Some Thoughts on Occam’s Razor

There’s been a really interesting discussion over on Howie’s blog for the past few weeks. It was really at this comment that Howie started me thinking along the lines that led to this post. He said:

I personally think there have been plausible naturalistic explanations for how belief in creator gods developed in human minds. While it could definitely be true that there really are creator gods that caused this evolutionary development to occur that doesn’t mean that creator gods is the correct explanation. If we can agree that we do have plausible naturalistic explanations (and obviously people argue whether or not that’s true) then that’s where I feel Occam’s razor could have a valid application. You know from other conversations that I do believe Occam’s razor is really just a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule, and that’s where I think I struggle to figure out exactly where I stand on the whole thing.

I think Howie’s right. Occam’s razor is a great guideline, but there’s no guarantee that it’s always right. Sometimes the simplest explanation is not the right one.

But despite the lack of a guarantee, I think there’s another angle to this when it comes to some religions. I’d like to come at this point in a round about manner, so let’s begin with an example. Long ago, most people believed the earth was flat. And this wasn’t just based on a whim, they had actual justification for that belief. If the earth wasn’t flat, then anything on the sides or the bottom would slip off, right? Any child could understand that. They were, of course, completely wrong about that belief, but it’s very easy to understand why they would have held it. Their belief was based on evidence — misunderstood evidence, granted, but evidence nonetheless. It’s easy to forgive their misunderstanding. In fact, most people would probably say there’s nothing to forgive.

When it comes to the existence of God, I think we’re in a similar position. It’s possible that a God or Gods set everything into motion that led us to where we are today, and for a very long time, that was the prevailing explanation for existence. But today, many of us no longer feel that deities offer the best explanation for why we’re here. There’s no clear evidence of the divine at work in our world today. Examples of evil and suffering are easy to find. And science has helped us find natural explanations for how the universe and its forms of life operate. Not all questions have been answered, but many of us feel that Occam’s razor is great justification for believing that those remaining questions will also have natural explanations.

And that brings me to my main point. Even if we’re wrong, those of us who are atheists are justified in not believing in gods. That doesn’t mean we’re right. However, while Occam’s razor isn’t a law that proves we’re right, it gives much more strength to our position when talking about certain kinds of gods. This isn’t a situation in which it could easily go either way — Occam’s razor actually stacks the deck strongly in our favor.

Consider Christianity: most versions of it teach that God is going to judge humanity for its sinful nature, and the only way to escape this judgment is to put faith in God and his son Jesus Christ. We’re also taught that this god is righteous and merciful — he is a wholly good god who can not do evil, and he loves us enough (even while we were sinners!) to sacrifice his only son. But such a god doesn’t fit a reality where one can be justified in believing that there is no god. If atheism is justified, it wouldn’t be right to punish someone for being an atheist, just as it wouldn’t be right to punish someone who lived 4,000 years ago for believing that the earth is flat.

Ryan Bell, the former 7th Day Adventist pastor who famously decided to try atheism for a year, recently wrote something similar:

For the sake of argument, let’s say, “God did it.” God kicked off the entire process by igniting the Big Bang. This is essentially the God of deism—a God who is not involved in the affairs of our world, and has not been since he got the whole thing started. So, to come back to my first question on the first day of the year, “What difference does that God make?” I’m not inspired to worship that God. That God cannot possibly be described by the Bible and Jesus was incorrect in his understanding of that God, because that God has been absent for 13+ billion years. Frankly, I’m surprised that so many Christians even make these cosmological arguments. They don’t get us any closer to the Bible or Christianity.

If we try to cover that gap and posit a God who not only caused the Big Bang but is involved in the world, we run into other problems—mostly ethical problems. Why is God so silent and inert? Why is God such a bad communicator? Why are people killing each other to defend their version of God? And why does it seem so much like we are evolving as a species and editing our view of God as we go along?
link

Occam’s razor works for the unbeliever in at least two ways: First, justified atheism makes it very hard to believe in a god who would punish unbelievers. Secondly, the only kind of god we’re left with probably doesn’t matter a great deal. As Bell says, what difference does he make? It’s similar to the Delos McKown quote, “the invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”

I think that Occam’s razor provides very good justification for atheism, but it’s not a guarantee — sometimes the simplest explanation isn’t the right one. But most religions define their god(s) in such a way that Occam’s razor deals them a critical blow. It’s their own assertions that do them in. At least, that’s how I see it — what do you think?

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79 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Occam’s Razor”

  1. Think about any mortal who wants to exert power over human beings. Do they depend upon hearsay or vague premonitions or prophecies in books to establish their right to rule? No, they depend upon overt exercise of that power to prove its existence. Now, I have no idea how gods might think but to exert power power over human beings it must take human being’s thinking into account.

    Come on, gods, exert some power .. overtly. It would make it much easier to believe in you. Consider how many people believe in aliens now as opposed to how many would believe if an effing space ship were to land on the White House lawn.

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  2. This is where I’ve been for awhile now. I don’t know that it’s possible to disprove the existence of a god who might have caused the Big Bang. But even if that god exists it doesn’t make any difference in the reality we now experience. It might as well not exist.

    Saying that there is a creator god is a far cry from having any knowledge of that god or even believing that it expects or requires anything of us.

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  3. Great point, Steve. Some Christians would respond by saying that such a demonstration would eliminate faith — but why should we think faith is such a good thing? And even if we concede that point, how would they explain God’s overt demonstrations to people like Abraham, Noah, Gideon, Paul, etc? All of whom were said to have faith?

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  4. Hey Nate – great post and thanks for the links. Hope it’s not rude to add another, but I think it relates: http://truthiselusive.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/philosophical-arguments-for-god/

    You can see on that post several Christian philosophers talking about how the arguments for the existence of God (in their case they are thinking the traditional mono-theistic God) are not conclusive – some of them even making statements which suggest they are far from conclusive. The opinions on this among Christian philosophers span the map of course, but for every argument that I’ve seen for the existence of God I’ve seen Christian philosophers state that they fail, and sometimes they think they fail miserably.

    Ok, maybe they are wrong – fine, I don’t see any reason to deny that possibility. But that’s not the point. As you have written here, imagining a God who would punish his creation (and some believe the punishment is eternally severe) when it is very unclear that He exists is a bit mind boggling. And it isn’t just about the philosophical arguments. At the end of the day when we live our lives we know exactly what it feels like to believe that our friends and family members exist. There is no question about what that feels like. When I think about all the things that are involved that cause me to conclude that I don’t see any of those things showing up to make me conclude that there is a God. It’s really as simple as that. And then to add insult to injury when scientific examinations are put into place to try and find effects which may be caused by deities (for example the multitude of studies done on healing) they fall short of proving anything beyond the placebo effect. It just doesn’t make sense to be held accountable for having serious doubts about the existence of such a being.

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  5. Some Christians would respond by saying that such a demonstration would eliminate faith

    They would but they change the definition of faith, too. I look at faith in God as belief in something that cannot be defined and that is without visible evidence. Some Christians define faith as putting their trust in an entity that has irrefutable evidence. So even they are looking for some sort of outward sign.

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  6. “This is my own experience. I cannot remove my doubts, but I cannot erase my faith. At every level, these two experiences exist together…”

    “Those who are Christians know well what I mean. You know what it is like to see no evidence of God in the world, in the church or in the mangled mess of your own heart, yet to be drawn powerfully after the Jesus of the scriptures.”
    – Michael Spencer

    My experiences and observations in life continue to draw me powerfully toward the Jesus of scripture, though I often am at a profound loss-for-words in attempts to explain how this Jesus could truly be God. I’ve gone through fits-and-spurts of trying to “prove” this via the “evidence”. Ultimately, though, it isn’t the evidence that either convinces or dissuades me. It is the scriptures’ explanation of who I am and who Jesus is that continues to draw me, often in the face of strong doubts and without explanation. I see your perspective, Nate. Sometimes all too clearly.

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  7. Howie,

    Thanks for the additional link, and I couldn’t agree more with your point.

    Ruth,

    Both your comments are spot-on. Your point about faith is something I’ve noticed too. The fact that it can be defined both ways can make conversations really vague and misleading at times.

    If we’re talking about faith as having a belief in something for which there is little evidence and no certainty, it’s hard to see why such a thing would be desirable. It also has no bearing on the character of an individual, which should be the real focus of valuation. MLK Jr said he looked forward to a day when all people would be judged, not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. That resonates with us, because it’s how we all feel. To base such a judgment on something as vacuous as belief in something for which there’s little evidence rather than on one’s character is the opposite of justice.

    And if we’re talking about faith as trust in an individual, then knowledge of their existence is a requirement. You can’t have faith in someone’s character if you’re not even sure they exist.

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  8. Thanks for the comment, Josh. If you don’t mind, I’d like to as a couple of questions, but not in an attempt to change your mind or anything — just in an effort to better understand.

    I feel that certain authors throughout time have done an excellent job of capturing elements of the human condition. Shakespeare did such a great job portraying emotions like love and envy. Faulkner was very gifted at portraying madness and longing. Even Stephen King (though it seems a little odd to include him in this list) is masterful at capturing relationships. And there are many more authors (and other artists) that could be added to the list. Do you feel that the writers of the Bible could not have simply been mortals who were inspired in the same way? What is it that makes their insights require divine inspiration, as opposed to these other writers? And do we really need divine guidance to speak to us about humanity when we’re already humans? Why can’t we see these things for ourselves, as you apparently do when you read the things in the Bible and feel them resonate within you?

    Also, it’s easy to see why one might be drawn to the character of Jesus, but why does this necessitate his divinity? My oldest daughter is an avid Harry Potter fan and longs for a chance to attend Hogwarts, but her attraction to that story doesn’t make it true…

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  9. Don’t mind at all, Nate. I don’t believe that my being drawn to Jesus necessitates his divinity. His teaching through parables, acted parables, people’s responses to him, and his direct assertions all resonate strongly with me, along with Paul’s main points throughout the letter to the Romans. Of course, none of this makes this story true, and I’m not of the mind that I can prove it is. He very well may only be as real as Harry Potter.

    It certainly could be the case, and in many ways I believe it is, that many other authors throughout history were inspired as the ancient writers of what we call scripture in the ways of humanity, relationships, etc. Just because it isn’t in “The Bible” doesn’t disqualify it for teaching on humanity, from my perspective. For me, in addition to what I referenced above about Jesus and Paul’s teaching, there is an element of resolution that is needed to “make the story whole”. There are a lot of writings, including other religious writings, that I think accurately capture humanity and its tendencies. What then? Is there anything that can be done about it? Many people believe we are improving, as a race, in the way we treat each other and our general humanitarianism. I tend to be one of those that is not convinced – for me, a quick glance at world news, including “civilized” societies, shows me a world that is still in the throes of humanity’s tendency toward “evil”, or whatever one wants to call it. Based on this, it seems that a “solution” cannot come from humanity. Or, if it will, it is taking an incredibly long and arduous time for this to play out. Could it happen? Maybe. So, I turn to religions for potential answers. Most major religions, however, offer the same solution – the power to change/obey/make things right/become enlightened is all taught to be within our abilities. Again, I’m led to the same conclusion as above. Jesus, however, teaches that salvation/redemption/a solution does not come from within humans. It comes from outside of us. That I can truly believe. Does this prove anything? No. But, accompanied by all my other thinking and observations it seems the most plausible explanation. Now, maybe there is no solution. Maybe this is all really meaningless and we will not become “better” before we join oblivion. I choose not to believe that, so I continue searching where searching leads.

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  10. “There’s no clear evidence of the divine at work in our world today. Examples of evil and suffering are easy to find.”

    The problem of evil has been answered by apologists (including non-Christian) for some time. It’s understandable that many don’t find these solutions satisfactory, because a lot of the discourse gets confused and people often talk past one another. It’s very easy to make fun of religion a la Voltaire’s Candide. I’m not a religious person, per se, but I take the “best of all possible worlds” as a serious answer to the problem of evil. That would mean, however, that we still know nothing about the soul’s immortality, nothing about any sort of afterlife, and should hold out no hope that we are special in any way. We’ve got to make use of what we’ve got (reason) in this world of collateral damage.

    I think the strongest criticism you have here is this: “…the only kind of god we’re left with probably doesn’t matter a great deal.”

    Yes indeed. I can just barely bring myself to say God MIGHT exist in some highly conceptual, unmoved mover, supreme principle sort of way. An end to the infinite regress, really. But this is a far cry from Jesus coming to earth to save me, and who knows about my soul moving on. Even in this far-removed capacity, though, there is a function…but only when talking about some pretty esoteric subjects.

    “I think that Occam’s razor provides very good justification for atheism, but it’s not a guarantee — sometimes the simplest explanation isn’t the right one. But most religions define their god(s) in such a way that Occam’s razor deals them a critical blow. It’s their own assertions that do them in. At least, that’s how I see it — what do you think?”

    I think you’re right about most religions. There’s a lack of philosophical rigor and a hodge podge of beliefs that often render them internally inconsistent…if they were a television series, there would be a lot of dangling plot threads begging for attention.

    When I was younger I threw all of religion under the bus because of my experience living in the Bible belt. I have since come to the conclusion that I don’t have to join a club or buy into mysticism. God can be a reasonable hypothesis. I happened to be a bit of a Platonist, so that would explain a lot to you, I’m sure!

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  11. Josh, thanks for your reply. Just one thing in reference to your point about society’s trend toward evil: I’d recommend checking out The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Stephen Pinker. Full disclosure, it’s not a book I’ve gotten to yet, though I intend to. But knowing what it’s about, I thought you might find it interesting.

    Thanks again for sharing your perspective.

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  12. Thanks, Nate. I’ll look into it. Just a knee-jerk response to reading a bit about it on your link – I wouldn’t only categorize violence amongst people as “evil”, nor any one particular category. Just because overt physical violence has declined says nothing about our nature or tendencies.

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  13. Good post, Nate !

    I’ve often seen atheists who overplay the Occam Razor point. Differentiating its power when applied to a deist god vs full-blown mega-god like Yahweh, is a great point.

    Harry McCall wrote a good post called “The Evolution of God from Yahweh in a Box to the Super Mega Deity of the Universe” where he discusses the importance of keeping a discussion with a theist clear on the rarified philosopher god vs the Omni-gods like Yahweh. I did something similar here at “How Big is your God?”. In these two, you point about Occam’s razor would be a good addition.

    Interestingly, in some forms of Hinduism, there are three main gods (all aspects of the same GodHead), and one of those is Brahma, the creator god who stepped back after creation and did nothing. So a Hindu could stop believing in interventional deities but still be a believer in God.

    But in some forms of Hinduism (and there are many), there is yet another version of God that can be less vulnerable to Occam’s Razor — that is the monkey-like God (versions of Shiva, for instance) as apposed to a cat-like God (like Vishnus). See my post here for more details) — but in summary, the monkey-like god is a non-interventional but inspirational, nourishing god but not an out-of-the-picture creator god.

    So after reading your post, I am again reminded that often atheists go too far in thinking any god is vulnerable to the razor — the creator god and a nurturing non-interventionist god can escape a little more easily than they perhaps imagine. So atheists need to be more careful when waving around razors! 😉

    Again, Nate, good points in your post. I will enjoy following the comments.

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  14. @rung…

    Thanks for the comment! I agree that some god hypotheses can be reasonable.

    On the problem of evil, I’m one of those who isn’t very convinced by the apologists’ answers. I think a non-interventionist god or a god who’s well-rounded enough to be both good and bad don’t face problems from the amount of evil in the world. But that’s not the kind of god most apologists are defending.

    I’m aware of their free will argument, but I don’t buy it because it creates problems for the notion of Heaven. If free will introduces evil, then Heaven can’t exist, unless its inhabitants are stripped of free will. And that’s not a proposition most theists are comfortable with.

    Plus, it doesn’t account for “acts of god” like hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

    But anyway, I appreciate your points — thanks for commenting!

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  15. Just wanted to touch on something in nate and josh’s discussion, and that is regarding man’s nature.

    Without quibbling over terms too strictly, i think man’s nature is both good and evil. For every mass murder there are accounts of selfless heroism. For every theft or murder there are the hospitalities, generosities and overall good samaritan-ship.

    we have natural tendencies toward anger, wrath and violence, yet we also have natural tendencies toward love, empathy and compassion – the god of the bible seems to as well. Can a being with the same tendencies as us, really be very helpful in leading us out of the same tendencies?

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  16. Points well taken, William. I agree that we are capable of both good and evil. I also have many of the same waxing and waning concerns about God’s representation in scriptures.

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  17. I could see some theists commenting on this post and saying that “God did it” is a simple explanation and therefore, using Occam’s razor, theism should be the theory that we should all accept. I guess this really comes down to our own opinions of what constitutes a simple explanation.

    “God did it” may sound simple (because it is 3 words), but it makes a lot of assertions and leaves a trail of questions. Asserting that an invisible force with intelligence and powers has existed forever and ever is a bold claim. That this force can somehow think and act without using matter or energy or occupying time or space is another bold claim.

    Religions then take these bold claims and add truckloads of additional claims that sound a lot like man-made ideas and preferences (like living forever in eternal bliss and punishing the wicked). This fact alone should make us scratch our heads when examining theistic claims. Wasn’t it a bit odd that the priests of the Bible required jewelry and gold from everyone and were decked out in fancy robes with golden bells and tassels? And then the questions start rolling in… If a fair, loving God exists then why are some babies born with serious disabilities? What is the purpose of a baby born with only days to live? If God cares and hears my prayers then why doesn’t he answer me? Why was the God of the Bible so active and engaged in ancient times, but is now so silent and distant in the present age? The list of questions literally goes on and on and the theist responses have been poor in my opinion.

    Deists are in a better position to use Occam’s razor than most because their list of assertions is much smaller.

    Naturalism is not without its own problems too, but they can be boiled down to unsolved mysteries about reality that may one day become solved. As an agnostic I don’t rule out a higher power existing, I just find it improbable and I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know if one exists or not.

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  18. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know if one exists or not.

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I’m not afraid to admit it, but I definitely fall squarely within the realm of uncertainty on many, many occasions.

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  19. Occam’s razor is a double bladed sword. Thrust it at your opponent, and the probability is half of the time it might just stab you in the back. Occam’s razor can easily be pro-theism or pro-atheism as well. The truth is not a mechanism of probability, but a undeniable self evidence existing fact.

    “Be ready to accept reality as it is, as the truth is stranger than the strangest fiction.”

    Peace,
    Mikazuki

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  20. I have enjoyed reading this post and most of the comments. Like Josh, I have also been attracted to the image and teachings of Jesus. I am also attracted to the image presented by Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and Buddha, in spite of their differences in details. Even though God may have started the universe, and remain distant, it does not necessarily mean that God does not interfere further. Our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend the immensity of this universe, how can we assume to understand that characteristics of God? Yet, we tend to conclude whether God exists or not based on our limited capacity to understand and interpret “evidence.” I have been more of a Deist lately, but recent personal difficult circumstances have motivated me to look up again and ask for intervention, if at all possible. I will see if I can be sensitive to the intervention that God may manifest in my life simply by my “prayer.”

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  21. @ Noel

    “Even though God may have started the universe, and remain distant, it does not necessarily mean that God does not interfere further.”

    And just because I have not seen any leprechauns does not necessarily mean there aren’t any.

    “Our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend the immensity of this universe, how can we assume to understand that characteristics of God?”

    But this sentence seems to assume there is a God with characteristics. If there is any sort of God ala any scriptural claims, that is the most important fact of existence. It seems odd that this most important of all things chooses to remain invisible and undetected.

    “Yet, we tend to conclude whether God exists or not based on our limited capacity to understand and interpret “evidence.””

    But what else can we do? Apportioning belief in any proposition according to the amount and quality of evidence seems to me to be optimal. Even Dawkins says he is only 6.5 out of 7 on a scale of non belief. Like him, I have concluded on the unlikelihood of God to a similar degree of confidence. This is not a certainty, but a best attempt to weigh all of the information at my disposal dispassionately (I did say best attempt – that’s all any of us have).

    “Our limited capacity” is all we got to work with. If you say we also have faith, you used your limited capacity and decided faith was a good tool.

    I have reacted to your post, showing what ideas I had a problem with, and why. I hope I have not been discourteous.

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  22. Hi Nate, it won’t surprise you that I have a couple of different ideas on this.

    1. Einstein is reported to have said “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler”. The evidence, which determines what is possible, is the main thing. I don’t believe in Jesus because it is the simplest hypothesis, but because I believe the evidence points to it being true – and you are the same in your beliefs.

    Wikipedia says: “In science, Occam’s Razor is used as a heuristic (discovery tool) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.”

    So if we are trying to choose among many religions which to investigate first, the Razor may help, but it doesn’t help much in deciding between atheism and theism (IMO).

    2. I think christians and atheists think differently about the results of Occam’s Razor because we are looking at two different questions. Take the hackneyed example of someone coming into my kitchen and asking why the kettle is boiling. I can reply “because heat applied at the base of the kettle excites the molecules of water etc” (a scientific explanation of the process) or I can say “to make a cup of tea” (a personal explanation of purpose).

    If we are trying to understand a the process of biological evolution, science understands the processes to a reasonable degree, and adding God doesn’t explain them any better and just complicates things. But if we are trying to see if there is a purpose behind the universe, and consider the origin of a fine-tuned universe, of ethics and of human rationality, science either has no explanation, or it requires different explanations, whereas theism has one explanation to explain it all, and thus does better according to Occam’s Razor. In support of this, I often hear atheists respond to theism by saying “Goddidit!” and mocking that explanation as being very broad and simplistic – but that is the very thing I am claiming here.

    So I think Occam’s Razor favours God if we ware considering purpose, but favours science if we are considering process. Thanks.

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  23. I’ve not read the linked posts but I appreciated your post and I agree with your summary of occams razor.

    I think trying to use occams razor to show any kind of god has a problem because you then need to explain which god and how all that that god represents is explainable. It’s pretty much an impossible task.

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  24. “Our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend the immensity of this universe, how can we assume to understand that characteristics of God?”

    and if you think this god is the god of the bible, then the bible tells us, in man’s language, what his characteristics are.

    if we’re educated and intelligent people, when his (god’s) described character conflicts with his displayed character, then maybe this shows a problem with the bible’s claims and not our understanding.

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  25. I think UnkleE made some good points.

    And I agree that the “simplest” thing is often relative. If we were going to build something, what’s the simplest way to go about it?

    Hammer or nail gun? Well the hammer is a simpler tool, but the nail gun makes the act of building simpler. And then the availability of the tools may further simplify the selection. So in this regard I understand UnkleE’s point. How are we viewing the question?

    For me, with “goddidit!” there have been many things that were once explained this way, but have sense been found to happen through natural, explainable and physical processes – like lightning, hurricanes, celestial orbits and earthquakes, etc. it’s happened so often that it appears to be used as a guessed answer in lieu of “I don’t know.”

    Perhaps there is no answer to why we are here. Maybe there is no why. Maybe there’s a scientific answer for that which we’ll discover one day. Maybe it is indeed god. But like others have mentioned, we must go from an intelligent creator(s) to the god of the bible and his son jesus… how do arrive there?

    Personal experiences may only serve to convince the person experiencing them. Some would have to have a reason to believe the book’s claims before believing them.

    The bible would be simple is you assumed a lot of things and were fine with not being able to understand a lot of other claims and biblical events. When considering all of that, the bible seems anything but simple to me.

    I’ll stop rambling now.

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  26. I would have to agree with UnkleE’s first point. I think we could all give examples of scenarios where the simplest explanation turned out to be wrong and so Occam’s razor does not guarantee finding truth (Nate said this). A better way of deciding between atheism and theism or deism would be to look at the available evidence and decide which explanation best fits all of the evidence. We are all doing this as best as we can by being open-minded, weighing the options and giving each perspective a lot of thought. But how do we decide which is a best fit? This is difficult because we are forming our opinions based on our subjective decisions and we have no way of knowing if we are closer or further from the actual truth of the matter. This is why I am agnostic.

    Josh, your admittance of some uncertainty is nice to hear because all too often we get bogged down in “debate mode” and never reveal our honest doubts.

    UnkleE, on your second point I’d like to ask a question. On the question of whether or not the universe has a purpose, how does fine-tuning and human rationality and ethics answer this for you? You said “theism has one explanation to explain it all”, and I assume you are referring to God, but what is the purpose?

    Also, to cover all our bases, we should consider the possibility that we were “fine-tuned” by a higher power for no purpose at all.

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  27. For anyone interested.

    According to Wikipedia,

    William of Ockham believed “only faith gives us access to theological truths.

    “The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_of_Ockham

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  28. Although apparently Ockham did not invent this “razor”; its association with him may be due to the frequency and effectiveness with which he used it

    Its still interesting that a theists methodological principle was adopted by atheists and deists to be used for other rationalisations.

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  29. When I’ve read a lot of the back-and-forth in many of Nate’s blog discussions, I’ve always wondered why no one on the ‘believer’ side dives in to their own personal experiences with God, and thus why they believe. For me, that’s what keeps me adhered to my faith, and Nate and I have had these discussions often; which is why I fully understand his (and many other skeptic views) on this board—personal experience has led them away from belief.

    I thought Unkle’s ‘tea kettle’ explanation was spot on: I may not fully understand the scientific process of how the water boils…I just want some tea! The process works for me because of what I get from it. Trying to explain the ‘boiling’ process (and my limited understanding of it) does nothing to help explain and resolve WHY I would want to boil water. If I’m asked why I believe in Christ, I would have to go into what he’s done in the lives of my family and friends. Even the surrounding events of my father’s sudden death last October I can see lining up as God’s preparation and God’s provision. Why did my dad die? I don’t know. But I can still see how God worked in the people that were brought in to my mom’s circle just before, and as a result of, his death. But…

    In this regard I also think William is spot on when he says, “Personal experiences may only serve to convince the person experiencing them. Some would have to have a reason to believe the book’s claims before believing them.”

    So as a result, there are things I believe about the books claims, and things I don’t understand (or have yet to understand). But the things I don’t understand don’t hinder my belief in what I DO grasp. And, in the end, it all still has always given me a very fine cup of tea. (Even through tragedy) 🙂

    Sometimes personal experience belies the simpler explanation but still holds a kernel of truth…at least for the person experiencing it.

    Like

  30. you know that story of the footprints in the sand, where there are usually two sets, but when times are hard there’s on set?

    the one set of prints indicates when jesus is carrying you through the hard times, despite what it felt like during that time…

    the difficult times I endured, where people showed great compassion and love, I once thought that god was the source of that compassion and love, but now as I look back, like with the story of the footprints, I realize that it wasnt what it felt like.

    the source of the compassion and love i received from other people were from those people, and not god. This explains why “ungodly” people make it through bad times and why they can receive love and compassion too.

    You just want tea. wanting tea only explains why you’re brewing tea, not how it happens. maybe by wanting compassion, comfort and purpose, we only truly recognize when we get it, but not how we get it. Our wants do not validate or even indicate the how those wants are met.

    Perhaps someone who wants tea thinks that turning a dial does it, and doesnt understand that it’s the heat that makes the brew. them wanting tea, doesnt explain how they have tea, but only why they’re brewing it.

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  31. For me personally, Unkle’s ‘tea kettle’ explanation is interesting to think about,

    but also seems to have some holes in it.

    If I asked someone “why is the kettle boiling?” and they answered “because I would like a cup of tea” that actually doesn’t explain the process.

    If I then asked “how” is that kettle boiling?

    then this person could inform me on some of the heating processes that provide the right circumstances for a nice hot cup of tea.

    But answering the question with “I want a tea” is still an answer,

    but a different answer to a different question.

    Its really an expression of a desire, it does not address the “how”. As others here have pointed out.

    “How” and “why” can be two different questions, and sometimes when people ask a “why?” question, after further discussion you soon find out they really are asking a “how?” question…

    The “why” in this case is actually subjective here, it is based on the feelings and desires of the person being asked.

    And is not every “why” question subjective?

    They want a cup of tea, and that seems like a reasonable and achievable desire, considering the objective processes involved and available.

    The “how” is objective, and reflects the processes that can achieve this specific desire i.e the desire to enjoy a hot cup of tea….

    Yet now suppose I asked the same question, “why is that kettle boiling?” and the person instead answered something along the lines of “because I wish to fly to the moon!” or “I intend to build chair made of apprehension!!!”.

    These would be nonsensical answers to the “why” question. Yet you could discount these based on how the objective processes did not (nor could not) meet these particular goals.

    I could also discount the “how” question if this person stated that the tea was being boiled by a million tiny caterpillars on a blue treadmill. There are ways we could test this to rule this out.

    But a person answering that they “want” a cup of tea may be a satisfactory answer for a everyday and somewhat trivial example

    Lets look at another example then. A more pressing and serious example

    (and I apologise for the graphic example, but I feel its a important example to use, since it impacts on real people based on cultural and religious upbringing)

    Now say a person is sharpening a sword.

    I ask “why” are you doing this?

    and they reply

    “I’m wanting to circumcise my child”.

    Now some people at this point may then say, well this is ok, this is what some people do….

    Ok, lets change the scenario then

    (and again, sorry to use this, but I feel this brings the question home)

    say their child is their daughter (Female circumcision happens in Somalia and elsewhere in the world)

    and I ask “why” are you doing this?

    and they reply in the following:

    – “because I want to follow god” or

    – “because I want my family to be blessed” or

    – “because it is the tradition of my people” or

    – “because it is a right of passage for women here” or

    – “because I want my daughter to be married to a good or/and wealthy family”

    ect.

    Would any of these answers make this practice (a) justifiable and (b) true

    I am open to the existence of God, and I do want a God of Love to exist. And I even acknowledge that I think there is a difference between male and female circumcision.

    but the illustration that answering the “why” does not seem to me valid, maybe in trivial and pleasant things like desiring a cup of tea,

    but not when it comes to other considerations.

    Like

  32. Another example is this

    Say I asked a person, “how are clouds formed?” or “where do clouds come from?” then if that person knew, they could explain (hopefully accurately) some of this process. Both “where” and “how” come down to How questions 🙂

    If I asked instead, *why* are clouds made?” that is a subjective question, it is not really objective. Since it is attaching purpose to a natural process.

    For example, the person could answer specifically:

    1. Clouds are made to give rain to our* cattle
    2. Clouds are made to give shade to our* people
    3. Clouds are made to grow our* harvest

    or be more general:

    1. Clouds are made to give water to humanity
    2. Clouds are made to wash away our

    In other words… clouds are made for us or them, to make rain, to curse or to bless.

    But this is attaching meaning to specific interactions the clouds are involved in when they are involved in the process of making rain.

    But are the clouds sending* rain? or is it product of interaction which we, along with other forms of life both benefit AND suffer from?

    Rain can flood as well as water and nourish. Rain can trigger mudslides in the process as well as soften the ground for growth. Water can spread disease as well as quench thirst. The processes interact with the environment.

    But what about those instances where it rains in the desert? on seemingly very little? certainly not on humans. are the specific clouds there for the few sparse vegetation and marsupials and lizards?

    I’ve heard that science only addresses the how questions, not the why questions.

    In a way this makes sense to me, since the how questions can be measured. And any scientific question seems to be a how question,

    for example if someone asks a Atmospheric Scientist “why” rainbows exist, the scientist would explain how* the specific processes involved form what we call rainbows.

    If the same person asked a theologian or a philosopher “why” rainbows exist, they may explain these processes, but may also then say these processes happened because of X. Now X may be also true, but here we also have scenarios where some people may believe rainbows were made by giant serpents.

    A scientist might do this as well, but when they do this (or anyone else) they are expressing their personal belief behind why these processes happen. Whether they are true or not.

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  33. The thing is, you cannot measure subjective experience, even whether it is true or not.

    Which makes it fall outside of scientific methods of understanding.

    Which makes me think that faith is the area where the Why questions are answered.

    Many How questions can be addressed through scientific methods.

    The why questions may still be valid (and even true) depending on what they are, and I’m still open to them.

    But there are a lot of answers to why questions throughout the centuries. How do we know which ones are valid? which ones should we base our very lives on?

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  34. “Which makes me think that faith is the area where the Why questions are answered.” – portal

    do you think there is an objective way to evaluate these subjective faiths? I guess you’re asking that yourself, while you hold on to a form of christianity.

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  35. William asked: “do you think there is an objective way to evaluate these subjective faiths?”

    My simplistic answer would be ‘no’. And maybe I’m misinterpreting the meaning of objective here, but I would think that one would have to be open to the possibility of God’s working, i.e. your previous comment: “the source of the compassion and love i received from other people were from those people, and not god. This explains why “ungodly” people make it through bad times and why they can receive love and compassion too.”

    While I agree fully the “ungodly” people can receive (and give) love and compassion too, how do you know the source of compassion and love you received was not from god but merely from other people. Could it have been both? I’m only suggesting the possibility and, to be fully objective, I’d think you’d have to be open to that.

    So to answer the question, no, I don’t think there is an objective way. Some people are subjective one way, some are subjective the other. Is anyone truly objective?

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  36. is anyone truly objective? I wonder that myself. I am not. I try to be, but i realize that I have constraints on me through life’s experiences. I try to reach beyond those, but i know that i never fully escape them.

    And you’re right, I dont “know” for certain that god isnt acting through or aiding the loving and compassionate people. I guess I started placing levels of credibility to the unseen, or else I’d have a hard time rejecting anything. I dont think i’ve expressed this the best way possible, but hopefully is still makes sense.

    I guess for me, I’m doing what makes the most sense for me now – as all of us are, i suppose. So I try not to be too forceful with my views and when i am, it’s usually because I feel certain – by my self certainty doesnt equal “right.” i realize that too.

    good thoughts, kent.

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  37. “UnkleE, on your second point I’d like to ask a question. On the question of whether or not the universe has a purpose, how does fine-tuning and human rationality and ethics answer this for you? You said “theism has one explanation to explain it all”, and I assume you are referring to God, but what is the purpose?”

    Hi Dave. I think the simple answer would be “God made it for a purpose and I can only guess what that purpose is” and I think that would be a satisfactory explanation and it would be simple and it would satisfy Occam’s Razor.

    But I think we can go further than that. I think part of his purpose was to make something physical and grand, a major part was to create autonomous beings who shared some of his characteristics – rationality, ethical sense, free will and volition, able to initiate and cause things, capable of love, etc – and a physical environment was a good way to allow all those things, and I suppose there may be many other purposes.

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  38. Hi UnkleE. Thanks for your response. Would you say that the universe appears to have a purpose because it appears to be designed? Like if you found a pocket watch in the sand and had no idea what it was for, you could still say it appears to have some purpose? (even though we can only guess what that purpose may be)

    What if, upon inspection of the “watch” you found that it had some major problems such as gears randomly exploding, gears that were corroding with rust, tons of gears that did not interact and gears that would appear useful for a moment but then become jettisoned by a rotating blade? All of these problems make it much more difficult to guess what the purpose of this thing could be. It may be a time bomb. No one knows. There are still some nice portions of the “watch” that appear to be working – we could just focus on those and ignore the other problems.

    If the best we can do is guess at the purpose of something then there is still a strong possibility that it has no purpose at all. Right? It could be a failed prototype or just a random accident. Saying it has a designer just gives us one more thing to try and explain.

    What if we were to come across God, a being capable of rational thought and ethics, shouldn’t we then say that he appears to be designed?

    My questions are sincere. Thank you for the discussion.

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  39. Ryan, I read your comments and just wanted to say I can relate to your frustrations over the “why” questions. Science has no answers to questions like “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose?”

    You said, “But there are a lot of answers to why questions throughout the centuries. How do we know which ones are valid? which ones should we base our very lives on?”

    Well, we don’t know which if any or valid. It is frustrating, no doubt about it. I’m not sure how faith would help, since there is no way of knowing what to put your faith in. I think we just have to answer the why questions ourselves and give our own meaning to life.

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  40. “I think the simple answer would be “God made it for a purpose and I can only guess what that purpose is”

    unkleE, I think you are making 2 guesses here. 1.) God made it for a purpose 2.) You can only guess what that purpose is.

    “a major part was to create autonomous beings who shared some of his characteristics – rationality, ethical sense, free will and volition, able to initiate and cause things, capable of love, et”

    Part of the definition of “Autonomous” is being “un-coerced” If you believe in a Judeo – Christian God it would be difficult to claim your decisions are un-coerced. If you also believe we share characteristics with this Judeo – Christian God like rationality, ethical sense, free will and volition, able to initiate and cause things, capable of love, you would also have to admit that we share in his anger, hatred, jealousy, vengefulness, etc.

    The Big Bang produced a chaotic Universe which continues today.. The fine-tuning which religious people like to describe our Universe is at best a snapshot of chaos in slow motion. Our Earth’s relationship to our Sun helps us to sustain life, but in a few billion years the Sun’s light will be 40% brighter and will bake the Earth.

    Dave, nice example of the watch. Like the watch, our lives must submit to entropy’s demand for chaos.

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  41. It appears to me, that YHWH created the celestial beings with free will, and when Lucifer began to feel pride because of his beauty, he wanted to be like Ya. When he began to spread discord amongst the other angles, they became confused. He told them that Ya was unjust and that they should follow him. At this point YHWH laid out his plan to show that not only is He all knowing, but he is also all loving and full of mercy and righteousness. Sure, He could have struck Lucifer down, but then the angles would have always wondered “was Lucifer right”.

    Because Ya is Holy, he can not allow sin. But if we do righteousness, then we are righteous. That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but our imperfections are covered by the blood of the lamb. So for now this is Lucifer’s play ground, but Ya has made provisions for his people, and he will come back and restore all things. YHWH says he is our salvation, and Yahusha said “there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your brother”. In a perfect act of love, Ya shows us that Lucifer is wrong, and we are free to choose whom we will serve. So in my opinion “why are here?”, to glorify God and show the world that He is worthy of all honor and praise.

    I may have a different answer next year, because the more I study, the more I have to unlearn previous beliefs. But everyone should remember here, that the scriptures may have a lot of unanswered questions, but so does evolution. I suppose with time we will have more proof one way or another!

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  42. Hi Dave, thanks for your thoughts and your questions.

    If the watch is obviously designed, but there are parts that look damaged or badly designed or we can’t tell the purpose, I would say exactly that. I don’t have to understand the purpose or the reasons for the apparent damage or poor design to see that it was nevertheless designed.

    I think it is the same with the universe. Its core design is clear, but there are things I don’t understand and seem inconsistent (like suffering) and things I don’t fully understand and don’t expect to (like all the reasons why God designed and created it).

    If we can only guess at the purpose, then we can only guess, but that doesn’t in itself take away the evidence that it was designed. Why should it? If I walked into Dr Who’s Tardis without ever having seen the TV show, I would have no idea what it did but its design would be obvious. But all I would need to do is ask the Doctor!

    And so I believe it is with the universe. If God left us just with what we can observe, then I would have to get on with life the best I could. But it seems he didn’t. We have religion, which claims to be the equivalent of asking the Doctor. But the problem is we have many different religions (not as many or as different as people often say, but still enough to be confusing). So we have to decide whether God reveals himself through all of them, some of them, just one of them, or none of them. So again we have to look at the evidence.

    Is God designed? Well, let’s consider the logic. Either something could have been different or it couldn’t (let’s call that ‘necessary’). If it could have been different, either it was designed or it wasn’t (we’ll call that random or chance). The majority of cosmologists say evidence is that the apparent design of the universe isn’t necessary or chance, so design is plausible. (They say our universe came from a multiverse, but we can apply the same logic to the multiverse.) But philosophers say that God, if he exists, is necessary – he couldn’t have been different. So I don’t think the parallel holds.

    Thanks.

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  43. William,

    Apologies for not writing sooner, it was pretty late where I am,

    when I read your question William I was considering it, I wasn’t ignoring you 🙂

    I’ll answer your question soon,

    Dave,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’ve thought the same things. Your watch analogy illustrates it, although to be fair a watch might not be the best example, since it is designed, and we know its designed by humans. We find no watches growing, adapting and developing in their natural habitat, unless we consider their natural habitat to be places like William Penn Jewellers 🙂

    Laurie,

    I think you share some interesting and thought provoking thoughts Laurie 🙂

    your assessment of the devil confuses me though. Lets unpack this and see if this makes sense.

    If going by your assertion, (1) God is withholding the punishment of the devil (although the devil has already been judged) and (2) God hasn’t yet just struck down the devil (at least not in our *very real* realm of existence).

    According to you, one reason this hasn’t been done could be “the angles would have always wondered “was Lucifer right”.

    And this devil has instead been apparently given (according to some denominations) other demons to work with (what!) and the liberty and means to posses, kill and harm people.

    Human beings tried to build a tower of babel, and God put a stop to that, why does God allow a legion of demons to network across his creation? even if this network is limited?

    This is providing that the devil is still active in the world. I understand that other denominations may possibly believe that the devil is already in hell. But then that would nullify the threat of demonic activity, a threat that many Christina s seem to believe in…

    But if we are basing our understanding on the premise that the devil is still active then lets consider the implications of this.

    This “thing” has been allowed to have power and influence, and this given the understanding of thousands, if not millions of centuries. That time has also included being a participant in the heavenly realms. And hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, but why is such a “rabid dog” allowed to have a playground? Gods children are here.

    There are also accounts in the Bible, where God struck down human beings because they transgressed the Law of God, or fought against, or stood in the way Israel. But human beings are finite creatures, with limited understanding. Why is a fallen angel, who actively stood in Gods way, with a significant deal more understanding allowed to network with other fallen angels, or even allowed to hurt people?

    As far as I understand it, many Christians see the devil as a fallen angel, and believe he stood at one time in the very presence of God, yet rebelled and sought to be a “god” (sounds to me like a very limited god). Furthermore, the devil is said to be the father of lies and actively seeks to devour people…

    I think given this assessment, the devil is a disgusting character. If such a creature existed, and I had the means to destroy him, I would. Yet this creature has been given the label of “big honcho” of demons everywhere.

    This pathetic creature or concept, who (and I am emphasising this) has been given the privilege of standing in the very presence of God, and communicating, having a one on one conversation with God (reference to Job).

    These are privileges no human has had, even if the devil did not actually see God during the time he was a angel, he still conversed with God in a tangible way. What a waste of an experience on him. Yet what human, having had such an experience would turn away?

    The Bible states that: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known – John 1:18 (NIV)

    Not many humans have conversed with God or have been visited by God in the way Moses or the Israelites had. These seem like rare gift to humans. But maybe I’m wrong,

    maybe many people do interact with God in these specific tangible ways, and when they leave their room, their face is visibly glowing from this interaction. I have not had such a interaction, as far as I can recall. and I think I would remember such an experience.

    yet here this pathetic devil creature, who has had conversations with God Himself, still wanders around like the creep he is and tries to fight a battle he has already lost

    Here I have gone by a Christian understanding of the devil. Please correct me if you disagree Laurie.

    Kind regards, Ryan

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  44. So using Occams Razor (and bringing this back on topic)

    Say If I heard a noise in my closet, or under my bed during the night…

    And I had a pet dog in my room,

    but I had also recently watched a horror movie

    would I then assume that

    (A) the noise came from a bogeyman (a devil)

    or

    (b) using the most straightforward and simple inference, would I instead assume the cause came from my dog rummaging around my room?

    The feelings triggered by assuming the bogeyman is under my bed are very real..but the source that triggers the feelings may be false or misdirected (like phobias).

    Boom! Occams Razor 🙂

    Of course this doesn’t discount that a devil doesn’t exist, somewhere, out there….

    just that no bogeyman was waiting under the bed,

    so I no longer have to take a running jump to avoid its long spidery hands, like I did for a while when I was a child.

    And why did I rationalise that hiding under the covers, or taking a running jump would protect me from such a thing!! if there really was a bogeyman?? pretty sure covers or jumping into my bed would not suffice to provide adequate protection from such a thing 🙂

    Perhaps part of me knew I was playing a game, even at that younger age,

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  45. One of the limitations of the watch analogy is just what Ryan said — watches aren’t made of self-replicating and self-assembling components. Our universe is. While we still don’t know what caused the Big Bang or what started the first life, it still seems to me that a natural explanation of some kind is more likely than a supernatural one. Understandably, people come down on different sides of it.

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  46. A watch is made with intent by skilled people, people can observe this intent

    A mountain or a waterfall forms and changes over long periods of time, with the interaction of pressure and interaction with its environment.

    If a waterfall of mountain is formed with an grand intent, I find that intent difficult to observe.

    It is taken upon faith that there is a purpose for that waterfall, and that purpose is not only a by-product that is part of a process that certain animals benefit from. i.e shelter, water, inspiration, bathing ect.

    But the watch analogy doesn’t seem to fit when people are really intending to refer to natural phenomenon like mountains and waterfalls, and the life that interacts and forms on and in them.,

    We are then talking about different things I think

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  47. Laurie,

    I have another question,

    if you don’t follow or agree with the writings of Saint Paul, what in your mind makes the parts you do consider, to be more valid?

    Hope your day is going well 🙂

    Like

  48. Nate,

    I wouldn’t even say the universe is self replicating.

    Using the same example, a mountain can’t replicate itself, but forms and changes based on the environmental pressures placed upon it (heat, water, sand, wind)

    as well as the other processes that interact with and on it (vegetation, trees, animals). All these interactions develop and adapt to create what people categorise as changing “systems” of an environment.

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/394887/mountain-ecosystem

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  49. What I mean to say is that to me, things don’t seem to be so much self replicating as more reacting and interacting to the forces, processes and organisms around it over time

    which forms new “systems” or living adaptations that develop, until the environment doesn’t support such a system and its connections any more

    Then another develops out of it, and eventually becomes something entirely different.

    I know this is off topic, sorry, I just find it interesting 🙂

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v498/n7455/full/nature12218.html

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  50. Thanks Ryan and Nate for pointing out the problems with the watch analogy. I should have picked a better word, perhaps “unknown thing”.

    UnkleE, I agree, if the watch is OBVIOUSLY designed then we could say it was designed no matter what the purpose was. As was pointed out, we know a watch is designed because we are familiar with the process of watchmaking and watchmakers.

    Back to the universe, not knowing whether or not it has a purpose, we are left with nothing but trying to figure out if it looks designed or not. In this instance none of us are familiar with any kind of universe-making process or universe-makers so this makes it more difficult.

    UnkleE, you said “Its core design is clear”. It is not so clear to me. Are you referring to the laws of nature? It would be nice if you would elaborate on this.

    Wouldn’t it be a mistake if we were to reason like this: “I think the universe has a purpose, XYZ, and therefore it appears to be designed”. Using Ryan’s example, it would be like saying “The purpose of clouds is to water my garden, therefore a cloud maker must exist.”

    Now, we have a pretty good idea of where clouds actually come from. We have a good idea of where stars come from and how planets form. There are other things we are not so sure of like where do dreams come from? Sometimes dreams are very different than what we would normally think of during waking hours. Could there be a purpose for them? A message? Should we then assume that there is a Sandman who creates our dreams for us? How do we know if the Sandman truly exists? Perhaps the Sandman, also known as Ole-Luk-Oie, revealed himself in a dream to Hans Christian Anderson who wrote this about him:

    There is nobody in the world who knows so many stories as Ole-Luk-Oie, or who can relate them so nicely. In the evening, while the children are seated at the table or in their little chairs, he comes up the stairs very softly, for he walks in his socks, then he opens the doors without the slightest noise, and throws a small quantity of very fine dust in their eyes, just enough to prevent them from keeping them open, and so they do not see him. Then he creeps behind them, and blows softly upon their necks, till their heads begin to droop. But Ole-Luk-Oie does not wish to hurt them, for he is very fond of children, and only wants them to be quiet that he may relate to them pretty stories, and they never are quiet until they are in bed and asleep. As soon as they are asleep, Ole-Luk-Oie seats himself upon the bed. He is nicely dressed; his coat is made of silken fabric; it is impossible to say of what color, for it changes from green to red, and from red to blue as he turns from side to side. Under each arm he carries an umbrella; one of them, with pictures on the inside, he spreads over the good children, and then they dream the most beautiful stories the whole night. But the other umbrella has no pictures, and this he holds over the naughty children so that they sleep heavily, and wake in the morning without having dreams at all. – from Hans Christian Andersen’s 1841 folk tale Ole Lukøje.

    There you have it! A simple explanation of where dreams come from. It may seem funny, but to me this story could be placed in the same category as Laurie’s story about YHWH, Lucifer and the Angels. Folklore, plain and simple, a common occurrence among all people groups to make up stories to try and explain phenomena.

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  51. He’s not so bad when compared to the German version: “Der Sandmann”

    he threw sand in the eyes of children who wouldn’t sleep, with the result of those eyes falling out and being collected by the Sandman, who then takes the eyes to his iron nest on the Moon, and uses them to feed his children.

    But that was written by false prophets, not inspired by the true Sandman.

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  52. Laurie,

    just a few more notes on the devil,

    – never understood why there are such a thing as “devil worshippers” out there. I’ve heard that many of them are actually atheists, but if they truly believe in a real devil, then from a biblical perspective (which is where the devil is described) why would a person actively and ritualistically side with a creature God has defeated, unless they are making up their own version of what they mean by devil?

    – In any case, why would someone idealise a creature that involves the personification of deception and false accusations? Doesn’t seem like that would lead to a better understanding of reality at all, just create confusion.

    But those are just side notes.

    I’ve also heard that the greatest trick the devil pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Yet that statement didn’t come from the Bible, at least not as far as I have read, or stated directly in that way.

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  53. Ugh, so many new comments! I have a hard time keeping up! Busy, busy, busy!😄

    I’m sure I will miss something, but remind me and I’ll get back to you tonight.

    The bible is a very small book, and so sometimes getting clear concise information is not really possible. So this is my opinion, and there is a lot of speculation.

    First question was about Ya withholding punishment, and the answer is yes. Hades, gehenna, and taratus are new testament words used for hell. In the Tanakh, the word is sheol and it simply means grave. A place of eternal torment is not based on the scriptures, but greek mythology. Paul is the only one who ” delivers people over to Satan for the tormenting of the flesh” in the bible. The lake of fire is something that happens at the end, and according to Malachi 4:3 the fire extinguishes and we tread on the ashes. Ya doesn’t preserve evil for eternity, his plan is for perfection and restoration.

    Ya doesn’t give Lucifer demons, but he convinced a third of the angels to follow him. The fallen angels are what we call demons.

    Lucifer did not know from the beginning, that he had already lost, and even now probably had some hope. The scriptures are considered spiritual, and to understand them requires spiritual discernment, which he doesn’t posses. Also, Ya opens and closes prophecy for different times. An example of this is the closed book in Daniel 12, and the same scene in revelation 10 with an open book. (Great prophecy for discussion)

    The short of it is that after the fall Lucifer was given dominion here, center stage, and all the universe is watching. In the end it will be clear that Ya is perfect in His love and mercy, and not a dictator that commands worship. He will remove sin, and we will forever remember what sin caused in this world.

    Just my opinion

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  54. Oh my! A devil? Say it isn’t so … because it isn’t! There IS NO DEVIL/SATAN. The stories about the fallen angel are nothing but Christian fairy tales (much like Ole-Luk-Oie). I have done tons of research into the existence and history of this “evil one” and none of what people believe and/or are taught is correct. I truly don’t mean this as a “plug” but if anyone is interested, I go into extensive detail about “The Big Bad Guy” in my book.

    Sorry, Nate, for getting away from your post’s topic, but every time I come across such pure nonsense, I get riled.

    BTW, I totally agree with rung2 when he wrote: … we still know nothing about the soul’s immortality, nothing about any sort of afterlife, and should hold out no hope that we are special in any way. For some, this is probably a sad way of looking at life, but beyond belief in the bible, these are the facts..

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  55. UnkleE,

    You wrote:

    Is God designed? Well, let’s consider the logic. Either something could have been different or it couldn’t (let’s call that ‘necessary’). If it could have been different, either it was designed or it wasn’t (we’ll call that random or chance). The majority of cosmologists say evidence is that the apparent design of the universe isn’t necessary or chance, so design is plausible. (They say our universe came from a multiverse, but we can apply the same logic to the multiverse.) But philosophers say that God, if he exists, is necessary – he couldn’t have been different. So I don’t think the parallel holds.

    Speaking about a multiverse is probably like speaking about deities. It is well beyond our grasp and we have little chance of understanding them or discerning whether they exist. But it’s fun, so I’ll indulge myself…

    Let’s define the Multiverse as a quantum soup of particles that interacts in such a way that universes (like ours) are spawned randomly for eternity. Now what’s to stop me from using the same trick that theists have done and say: “The Multiverse, if it exists, is necessary – it could not have been different.”?

    This is usually where theists pull out the “infinite regress” card and say ah-ha, you have a series of actions that go on and on with no ultimate cause. However, this fails for two reasons: 1. No one has proved that an infinite regress is not possible (it just hurts our heads to think about it is all). 2. The same case could be made against God. He has either done nothing (no thoughts or actions) for all eternity or he has an infinite regress of thoughts or actions. I don’t think theists would like to have a God who does nothing, so they too are stuck with an infinite regress dilemma. I don’t think it’s a dilemma, it’s just that infinity is something we have a hard time understanding.

    Let’s use Occam’s razor again so we can stay on topic. Of the two theories put forward we have one option with infinite actions (Multiverse) and one option with infinite thoughts and actions (God). The simpler of the two would be the Multiverse because it does not have the added complexity of thoughts. What does everyone else think?

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  56. I don’t think I used the word Satan or devil. The first time the word Ha Satan appears in the Tanakh is in the story of balaam, and was actually talking about an angel. The words actually translate Ha (the) Satan (adversary) , if memory serves.

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  57. Sorry to be off topic, butt Nan, do you not believe in angels because you don’t believe in the Tanakh, or because you don’t believe it is IN the Tanakh? I know you are not a believer, right?

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  58. Whooooeee! Thanks for the apology, Laurie. I was beginning to feel like I was on your sh__ list. 😉

    No, you didn’t use the term devil or satan. Others did. Even so, to most people, Lucifer is satan (but that’s a story for another day). You’re absolutely correct about ha-satan. I think where Christians see “Satan” in the OT is in 1Chronicles 21:1, where the KJV says: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” My understanding is ha-satan was in the original text and this is a translation “error.”

    No, I don’t believe in angels. I haven’t done any research on them except to say it’s my understanding they came into the Jewish belief through Zoroastrianism.

    Yes, you’re correct. I’m not a believer. If you haven’t already, please visit my blog to learn more about where I stand.

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  59. “most religions define their god(s) in such a way that Occam’s razor deals them a critical blow.”

    I would most definitely agree with that statement but highlight the ‘most’. It particularly applies to the Abrahamic gods as polytheistic gods tend not to be all good or all powerful in every way. They also don’t tend to promise salvation etc, they may help or hinder depending on their mood and how you approached them.

    I would also tend to argue that if gods created the universe perfectly to their needs then they would not need to use anything other than its natural laws to influence the universe. Alternatively they may only actually interact using the imagination of those creatures capable of imagining. Why start a war when you can get a human to do it (not all polytheistic gods are even mainly good remember)? If they need to do miracles etc to influence the univeres its because they created it wrong. They would therefore be undetectable by us even assuming they did interact.

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  60. Hi Dave,

    “UnkleE, you said “Its core design is clear”. It is not so clear to me. Are you referring to the laws of nature? It would be nice if you would elaborate on this.”

    Many of the cosmologists say it looks like it was designed – see here. Why do they say that? Because they think theoretical physics shows it could feasibly have been very different, and the odds are overwhelmingly that it “should” have been very different, and yet it isn’t. So I can take their word for it, or I can think they are wrong. But whatever choice we make, they are referring to the laws and the values of constants within those laws.

    “Now what’s to stop me from using the same trick that theists have done and say: “The Multiverse, if it exists, is necessary – it could not have been different.”?”

    Yes, you could say that, but I’d have trouble believing it. Few of the cosmologists or philosophers believe the universe is necessary. If we can believe in a multiverse by extrapolation out of our known universe, then I think we’d have to extrapolate similar physics – and that means time based. So if God is necessary and not time-based, then the two are not equivalent in the way you suggest.

    I think it remains true that any way we try to avoid the logic of the fine-tuning argument for God, we end up either in a contradiction or with a different form of fine-tuning. Of course others see it differently, but that’s how I see it. Thanks.

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  61. unkleE, on your own blog , you go on to say this about these cosmologists, “All these conclusions are scientific, and don’t necessarily point to God. Several of these writers discuss the possibility of God being the cause of the fine-tuning, but as this isn’t a scientific question, none of them (that I am aware) draw strong conclusions about God’s existence or non-existence.”

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  62. I find first-cause arguments interesting, but not of much value, ultimately. To me, the biggest problem is that we don’t know what the default “nothing” state of the universe/multiverse is/should have been. Naturally, we all find it remarkable that anything at all exists, but that’s based on our assumption that the most natural state is for nothing at all to exist. But how do we know that?

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  63. It’s logic Nate. In the end, we either believe that everything contingent came from nothing (how?), or we believe that everything contingent came from something not contingent. Unlikely as God may be, coming from nothing is even more unlikely (IMO). I know you’re not going to agree, but I thought an answer should be given. 🙂

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  64. But does it come from nothing? What if ‘nothing’ as we think of it is impossible? I’m not saying your wrong, I just don’t think we know enough about the parameters to say anything with much certainty.

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  65. That’s right Nate, I also don’t think we know near enough to say anything regarding first cause with certainty. I’d also say that just like I’ve never run into non-contingent mechanistic things I’ve also never run into non-contingent minds. So just slapping the word “non-contingent” onto an idea just doesn’t do the work at solving the something from nothing problem. An intelligent mind that knows absolutely every fact there is to know within existence is nowhere near “nothing”, in fact to me that is even much more of a “something” than some non-contingent mechanistic things that then developed through natural laws into what we all experience today.

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  66. Unlikely as God may be, coming from nothing is even more unlikely (IMO). I know you’re not going to agree, but I thought an answer should be given. 🙂

    Which god?

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  67. “Unlikely as God may be, coming from nothing is even more unlikely (IMO). I know you’re not going to agree, but I thought an answer should be given. 🙂

    Which god?”

    This always seems to be the problem. For anyone to claim “Their God” alone created the universe is rather naive and/or arrogant .

    Either a “Creator” can reveal himself to ALL Mankind and leave NO doubt or mankind will keep searching for other answers. It’s quite simple really.

    I will concede to unkleE that Fine Tuning is a possibility. It’s difficult however to place this at the top of my list of explanations when the Fine Tuner has been so quiet otherwise.

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  68. I haven’t taken the time to read through all the 77 comments, so please forgive me if this has been covered, but it doesn’t usually get covered, so mathematically speaking, I feel pretty safe. 😉

    I like this post on Occam’s Razor, but it can even go one better. OK, so until fairly recently (historically speaking), it wasn’t considered “multiplying entities beyond necessity” to posit a Watchmaker God–a deist god, as you mentioned.

    However, for Christianity (which you use as an example), you have to make this creator fit certain characteristics. That’s difficult enough, but that could explain all the Good stuff in the world, all the wise balance of nature, all the beauty, etc, but to posit such a god requires an anti-god, or Satan, to explain all the rest–

    Why is the climate so messed up that the Lungfish has to exist (atrophied gills, lungs, and can bury itself in mud for YEARS to live through droughts)? Clearly an all-wise/powerful/etc god wouldn’t create a lungfish when there was no need, so did he create the environment? Why create drought-prone areas to begin with? Or if Satan screwed with the environment, why not fix it? Or if His purpose was to create something that could survive the Satanic environment (just to prove to humanity that “God’s Purpose Shall Stand”), why make the lungfish with imperfect gills AND lungs? And why make the Australian version with only One lung while retaining functional gills (though gills that are not sufficient in themselves, thus the need for a lung)?

    Why the predator-prey relationship when the bible talks about a future where “the lion shall lie with the lamb and eat grass as the ox”? I’ve heard in my own church growing up that “God allowed Satan to do certain things and, well, predator-prey, or the Black Widow spider are clearly signs of what Satan perverted!” Really? So, then, was it god or satan that then made antelope run fast enough to escape all the predatory cats? Did god do it to help the poor antelope, or did satan do it to torture his newly carnivorous creations? Certainly they weren’t that fast to begin with, for what was there to run from?

    We can “multiply entities beyond necessity” to explain the world around us (first an unnecessarily specific view of a possible First Cause, which then necessitates an antithesis to explain everything that doesn’t match our contrived notions of what said specific creator would do), or we can remove all that…the world and universe looks exactly like one might expect it to look if there were no Perfect Creator to create the good and no Satan to create the bad (or pervert the good…whatever).

    Occam’s Razor FTW.

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  69. Oh, and sorry for the double-post, but just read unkleE’s fine-tuning comment…perhaps fine-tuning is an argument for a First Cause god, but that still doesn’t get us anywhere near any of the god descriptions amongst the monotheisms.

    But, again, which is more difficult? It is difficult to think that Something came from Nothing, which is, I think, why there is the idea of the multi-verse…but that’s getting way over my head. However, what is the alternative? That there is a deity that exists outside space-and-time and can create all the matter of the universe…Out Of Nothing. So, either way, we come back to “the universe from nothing”, except with the fine-tuning argument you then ALSO have to posit a deity smart and powerful enough (read: complicated enough) to create it all, create physics, and fine-tune everything…Out Of Nothing (as in, this very complicated creator comes out of nothing in order to create the universe out of nothing).

    So, while there are many faith-claims that fall outside the reach of the Razor, ones that claim to be nothing but faith and are thus unfalsifiable and untestable, any faith-claim that starts pointing to the world around us as evidence of that faith-claim comes within the reach of the Razor.

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