG
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« Reply #48 on: February 09, 2011, 04:22:37 PM »

That is a great post.  Don't let GM or Snopes spoil a great story.  I kept checking to see if I was in the humor thread.

Continuing to the science of economics:

There is wealth.  You can see it, touch it, feel it, smell it and hear it.

There is no such thing as poverty.  Poverty is an absence of wealth.

You can study wealth.  You can study all the factors that contribute to earning wealth, creating wealth, accumulating wealth, protecting wealth.

You cannot study poverty, it is the absence of something.  You can't study the absence of something.  You can only study wealth and then look at its absence to figure out what else regarding wealth creation is missing to cause its absence.
----
The roughly is my memory of how the book Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder begins.  Before snopes nails me, I picked up a copy to try to get it right and  oops, that isn't how it starts. (30 years slipped by.)  Anyway, something like that I think is in there somewhere.  His last chapter studying wealth is called The Necessity for Faith.
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G M
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« Reply #49 on: February 09, 2011, 04:25:57 PM »

Don't get me wrong, I like it. I wish it were something out of Einstein's bio.
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