Victor Stenger - God: The Failed Hypothesis
Posted: 05 March 2007 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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During this interview, DJ asked Dr. Stenger several times about what J. Gould said about Science and Religion being unable to speak about each other.  At one point, DJ mentioned that J. Gould was trying to stop the war between science and religion.

Stopping the war might have been a good idea, but if there was a cease-fire it was violated long ago by religion’s constant and continuing attacks on science, particularly science education.

I found this interview interesting but I was disappointed that Dr. Stenger was never able to clearly explain the basic ideas behind his book that make it different from the other somewhat similar books that have been discussed recently.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Dr. Stenger did mention controlled experiments regarding the efficacy of prayer as an example of how the scientific method might be used to disprove the existence of God. But I agree with you, bella, that more substantive examples would have been in order.
I’m looking forward to hearing interviews with attendees of the Islamic secularism conference. DJ’s colleague made an interesting comment regarding the reluctance of liberals to criticize Islam. I’m no fan of a culture that treats women so shabbily, but must admit I’m reluctant to rush into the fray for reasons ranging from my lack of familiarity with the Quran to the “enemy of my enemy” principle (namely that if all the Christian fundies on the right hate Islam it can’t be all bad…or at least no worse than them?).

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Posted: 05 March 2007 10:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It has always struck me as rather odd and somewhat arrogant when we humans say that the universe obeys the laws of physics.

It almost implies that there must be a creator of some kind.

The universe got along quite well without physics for billions of years so I kind of get his point. Though I do think it’s more philosophical than definitive proof that god doesn’t exist.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 12:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[quote author=“Doubter”]It has always struck me as rather odd and somewhat arrogant when we humans say that the universe obeys the laws of physics.

It almost implies that there must be a creator of some kind.

Why so? When we say that the universe obeys these laws, all we are really saying is that it manifests certain regularities. And this is incontrovertible fact.

Now, we certainly don’t mean that the universe obeys some sort of human laws. Clearly, the practice of doing physics is a human practice, and to that extent I understand your reluctance. But there clearly are regularities baked into reality in some sense. The universe is anything but “formless”.

[quote author=“Doubter”]Though I do think it’s more philosophical than definitive proof that god doesn’t exist.

Well, neither Stenger nor Dawkins claims to have provided “proof” that god doesn’t exist ... that sort of proof clearly lies outside of a scientific purview. All they claim to have done is to have demonstrated that god’s existence is unlikely or not in accord with the best, most complete theory of the universe that we have at this point. And to that end, Stenger’s comments on the non-efficacy of prayer are important.

Put another way, if Catholic prayer had been effective, as Stenger was arguing, that would have been taken as evidence for the existence of a (Catholic) god. So it follows that disconfirmation of this sort of prayer experiment disconfirms the existence of such a god. Not proof that he doesn’t exist, but evidence against his existence.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]
Why so? When we say that the universe obeys these laws, all we are really saying is that it manifests certain regularities. And this is incontrovertible fact.

You might know that and I might too (only just) but I reckon that the vast majority of people don’t.

Most people I talk to about such things are quite adamant that these laws are innate to the universe itself and that we humans are simply discovering them through our search for knowledge.
It’s like the heavens are full of ethereal calculations.

Quite a few people have even told me that this is proof of some sort of celestial intelligence…ie creator.
These people are not your god fearing bible basher types (thankfully we don’t have too many here in Aussie), in fact most are quite intelligent and rational thinkers.

If science has anything to offer the great bulk of pedestrian thinkers like myself it should be that not only are there no gods up in the heavens, there are none down here on earth either.

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Posted: 07 March 2007 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“Doubter”]Most people I talk to about such things are quite adamant that these laws are innate to the universe itself and that we humans are simply discovering them through our search for knowledge.
It’s like the heavens are full of ethereal calculations.

Well, it’s not making calculations, but no doubt there is some reason (some structure built into spacetime) that makes these regularities happen. But that has nothing to do with god. (Unless you are talking about a sort of Einsteinian/Spinozistic god).

[quote author=“Doubter”]If science has anything to offer the great bulk of pedestrian thinkers like myself it should be that not only are there no gods up in the heavens, there are none down here on earth either.

Absolutely!

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Posted: 07 March 2007 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]
Well, it’s not making calculations, but no doubt there is some reason (some structure built into spacetime) that makes these regularities happen.

What if the universe only appears to be the way it is because that is the way it is comprehensible to us?

Just a mind flip, but if you think of humans as being the sole source of all human reality then there must be no room for any form of supernatural based reality.
God becomes a human manifestation.

Anyway, that’s the basis of my atheism and so some of Victor Stenger’s comments struck a chord with me (either that or I’m tone deaf   :wink: )

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Posted: 08 March 2007 12:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“Doubter”][quote author=“dougsmith”]
Well, it’s not making calculations, but no doubt there is some reason (some structure built into spacetime) that makes these regularities happen.

What if the universe only appears to be the way it is because that is the way it is comprehensible to us?

Just a mind flip, but if you think of humans as being the sole source of all human reality then there must be no room for any form of supernatural based reality.
God becomes a human manifestation.

There is no evidence whatever for the supernatural, and the god of the theologians certainly is a human manifestation. But the laws of nature are not.

Humans may be important in our own small world, but we are not the arbiters of the universe, nor the “sole source of all human reality”. Down that road lies solipsism, mind-only idealism, or simple postmodernism.

We know that our grasp of the laws of nature at least approximates reality, because it has been tested repeatedly through predictions and experimentation. To take just one oft-told example, Johannes Kepler wanted very much to believe that the planets went around the sun in circular orbits. Due to Tycho Brahe’s incredibly accurate data on the position of Mars, Kepler was forced to accept the fact that the heavens were imperfect, and that planets orbited the sun in ellipses.

So the evidence is one thing, and human wishes and desires are another. Kepler would have found the heavens a lot more comprehensible had the planets moved in circles. But they don’t.

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Posted: 12 March 2007 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Stenger

This is another example (like “theory”) in which scientific terminology conflicts with common usage.  Most people think of “laws” as things that are thought up by someone and then enacted for all of us to follow.  The old Schoolhouse Rock episode of the bill that becomes a law comes to mind.  Accordingly, they believe that every law must have a creator.

But in science, laws are really descriptions of how matter and energy interact in different systems.  We do indeed “discover” the laws, but that doesn’t mean that any person or entity made the laws and then forced the universe to obey them.  These laws are just descriptions of how things work.  I fail to see how the fact that we are increasingly able to describe these workings as any evidence of a supernatural being.

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Posted: 12 March 2007 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I can’t speak for Doubter, but I wonder if he/she is trying to get at something more general-the idea that our descriptions of reality (in the form of mathematics and laws of physics) are limited by our own conceptual abilities and the “language” we have available for describing the phenomena. In that sense, they may be more like metaphors for reality than accurate descriptions. Granted our empirical systems for validating these descriptions show them to work within the framework of our methodology, so they are not arbitrary or disconnected completley from some underlying reality. But even conceptually inaccurate descriptions can be made to explain observational data surprisingly well. The geocentric model served fairly well for a long time, until enough data accumulated that could not be accounted for by continual additions and “fudge factors” and the heliocentric model proved much more parsimonius in explaining the same data. Similarly, Newtonian mechinics works great until you get to a certain scale, then it turns out to be a poor description of reality and a new one must be developed.

I guess what I’m saying, and maybe what Doubter is getting at, is that humans tend to confound our representations of reality with reality itself, and as heuristically and practically useful as our representations are, it is reasonable on theoretical grounds, as well as from the lesson of all the models of reality that have fallen in the face of new data, to suspect that our ability to conceive is limited by our conceptual mechanisms (our neurological apparatus, our sensory apparatus, and the inherent biases in our perspective). So there may be aspects to the universe we not only have not yet understood or modeled but perhaps that we cannot understand or model due to our inherent limitations. It is a given we perceive and conceive of the universe in ways unavailable to most other life forms on the planet. There’s no good reason to think we’re the best the universe can do in terms of ability to understand just because we haven’t met, as far as we know, any organisms who are better at it. So maybe we will never be able to understand some things.

This doesn’t invalidate the practice of science or legitimize the extremes of solipsism or postmodernism. The methods and tools of science are still the best and most useful approach to understanding the universe that we have. But maybe acknowledging our limitations does restrain us from unjustifiable certainty in our pronouncements of what reality is or must be. The term “law,” though traditional and reasonable if we remember that it means what Doug suggests only, may carry a bit more flavor of that hubris or unfounded certainty than “manifesting certain regularities.”

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Posted: 13 March 2007 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Thankyou Brennen, that is pretty close to what I was trying to say.
BTW it’s Mr Doubter.

The easiest way for me to deny even the possibility that the supernatural exists is to think in terms of us not really knowing the true nature of nature (if there is one) and that human reality is a product of human thought. Nature is just what nature is, so if any form of “super nature” were to exist then it could only exist within our own minds.

I view nature as being like an invisible woman and human reality as being like the clothes we cover her with.

Science tailors clothes that fit her pretty good and from that we can get a sense of her shape and form.
We can even make observations of her actions and predictions about what she might do in the future.
But we cannot claim to actually see her or even know anything about her motives.

Prior to scientific reasoning rather than making clothes that fitted her we made clothes for her to fit into . This was ok when our knowledge of nature was very limited but as we came to discover more we glossed over any misfit with notions of the supernatural.
Unfortunately there are many out there today who still persist with this.

Both science and the supernatural are human manifestations but only one of them can bring us close to any realistic understanding of nature.

I hope that clears things up :D

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