Monday, June 03, 2019

Does God exist? Science does not have an answer.

I know that some of you have been wondering what has happened to me that I go on about the existence of gods, but if you make it to the end of this blogpost, I am sure it will all make sense!

Before we can talk about whether God exists, I have to be clear what kind of god I am talking about. I am talking about the old-fashioned personal god, the one who listens to prayers, and tells you how to be a good person, and who sorts the good from the bad in afterlife, and so on.

Some variants of this god are in actual conflict with evidence. Say, if you believe that evolution does not happen, or that praying cures cancer, and so on. If you want to defend such beliefs, you are in the wrong channel, good bye. I will assume that you are here because, as I, you want to understand what we can learn from nature, so ignoring evidence is not an option.

What we have then is a god who is consistent with all our observations, but who himself does not result in any additional observable consequences. If you want to explain observations, then the scientific theories of the day are the best you can do. Adding god on top does not make the theories any more useful. By useful I mean concretely that a theory allows you to calculate patterns in data in a way that is quantifiably simpler than just collecting the data.

Example: The standard model of particle physics. It allows you to calculate what happens in particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider. Now you can say, I take the standard model plus the hypothesis that it was made by god. But adding god does not simplify the calculations. So, god is superfluous.

The scientific approach is then to prefer the standard model without god. This, of course, is nothing else but Occam’s razor. You make a theory as simple as possible. Without this requirement, science just becomes dysfunctional, because you would be allowed to add all kinds of unnecessary clutter.

Now, as we discussed previously, scientists say something “exists” if it is an element of a theory that is useful to explain observations. The Higgs-boson exists in this very sense. So do black holes and gravitational waves.

On the other hand, if something is not useful to explain observations, as it is the case with god, science does not say it does not exist. Instead, it doesn’t say anything about whether it exists or not. It cannot say anything, because science is about what’s observable.

Personally, I am not sure what sense it makes to postulate the existence of something that has no observable consequences. But it is certainly something you can believe if you wish. It’s just that science cannot say anything about it.

So, as some of you have pointed out correctly, God could be said to exist in a different way than, say, elementary particles. Some have suggested to call it “immaterial existence”. But I find this misleading because space and time are also immaterial, yet they do exist in the scientific sense.

Some have suggested to call it “non-physical existence”, but this raises the impression it has something to do with physics in particular, which is also misleading.

What it really is, is a non-scientific type of existence. Or, let us call it what it is, it’s a religious existence. God exists in the religious way. An element of a hypothesis that does not result in observable consequences exist in the religious way.

So, here is my next homework assignment: Does the multiverse exist?

I think most of you will understand now what I am getting at. If you are not sure just what the multiverse is, I have another blogpost/video upcoming in a few hours that briefly summarizes what this is all about. So, stay, tuned.


  1. It's interesting how language severely restricts understanding, e.g. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Perhaps by "existence" we mean something with a finite (and exclusive) time-line/boundary/brane? Perhaps, and this is very Eckhartian, 'god-ness' could be considered a measure of the ability to be confined neither by space nor time, i.e. god might 'super-exist'? Judging by some of his remarks, Eckhart would have made a great modern metaphysicist. Consider this gem:

    "God is infinite in his simplicity and He is simple in his infinity"

  2. However belief in God does have observable consequences - some positive, some negative - but you cannot deny they exist.

    Religous feelings occur in all cultures and are thus almost certainly a beneficial evolutionary adaptation. Given that we could define God to be what causes belief in God, just as you define the Higgs boson as that which causes the Higgs bosson effects.

    1. Norman,

      Evidence for the belief in god is not the same as evidence for god.

      No, the Higgs boson is not "that which causes the Higgs-boson effects". The Higgs-boson is a necessary ingredient of the standard model. Without the Higgs, the standard model does not work. The Higgs is necessary to explain the collected data.

    2. Right, I think that is close to my view of god. Believing in god is a 'meta-truth'. By a meta truth I mean something that may or may not be 'really' true. But believing in the meta truth makes your life better. (This is really just a human thing, with very little connection to physics.) I live my life as if there was a god, even though I am agnostic when asked about the 'reality' of god. (I'll note that many other people think belief is god is a bad thing for humans, that is an interesting discussion to have, but not on a physics blog. :^)

  3. "What we have then is a god who is consistent with all our observations, but who himself does not result in any additional observable consequences."

    Do we know that or is it a metaphysical assumption from scientific naturalism? (Possibly somewhat circular if so.)

  4. That is what I am talking about, as I said. If you want to talk about a god who is inconsistent with observations, please do that elsewhere.

    1. Scientific naturalism by definition excludes supernatural causes so it seems you have already defined away the object under discussion.

    2. Thomas,

      You said, "Scientific naturalism by definition excludes supernatural causes..."

      I think you misunderstand how scientists make use of "naturalism."

      Primarily, it is "methodological naturalism." I.e., in our scientific work, we look for natural, non-supernatural explanations.

      Surely, that is unobjectionable. E.g., in looking for the cause of AIDS, it is good that scientists looked for a disease organism rather than simply saying AIDS was the will of God.

      If we scientists were to look for supernatural explanations, we would be acting not as scientists but as theologians. I think you can agree that this would be going outside of our area of expertise!

      It is also true that, during the last hundred years, scientists have actually succeeded in explaining more and more aspects of reality, to the point that it is reasonable to wonder if anything exists that cannot be explained by science. So, as a substantive, not just methodological, position, naturalism has come to be a reasonable hypothesis.

      But, very few scientists would say that substantive naturalism is true beyond any reasonable doubt: after all, we still do not understand what caused the Big Bang, how consciousness works, what explains the weirdness of quantum mechanics, etc.

      Perhaps the answer to such questions is "God." Or not. Those who have bet in the past that "God" is the answer (e.g., to the origin of species) have not had a lot of success.

  5. God has observable consequences to those to whom God has chosen to give them those gifts. Although observable, they are not objective, because they are only observable by the individual, and are not repeatable. The individual's description of these subjective but observable consequences are not credible as scientific evidence for that reason. It is difficult to have a dialogue on this between people who have been given such experiences and people who have not. I have an agreement with an atheist acquaintance of mine: I will not insist that these experiences are proof of God; and he will not insist that, because I claim to have had such experiences, I must be insane.

    1. You cannot prove anything but mathematical relations. If you think that god explains an observation you have made, you must evaluate the probability of other explanations too. The human brain is not a reliable detector. We have known this for a long time. This is why scientists make such a huge amount of effort in collecting unbiased data.

    2. Yes, that is true. I suggest that an evaluation also be made of the probability of god based on the very large number of unreliable people reporting experiencing god.

  6. Does the multiverse exist? It is possible that the multiverse exists even if there is no way to measure it. Lets say that tomorrow we figure out how to embed the standard model in string theory. We then figure out that this embedding predicts a tiny deviation from the standard model, we comb through the LHC data and find exactly what we predicated.

    If the simplest interpretation of our new understanding of string theory involves a multiverse, I would say that the multiverse exists.

  7. If:
    A- if a full theory that explains the creation of our (uni)verse is ever found,
    B- this theory inevitably predicts the creation of other (uni)verses,
    C- the reality of the multiverse is proved, without the need of actual observations of these other universes.
    Is the logic of conclusion C correct?

    1. No. There might be more than one 'full theories', which make different predictions. We are never sure that the one theory we find is the 'best one' for describing future observations.

    2. It may be suggested that, since no physical theory can ever be a "final" theory, any prediction of any theory - however universally accepted by all physicists - that cannot be in principle verified by measurement- must be just ignored.
      A different approach is to give such a prediction the same status as the theory itself, namely universally accepted.
      I wonder what is the position of most physicist and philosophers on this.

    3. Personally I would not ignore such predictions. I would be informed with interest, keeping in mind that is a prediction of speculation that at this moment in time cannot be verified. There is nothing wrong with making observations or learning something and postponing judgements in the same time. It is often a wise thing to do. But ignoring has the advantage that space and energy in our mind can be used possibly more productive.

      I think it is possible to give predictions the same status as a theory, but this is not always immediately evidently so. For instance Einsteins prediction of black holes took a while to get as accepted as the underlying theory was. Apparently supporting observations make a difference. In other words: even when we trust a theory, it is not always true that we trust all its predictions. Because the theory correctly describes past observations, but we are never sure how good it is in prescribing future observations.

  8. I think John Polkinghorne, the quantum physicist ordered Protestant priest, suggested that God could act in the unknowable states of the chaos theory, guiding to some preferred states of the phase space. So, God could act without the violation of any scientific law... (I'm citing from memory).

    1. Which is just a fancy god of the gaps argument, not unlike the Catholic Church's official description of the mechanism for evolution.

  9. I see no compelling evidence pointing to the existence of God. There are loads of variants on this, and the only way a biblical God can exist is if the world came about in it current state 6 or 10 thousand years ago will all "time capsules" of evidence for much earlier ages put in. This omphalism can explain everything, but is completely useless. How could we know God did not create everything an hour ago with memories etc built in us?

    The idea of a God which answers prayer, can be petitioned for favors, either material or spiritual-eternal, is really set up to control people. A God who can read our minds is a supernatural form of Orwell's Big Brother. The idea is to keep people in line, and it works actually rather well at that, and to control the socioeconomic activities of people. If such a God does exist then He, or She or It has a lot to account for. The Book of Job is about that, and Elie Wiesel wrote God on Trial, about Auschwitz inmates who did just that.

  10. First of all the beatiful quote of Lao Tse may explain why one prays and the necessity to beleive in a God that listens to one's prayers. The quote is; " One prays for rain, and it rains, it rains not because we prayed, it rains because it rains, we prayed because of the poverty of our hearts.". And for those that did not have the wisdom of Lao Tse, the belief of a God who listens to their prayers is a must to satiate their hunger. It therefore does not negate the existence or the non-existence of God. It only explains their belief.

    If "exist" in scientific term is to explain observation, then should'nt all theory (scientific) be an explanation of observed specific qualities of God as defined in the Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient God. The issue with the definition of God being not completely consistent with scientific explanation may be due to the fact that it does not incorporate the "Now" in time. Or it may be due to the fact to define is bounded and "Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient" is unbounded.

    What One should arrive at is that reasoning and God are inconsistent to one and the other as one is bounded and the other unbounded, hence the question should be why a scientific mind query "Does God Exist?" (One may have come accros the question " "Can God create a stone that he can not Push?" where lies the issue, the definition or the question. similar is "Does God Exist?" )

    As I said earlier experiencing as against the experience, or as Eckhart's Theology or understanding Bohm-Krishnamurthy's dialogue on Ending of time might help but will verbalise the existence or the non-existence of God

  11. Clearly nature is quantum mechanical, so as well as action being minimised information is conserved.
    Information is not conserved wrt any symmetry, it is just conserved.
    The universe contains a lot of information.
    Some is bound in the existence of each particle and the rest is freely interchanged in the interaction between them.
    Also sentience consists of nothing except information.
    So physics itself provides the essential property that theists, deists and panpsychists etc need to justify their inclinations.
    It provides for both the creation of the universe and the containment of the soul.

  12. " Instead, it doesn’t say anything about whether it exists or not. It cannot say anything, because science is about what’s observable.

    Personally, I am not sure what sense it makes to postulate the existence of something that has no observable consequences."

    in Deism, what about positing the existence of a higher intelligence, the observable consequence is that the laws of physics and future TOE are written in mathematics, which is a form of reason.

    ie i make the observation the laws of physics are written in very advance mathematics. that's the consequence of a super intelligence that created the universe and these laws.

  13. If the Simulation hypothesis is true, then God is a computer programmer. How do we prove the Simulation hypothesis? By proving mathematically that the laws of physics are quantum computer programs. I saw a panel discussion on the Simulation hypothesis. If I remember correctly, they found an equation in QFT or something that resembles a quantum error correcting code. They claimed it is scientific evidence for the Simulation hypothesis.

    Lisa Randall was on the panel. She said it's all nonsense. She was wearing sunglasses like Trinity in The Matrix LOL

  14. Does free will have observable consequences?

  15. Does the ubiquitous observer who makes the observations that scientific explanations explain, does that observer have observable consequences? How does science turn the gaze onto the observer without yet another observer?

  16. Metaphysics (rather than "religion") is the word I use. Religions are human creations, often of power. Seeking a metaphysics is a personal and distinctly irrational path that, for those capable of pursuing it, does have tangible benefits.

    I do find it interesting that, as far as I know, every culture of humanity throughout history has had some form of metaphysics. To me that means either (A) humans are predisposed towards those kinds of beliefs, or (B) maybe there is an apprehension of something real.

    Even if science discovers some definite "god circuit" in our brains that account for the predisposition I'm not sure that resolves anything. We have senses that do detect real things, photons, air vibrations, scents, tastes, touches,... who can really say what the "god circuit" really does.

    Absent proof (which is likely impossible), Pascal's wager seems a decent bet to me. :)

  17. I doubt that any believers would accept your theory that God has no observable consequences. Of course you might not be impressed by any evidence they adduce and there is a good chance that most of them would not understand or care about the kind of evidence you adduce.

    In either case neither you nor they are likely to convince the other.

    Many subtle minds have considered this question. Do you have anything to add?

    1. I am not saying anything new about the existence of God. This isn't my point as I thought you would have noticed by now.

      I said very clearly that I am not interested in talking to people who think that God has observable consequences. By my personal experience, such people are just not capable of rational thought and I have no patience to deal with that.

    2. That is definitely an impregnable argument - claiming that people who disagree with you aren't capable of rational thought. It saves a lot of worry about annoying details like facts and logic.

      I, by contrast, find it hard to write without irony, but it seems a lot of people are irony challenged.

    3. CIP,

      As you know full well by having read this blog for at least a decade, if I recall correctly, I do not normally refuse to argue with someone. Your complaint is therefore entirely unfounded.

      There is a level below which any argument just becomes a total waste of time, and people who want to deny scientific evidence are not people I am interested in having any conversation with. That includes you, if you want to go that way. You can complain about that, if you wish, but I have only one life and I prefer to spend it on intelligent conversations, thank you.

    4. Mr Capitalist, you have a the typical atheists naive conception of God.

      Science is a description of reality. If God acts within the world that comes under a scientific description.

      Although actually, at least non-atheists would conceive God as that which brings the Universe into existence and sustains its existence and the processes within it second by second.

    5. Ian:
      1. what is the scientific mechanism by which God "acts within the world" to produce an effect.
      2. Why is it necessary to have such sustenance?

      Would also like to know what you mean by a "typical atheist", because most surveys indicate that atheists have a much better than average knowledge of religious texts and doctrines than the average adherent.

  18. Perhaps you have heard of the famous exchange among Napoleon, Laplace, and Lagrange. Napoleon noted that Laplace had written a large volume on the system of the world without mentioning the Creator, and asked why. Laplace replied "I had no need of that hypothesis." Napoleon passed that observation on to Lagrange, who replied that "it is a fine hypothesis. It explains so many things!"

    Clearly you are a Laplacian, but even those who think Lagrange was tongue in cheek ought to attempt to absorb his point.

  19. Sabine, this is a cheap question that's beneath you. Unless all you're looking for is blog traffic.

    1. David,

      If you had read what I wrote, the purpose of asking this question would have become clear to you.

    2. Does it matter if I've read your entire post if your headline gets off all on the wrong foot?

    3. You were questioning my motivation. My blogpost explains my motivation. Yes, that you did not read it and still asked is your fault, not mine.

    4. Posing such questions doesn't appear to help my blog.

  20. //"I am not sure what sense it makes to postulate the existence of something that has no observable consequences".//

    Does our consciousness affect the world, or is it all just neurons firing? If latter we still need to feel others exist!

  21. There is a range of thought on this issue. Those who argue for the existence of God tend to point to the idea of “that quiet inner voice” sort of thing. In other words people have subjective experiences that inwardly compel them to believe.

    My conjecture about the God issue is the idea arose from our evolution. Most people who live on a subsistence level “see” spirits in the world. I think these are what I call anthrotypes, and the relationship such people have with the natural world involves projections of ourselves onto nature. This is then told in stories, which is a way that information about the natural world is communicated across generations. This has a survival benefit. The evolution of the brain capable of complex language probably involved imaginary projections of ourselves and the ability to use linguistic symbols to reference those. There are often ideas of a forest spirit indwelling in a person, called a totem. So a man or woman at the age of maturity would be given the label of bear, elk, hawk and so forth. Lest you think we modern people are beyond this, consider the names we give sports teams. In the development of monotheist religions we also have ideas of “Jesus is in my heart,” or “the Holy Ghost dwells in me” and so forth. That “quiet inner voice” is probably from a neuropsychological perspective no different from tribal hunters who call upon spirits to guide them.

    Indigenous people have a deep relationship with ecological nature, which began to dilute away with the start of small cities and agriculture. These spirits of the natural world became merged together into bigger Gods, such as Markuk and Tiamat of the Sumerian civilization of 3000BCE. Much of the writings in the Torah are parallel to these Sumerian mythologies. Eventually these gods became merged into one big God, and that one big God during the Hellenic-Roman period assumed infinite dimensions. In Augustine's Confessions, in places a fascinating read if you can get through the boring parts where he flagellated himself for his sins, he writes about how God created time when he created the universe. He reasoned that one could mark time with the constant turning of a potter wheel, and for there to be time there must be something. Einstein much later said time is what we measure on a clock. This is a far more sophisticated idea about God than what is given in the mythic history of Abraham and his idea of a God. The Confessions has even an amusing part where Augustine recounts being entertained by people who could play music by controlling the pitch of their flatulence.

    In the development of complex societies the god-concept was also useful in controlling people. With the earliest sedentary societies there were the construction of shrines and these early religions most likely involved a uniform practice of ritual that bound society together. At this time there were the beginning of towns or small cities where not everyone knew each other. The threshold for this is around 300 people. By 5000BCE there were small cities with several thousand people. So this psychological disposition towards seeing spirits in the forest were satisfied with these more civic forms of ritual.

  22. continued due to length restrictions:

    So here we are in the modern world where theology has largely been deposed of its primary position at universities, now relegated to small departments few students attend, and science has done major damage to the claims of God's previous power, such as creating a universe, all life and flooding the world with water. Most religion today that is socially vibrant denies science, though they love the gizmos and gadgets they use to proselytize, and have pulled their wagons into a lager to defend against the assailing winds of the world. It is also a didactic form of religion based on memorizing the Bible and so forth. There are big efforts by its leaders to assert political influence as well. I would say this is a case of religion in decline, and as a meme it is in a desperate fight to remain relevant.

    I suspect that people will continue to have ritual forms based on mythic narratives. It is interesting to watch the popularity of superheros of DC and Marvel Comics, where these fictional characters are not that different from the polytheist gods of the ancient world. Even if known forms of religion are abandoned I think people will reinvent ways of having religion or some sort of mythic system.

  23. Sabine,
    Math Laws exist independent of our universe (Penrose).
    The Second Law of Thermodynamics for a large number of
    various particles likewise exists; it's just math.
    Other Laws of physics in our universe operate fine regardless
    of added information.

    Could science provide an answer via information science?

    Would you consider this next premise?
    We know that a mind is capable of creating new information.
    Mathematically: A mind is sufficient for creating information.
    Is a mind necessary for creating new information?
    Premise: New information iff a mind. The crux--is it true?

    A single bit of information can change everything in the local
    realm without violating any physics.

    When posed at a pingpong table, the only difference causing
    a change in trajectory of the ball is whether my brain sends
    the signal to hit it. If no signal (or if tardy) the ball
    continues, all physics satisfied happily. If a timely signal to
    my hand moves a paddle to intercept the ball, if furthermore
    skillful (lucky) then the ball hits the other side of the table.
    All physics satisfied. That tiny bit of information in my brain
    tickled a cell's electron to send the signal that cascaded to
    moving my hand, hopefully the right electron to be timely and
    skillful. That one bit of info, no extra energy, impacted
    the whole game.

    Biology abounds in information. Life would not function without
    information informing cell components to combat the onslaught of
    entropy. Not just human minds; Spiders, bees decide in
    their own realms. Biology propagates information along with life.

    Naturalism (naturalistic evolution) presumes (believes) that
    information can be created without agency of a mind. Our daily
    experience argues otherwise.
    Are we to believe that the information that guided the
    very first life form, with its chiral chemistry (right-handed
    sugars and left-handed amino acids) to counter racemic entropy,
    is the only extant example of information arising without a mind?
    Naturalism insists we do so.

    Analogy: Physics provides the ink, paper and characters. Chemistry
    constructs racemic words and phrases. Biological DNA and RNA
    provide the chiral encyclopedia and instructions. Whence the
    discontinuous jump in information? Premise: a mind. Perhaps Logos?

    You are the math doctor. I just a thermodynamics doctor.

  24. I never knew "the old-fashioned personal god." It wasn't part of my experience.

    My grounding in the faith came through the mediation of my Roman Catholic mother. She was under the impression that her understanding of the faith was utterly and completely orthodox, quite traditional. I know of no reason to doubt her.

    The world-view I received was roughly this, that the faith resulted from a synthesis of Hellenistic philosophy and the Judaic tradition. The approach was that of systematic philosophy. There were no partitions between one branch of learning and another. The same tools of rationality, evidence, etc. which applied in one field, applied everywhere else, in every field.

    We did pray, but we understood that the purpose of prayer was not instrumental, hence there were never any predictions as to outcomes. That wasn't why we prayed. We grew up knowing about evolution. It was taken for granted.

    "Does God exist?"

    We need to understand what it is that we mean by "exist." I think the question as usually posed, is trivial. (Newman said this, but I can't find the citation.) If the Judeo Christian God exists, then the world would be just as we find it. This is a disappointing answer.

    The ancients approached "existence" as a question of formal truth. This approach is, I think, not at all trivial. The ancients were reasoning along several lines toward a supreme good. This doesn't equate to a guarantee that we will hear from the supreme good. Eventually the ancients decided that we had, hence their fusion of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaism.

    Occam warned against multiplying entities. If two theories have exactly the same truth tables, then they are equivalent. We should choose the alternative which is simplest. On the other hand, a theory which only answers questions in physics has a limited usefulness. There are other questions.

  25. God obviously is a creation of human culture, in the same way as art is. Can art exist without humans? No. Same is true for God. Such concepts limited to our brains.

  26. Martien, how is it obvious that "God . . . is a creation of human culture, in the same way as art is"?

    1. That is a good question, Walter. I realize that this 'obvious' asks for an explanation. For me personally I consider it obvious for several reasons.

      - The evolving concept of God from a historical-antropological perspective in human societies is well documented.
      - Humans, apes, monkeys and all other animals and life-form share a common ancestor, as far as we know God pops up only late in the homo sapiens branch.
      - Alternatives like given homo sapiens a special status 'God made men in his image' is far less convincing from a scientific perspective, than the conclusion that God is a product of human culture. Historically men made many different Gods in their own image.
      - Add to this the pale blue dot perspective on earth in a vast universe.

      A second line of reasoning would be to search for evidence of God independent of human brains. For instance wonders attributed to God, etc. These narratives never convinced me. Neither do results of para-psychological experiments. If there is a pattern I see, than it is that many people like to belief in a God and in an afterlife. Others conform to God and religion because of fear.

      Thirdly one can postulate a God as something existing outside space and time. That is not more than speculation. There could well be more dimensions or more universes, or maybe we life in a simulation. For the time being there is no proof for all this. Maybe that can change in the future, who knows?

      So we lack scientific evidence of an acting God outside the human brain, and we have a good evolutionary antropological narrative, which gives a convincing explanation of the God concept. There is no need for more than that. There might be strong emotions which makes us want to belief in God, but that has nothing to that with science.

      Forget about God, feel liberated, take your own responsible, towards a more inclusive and caring world. If you can, do not act based on fear for punishment, fear for death or fear for the unknown. Let things just be.

    2. 1) A convincing narrative from a historical antropological perspective, and 2) upto now lack of convincing evidence of a God existing outside our brains

  27. God is not only described as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, but also as spaceless and timeless. So, if there is such a God, then there would be a permanent state of spacelessness and timelessness along with the universe. If there is such a permanent state of spacelessness and timelessness, then space and time cannot be absolute. For space and time to be absolute, they should have the same values in each and every case without any exception. But if there is such a permanent state, then in one particular case space and time would have null values and in every other case they would have non-zero values. In this way they would become relative. Scientists have also found that space and time are indeed relative.

  28. Uchitrakar,

    God as "spaceless and timeless?" It would be better, I think, to stipulate that for the Supreme Good, location in space and time is undefined. The same holds for the formulae of physics: Location in space and time is undefined.

  29. Martien,

    Cultures tell us many things, and people believe or do not believe these things simply because those around them do or because the experience of living in a given culture shapes perceptions. We're not bound by culture, we can step outside of that and think for ourselves.

    We have an intellectual history as well, and we can trace the development of ideas, of those who thought about fundamentals, and of the process of reasoning they employed. Philosophers, scientists, other creative individuals. These were the people who thought for themselves.

  30. Walter,

    Basically I agree with you.

    We get an identity also very much by or perception of the way others perceive us. Nobody can 'escape culture' (values and norms belonging to groups), as we in one way or another do belong to different groups: family, clubs, etc.

    In the same time there is a degree in which people have the desire and courage to defy these norms and values, and think 'fresh' for their own, to some extent, that is.

    That partly depends on personal character, but also on how collective a cultures is, and how strong hierarchical tendencies are. Individualistic cultures where independent thinking is encouraged set a complete different stage for a young person seeking his or her way, than a strong collective orthodox culture.

    It is not so that collective cultures reign people in with threats and violence. That is only the second line of defence. The strongest force is love.

  31. To add: the strongest force used by some religious groups to reign in people (or even hijack their lifes) is most of the time love as well.

    On the idea of 'God existing outside space and time': The meaning of 'existing' is mostly understood as something in a certain place at a certain time.

    There is another understanding of the word, and that is that mathematical concepts (say a sphere) 'exist' irrespective of place and time. The problem is that we use the same word for entirely different concepts. I can see at least three categories,

    1 - feelings etc. generated within our brain, which often become a part of the model of the external world our brains generate
    2 - an eviolving model in our brain of part of an assumed external world based on sensory inputs
    3 - mathematical concepts, which can be part of 1 or 2, and some postulate they can exists irrespective of 1 and 2 as well.

    One can argue that the abstract notion of God (a kind of organizing force) then belongs to category 3, but we do not yet knowits formula.

    There is no convincing evidence that such a 'force' would answer our prayers or can performe miracles. Pay respect to it if you like, but praying to it would - in view of our current state of knowledge - be irrational

  32. I am not sure why the Supreme Good would want our prayers. To make us independent of the stupidity going on around us, perhaps.

  33. Additional: I suppose the Form of the Good was an organizing force, at least in a sense. It was something we would be drawn to, the highest value, the ultimate pattern for everything of worth. Plato never predicted that this was something we would hear from. That would go beyond "existence" in the formal sense. The synthesis of Hellenic philosophy and Judaism might have come about as the outcome of a kind of "Turing Test."

    The Roman Catholic tradition essentially sees God as the Form of the Good. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." In this view, contemplating the sciences is a form of prayer.

  34. Walter,

    'Truth' and maybe 'pure' are concepts relevance for science in general.

    The other qualities you mention are human made concepts and morals (honorable, just, lovely, gracious), which cannot exist outside the human brain. If you call God 'Supreme Good' you label it with a moral concept 'good', which again only exists within our brain.

    In this you you confirm my argument is that God also exists only in our brains. That is also exists as an abstract concept (like a mathematical structure) is at this moment in time just speculation.

    1. Additional: In re "Whatever is true . . . think about these things," I was quoting St. Paul.

      Paul was probably drawing upon Stoicism, but ultimately the reference would have been Plato. I used it because I thought it would be familiar to more people.

  35. Martien, were we to accept your view, a great many things would be placed in this indeterminate status. Our difficulty may stem from two very different approaches two philosophy. Does anything exist only in our minds?

    I think you may have been referring to the common observation that individuals often cling to wildly different understandings of things, things which we might have thought obvious. That can make for difficulties, resistance when we are teaching.

    I used to do industrial training. Teaching people to use computers was always a problem. The concept of files and directories made trouble. Wherever practical I would try to link these abstract concepts to a physical substrate. That didn't always help. Sometimes people understood, but rejected an essential concept. "Just tell me what buttons to push!"

    How do we decide which things should be deemed only to exist in this indeterminate state, only in the minds of individuals? Most of physics would be included, I suspect.

    Would a link to observables make something safe? Not in my experience. The ancients, by the way, tried to build everything from a foundation of observables. They had to. Things we take for granted today were utterly novel then. Plato's Form of the Good got its foundation in this way.

    1. Walter,

      In my understanding some experiences only exist inside a human (or animal) brain: say pain or love, or hope.

      Inside our brain we also build an eviolving model of a part of the (or an assumed) external world, mainly based on sensory inputs.

      These two combine in our awareness. For instance we might feel excited if we see a naked person. The naked person is assumably a part of the model of the external world, our exitement is not.

      It is not always obvious or easy to draw a clear line between the two. The most obvious way is to share experiences with others. So when you are drunk, you can ask a friend whether he also sees that pink elephant.If he says no, chances are big that it is an illusion. This is simple and straightforward logic. In this there is a lot of space for God in human brains, but no evidence that God exists as part of the external reality.

      Plato postulated that abstract entities can also really 'exist', but it is not clear for me what that existing would mean in scientific terms.

  36. "Most of physics would be included, I suspect."
    Ahem... reproducible experiments

  37. Mike, the question referred to the status of physical law. If we don't believe that it is possible for the physical laws governing the behavior of an electron to have any existence outside the minds of individuals then we wouldn't be trying to replicate experiments. Reports of experimental results would be nothing more than expressions of opinion.

    It wouldn't make sense to derive physical laws.

    If we believe that the foundations of human psychology are rooted in the same physical rules that seem to be governing everything else, then we should expect to find universals. We can determine whether this is so by observation. This is all the ancients did. We don't have to argue about it. We can go look. Isn't that what science does?

    What we find, we can reason about.

  38. Sabine,

    are you familiar with string theorist at Stanford university and Cambridge Aron Wall?

    he's won a break through prize in string theory.

    in addition to string theory he's a devout christian and believes string theory is the result of the christian god's mind.

    he also believes marriage is between a man and a woman

    you know, i always wanted to see a christian god believing string theorist like aron wall debate an atheist string/qg theorist like you or witten or whoever.

  39. If you bring god into science you need a strict definition of what god is. Like, a bronze age myth that has survived through the ages due to human archaic psychology, or something like that. But I don't see how that has anything to do with science. Or has it?

    1. It is part of historical or human sciences, of course. In in the framework of that science God is well understood.

  40. I may have partially articulated an idea of God, but I'm not sure exactly how anyone would go about incorporating it into a discussion of science.

    1. Taking a scientific anthropological approach to God will help.

  41. Science can help us clarify questions. Drawing on the social sciences could help us revisit some of the questions the ancients first raised, the nature of the good, etc. Also, some differences across cultures, languages, might turn out to be more apparent than real. Or they might not. We should want to know.

    There is something calling itself "cultural relativism," which troubles me. It claims social science backs its views, but with no research being cited, there is no way to evaluate these claims.

  42. Wikipedia: Cultural relativism is the idea that a person's beliefs, values, and practices should be understood based on that person's own culture, rather than be judged against the criteria of another.

    Well... that is a good starting point, I would say. I doesn't mean that you have agree with everything going on in that other culture, that is upto you. I only says that it helps to understand things well.

  43. This is a tad click-baity and feeds the religious loonies. A professional physicist discussing the idea of "God" in public makes the loonies think there's a 50-50 debate. What next, considering whether "oo,oo,oo" uttered by a monkey is a scientifically testable hypothesis?

    You know the religious are complete morons. Don't egg them on, just ignore them and keep the fraudulent Trojan horses like Luke Barnes and the Templeton Foundation out of physics.

    Btw, the main tenets of religions are indeed scientific claims but have no evidence and most of them are just gibberish from the point of view of current science:
    The universe was "created" by "God"; the universe had a beginning; humans have existed who had one "supernatural" parent; people can come back to life after being dead for 2 days; wine can be made from just water; etc., etc., etc.
    Pure, dribbling from the mouth, nonsensical gibberish, *from the point of view of science*.

    1. The reason I go on about this has nothing to do with "feeding religious loonies" but with explaining why talking about the existence of unobservable things is not science. How about you stop speculating about my intentions, you are clearly not good at it.

    2. I'm not speculating about your intentions, I'm telling you that the result of professional scientists even mentioning "God" as if it's not utter delusional nonsense is that the religious loonies are encouraged. All they want is for it to seem that there is a debate within science about "God" and that they are not seen as complete nutters, which is what they actually are. See the comments:
      "you know, i always wanted to see a christian god believing string theorist like aron wall debate an atheist string/qg theorist like you or witten or whoever."

      These people are insane.

      Also, as I pointed out with several examples, the main tenets of Christianity, for example, do talk about scientific observables. Claiming science has no answer to the question "Does God exist?" is exactly equivalent to claiming science has no answer to the question "Is Harry Potter real?". To start with we know they are both fictional characters from story books so why is the question even worth considering?

    3. I just told you that the reason I am discussing the question whether God exists is to explain the relevance of observational evidence for scientific hypothesis. I hope I do not have to repeat this once again. I do not share your misgivings about religious people and do not know why you think I should.

    4. The problem with labeling religious people morons is that you then find there are a number of accomplished people and intellectuals who are also fairly religious. Don Page, a pretty renowned general relativist, is also a fundamentalist Christian. In science the percentage of highly religious people is small, but not zero.

      The one problem I have seen is that with the expansion of religious influence on society there is a correlative loss in rational thinking. People in the United States have a degraded ability to ascertain whether any given statement is true or false, or has some plausibility of being true or false, based on evidence that is either empirical or logical. This is I think in part because a belief in “THE TRUTH,” which is a metaphysical concept and one wrapped within religion, runs a believer into cognitive dissonance when a more restrictive result is found to be true. So this has meant that people are less capable of rational thought. This has extended into political ideology as well, which is a secular form of religion in a way.

      Science can be used to make a determination as to whether a certain deity exists or not. Here a deity is any God with some range of theological accoutrements or properties, such as having created the world or universe only 6000 years ago. Science can then mean either a deity must be modified or abandoned. The problem I see is the cognitive dissonance involved here means many people simply reject the actual science and erect pseudo-science in its place. This has been extended into political affairs as well, with the biggest being climate issues. People have a hard time imagining their political hobby horse might just not be perfect or is wrong, or their patriotism etc has problematic issues.

      What science can't do is to determine whether God in the most abstract metaphysical terms exists or not. That is where I think we are into indiscernible territory. I suppose the infinite paradoxical issues involved were first explicitly seen in Pascal's wager. I think science should then not be a tool or crutch to support either religion or some atheist agenda

    5. Lawrence Crowell8:33 AM, June 17, 2019

      "The problem with labeling religious people morons is that you then find there are a number of accomplished people and intellectuals who are also fairly religious. "

      Morons who can solve differential equations. Still morons though. No other term will do for someone who thinks baby Jesus's daddy made the universe because it's written on some dusty old scroll.

      "What science can't do is to determine whether God in the most abstract metaphysical terms exists or not."

      This sentence doesn't really mean anything. You are basically just describing how religious loonies change their tune to hide their god from a head-to-head with science. If the god is in any way related to this universe there has to be a point of contact with natural science. If religious loonies claim their god created the universe in some way this does not match with scientific observation. It is not currently known empirically if the universe is something that can be created, so people claiming it definitely is are wrong. Also, it is not even known currently that the observable universe had a beginning, so people claiming a moment of creation are also wrong. People who think a human being in Palestine 2,000 years ago had one "supernatural" parent need to try a lobotomy. It is an empirical fact that humans have 2 human parents (excluding any recent genetic tricks).

      "That is where I think we are into indiscernible territory."
      No we're not. It is clear what is known empirically.

      "I suppose the infinite paradoxical issues involved were first explicitly seen in Pascal's wager."
      There is no god, so no wager is required. Pascal was a moron. There aren't infinitely paradoxical issues. What we know about the natural world comes from scientific observation. That's it.

      "I think science should then not be a tool or crutch to support either religion or some atheist agenda "

      Religion is just superstitious nonsense. There is no "atheist agenda". There is no such thing as an atheist. Science tells us everything we know about the natural world, and there are some people who don't understand this who we can simply refer to as morons. That's all.

      The original post claimed science does not answer the question "Does God exist?" This is not true. Theism is empirically open so there's reason to claim it's true, and the Christian claim that God fathered a child with a human woman is empirically false.

      We shouldn't be having this discussion. The character "God" in the Bible is a fictional character. We might as well discuss whether Heracles was the son of Zeus and a woman. The only point that needs to be made is that the religious are stark raving mad. What issues from their crazy mouths should just be ignored.

    6. To start I am not that big on the whole god idea. Penrose proposes a sort of metaphysics, which immediately means it is most likely not demonstrable, of there being a triality between physical systems or matter, mathematics and mind. So if one ponders this idea for a little while, and a little while is about all I would recommend, then we might define God as some great summation over all the mental So then the epiphenomenology of our mental being is just some small aspect of this God. Again I don't particularly believe this, but I have no way of proving it wrong either.

      Largely what you write is about a deity. Christianity is about a God who became a man on Earth, said some stuff we are to believe, sacrificed Himself to Himself through suicide by cop, rose from the dead to be God “up there,” so we can achieve immorality that we lost when the first humans were deceived by a talking snake. If that is not a mythic narrative I don't know what is. It requires an enormous lapse of rational thinking to believe this is literally true. I still love Bach's St Mathew Passion and his Mass in B-minor and Mozart's great Requiem Mass. We can point to this and other myths as being just that. The odd thing is a lot of people do believe these things.

      Do a Youtube search of George Carlin on the 10 Commandments and his routine about dead people. They are brilliant.

      These criticisms are largely though about a deity and not about God in the abstract. I am not sure such a thing exist, or as with Hinduism where the universe is the eternal dream of Vishnu. The Hindu cosmology is a bit in line with Penrose's idea. It is hear that I don't think we have any way of proving this either does nor does not exist. In some sense the question is then meaningless. In the end if one tries to think about an infinite God and you try to prove something you end up with ∞ ÷ ∞ = nonsense or unprovable stuff. This is seen in informal discussions on the compatibility between omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence.

      From a practical perspective, particularly here in the US, it probably does not do one much good to think of religious people as loonies or morons. At a minimum this does not fit in Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. You might find you are pissing a lot of people off if you call religious people morons; even if a fair number of them are indeed morons.

    7. Oh and I forgot ... when it comes to Pascal he was anything but a moron. He was a great genius. You also have to consider that at his time there were the Huguenot wars in France, the whole Reformation was boiling and to come out saying God did not exist would get you in a fair amount of trouble. Pascal was indeed fairly religious and even turned away from the philosophical ideas of God and turned to pure faith. Consider the age he lived in.

    8. Lawrence Crowell2:15 PM, June 17, 2019

      The point I was making was that the blog post is incorrect to state that science does not have an answer to the question "Does God exist". It clearly does have an answer and it is in the negative. Theism is empirically not known to be true, and, for example, the Christian God is empirically disproved, since empirically speaking humans have 2 humans as parents, not a human and some sort of supernatural being.

      Where the empirical evidence is overwhelming, as in this case, it is fine to say it is an empirical fact.

      Also, there is the point that we know that "God" is a fictional character in a story book, so why would one consider it as a possible scientific hypothesis in the first place? That's like considering "Is Harry Potter real?" as a possible scientific hypothesis. Fictional characters are not real. That's what fictional means.

      Then there is the question of scientists egging on religious loonies by making incorrect statements as in this blog post. Religious people don't need egging on, they are nuts enough.
      Religious people start to think they are not morons when they see scientists making statements like the ones in this blog post. But it's important that they are told the truth, that they are indeed morons, so they might one day be cured of their insanity and stop trying to force their whacko beliefs on the rest of us.

    9. Again, my point is that science can disprove a deity, but with God in the most abstract sense it does not. This is not to say I have a lot of thinking or so called spiritual beliefs about that. I don't, and I have never been terribly motivated by these things. However, a bit of care is advised on the topic of science and religion.

    10. Lawrence Crowell6:36 AM, June 19, 2019

      "God in the most abstract sense"
      This does not mean anything. Any concept of God believed by humans will somewhere have to connect to the natural world - that is the point of failure.

  44. You're obviously busy but I make an additional point. I choose the example of Christianity because that is what I know.
    You say that the hypothesis of God adds nothing to the explanation of scientific observations, but that is obviously deliberate. If you take the description in the Bible: the sun, the Earth and the stars made in 6 days, the Earth being about 4,000 years old, etc. these are clear scientific claims and they are hopelessly wrong. But religion shifted the goal posts to try to avoid as much as possible going head-to-head with science i.e. what we can observe. That's why most of the current scientific observations do not clash with religion, because religion ran away claiming the Bible is not literal. But they cannot run away completely. Their God has to have some points of connection with the universe otherwise it's irrelevant. Those 2 points of connection are that God created the universe and God is the father of Jesus. But as I explained in my previous post, the former is empirically not known to be true and the latter is empirically known to be false.

    So, of course, the religious claims for the existence of God try to avoid clashes with scientific observations - that's the only way the loonies can pretend it's true. Except for fundamentalist Christians who are the only true Christians and are off-the-scale mental.

  45. Martien, respecting and appreciating other cuultures is one thing, but I see people trying to use cultural relativism to win arguments on ethical and religious issues. Some don't stop there. I know people who use cultural relativism to attack science. The claim is that there is no universal truth, not culturally determined.

    1. Well, there is of course no absolute truth (outside mathematics). We make observations and agree with a model predicting or prescribing these observations. If enough people share these beliefs or opinions, we usually call it truths.

      This is all based on experiments and observations. Cultural background might interfere with whether one wants to accept observations which deny cherised beliefs. From a scientific perspective I don't think such denials are justifiable. I think we agree here.

      Personally I belief that the best chances for humanity to progress is to accept obersvations and not deny them. Acceptance and understanding are often the first step towards progress.

  46. Steven: It sounds as if you would like to see those who disagree with you excluded from the public forum.

    1. Where did I write that, Walter? It looks like you're just making stuff up. And religious people don't disagree with me, they are delusionally insane - they disagree with reality.
      If someone claimed they were the reincarnation of Napoleon you wouldn't say you disagreed with them, you'd rightly say they were nuts. The same applies to the religious.

  47. Steven,

    I agree with you that we have no evidence that God exists in the 'real world'. No need for a debate on that.

    Personally I have no issues with people having irrational beliefs. There are reasons for that (comfort, fostering sense of belonging etc.) Let people be people.

    What makes a difference for me is whether people use God or religion to create division hate etc. or feel superior because of their beliefs.

    Similarly, I don't like the sens of superiority and looking down on others because of their beliefs, which you expose.Sorry to say and with due respect.

    1. Have you just moved to Earth? The point is that the religious are insane dogmatic ideologues and are trying to force their whacko beliefs on everybody else whether through the law, politics or violence.

      I've simply pointed out they are morons, which is putting it mildly. Why would one have any respect for morons who are trying to force their moronic ideas on everyone else?

    2. I stopped having arguments with religious people in college. In one instance I brought up an argument for evolution to a student who was also devoutly religious and he almost went into a psychotic meltdown. I brought up how chimpanzee and human DNA matches to within 98.5% based on getting to homologous single DNA strands to bind together. This guy was smart enough to infer the implications of that. His face got beet red and I thought for a minute that he was going to pummel me into the floor.

      It might be said this is a case of “insanity,” but really it is more complicated. Gods, spirits etc are something a person in a psychological sense brings into them. This is whether indigenous people call upon spirits in hunt or whether a modern day religious person is in some fervent prayer. If you then say their god or spirit does not exist you then in effect are saying there is something deep inside them that is invalid. This is why so often religious people get pretty testy and angry about these issues. You set up a cognitive dissonance, such as I did with that student back in my college days, that is deeply disturbing to that person.

      This is why from the perspective of social diplomacy I think it is not good to go around calling religious people insane. It also will not work in the favor of science if scientists insist that science disproves God, in particular God in the most abstract sense which science or anything else can never disprove. As we see in the US these fundamentalists are voters and fairly organized around hard right winged ideology. It is maybe best not to provoke their ire too much, or before long we will get far right winged politicians in office who begin to slash out any funding for science. We already have a bit of this going on now.

    3. Lawrence Crowell7:55 AM, June 19, 2019

      The religious hold moronic beliefs without any reason, so are delusional by definition. This is what Dawkins meant by the "God Delusion". You keep mentioning "God in the most abstract sense". This doesn't mean anything. Every god ever dreamed up has properties that are refuted by science. So every god has been empirically disproved. Not one religion survives contact with science *because they are all made up*.

      The religious continue to try to force their nonsense on the sane, so it is very important that they are ridiculed as the morons they are. Otherwise they start to think their beliefs are reasonable rather than the insane delusions they are. This is what hurts them the most - to know that they are stupid.

    4. The opening of the Tao Te Ching reads something like:

      The Tao that is named is not the eternal Tao,
      The names given are not the permanent names.

      One can substitute God for Tao in this case. The Tao is in a sense "The Way" or the nothing that once you give a word to it becomes no longer nothing. This is what I mean by "God in the abstract." Deities are one thing, like names given to the Tao, and as such one can to a degree test them.

    5. Steven,

      Judge people one by one please.I know a lot of religious people (christians, Busshists and Moslim) who are not at all forcing their ideas on others. Making short-cut snap judgements on groups of people and condemning them at the same time, has done a lot of damage in human history. Whether people are ethists or religious is for me less important than how their behavour towards others. You are on the wrong side of my line.

    6. Lawrence Crowell4:13 PM, June 19, 2019

      Ah, you "defined" God in the most abstract sense here. Your comment is just nonsensical waffle. Your "God in the most abstract sense" has no properties. I advise you to stop filling your mind with garbage.

  48. Steven, if you think I have tried to force my religion on anyone, then say so. Coercion is not part of my outlook. The only individual I know who wants his religious views imposed on others happens to be an atheist. I won't hold you responsible for his actions.

    We should avoid the straw man fallacy. There are too many people around against whom it will never work. Above all, we should avoid putting individuals or groups on trial. To do so is to argue ad hominem.

    1. I've no idea whether you have tried to force your religion on others or whether you contribute to it through religious donations, but you need to open your eyes to the general reality:
      The US President, the most powerful person in the world, and members of the US of Congress must either believe in or pretend to believe in some god to get elected. Recently in publications read widely by the Christian right in the US, they are talking about having to have a civil war over abortion and splitting the country in 2. This is what happens with dogmatic ideologues, by definition they can't be reasoned with and their position is based on insane delusions.
      In my country the sovereign is also the head of an *established* CofE, in the 21st century! Bishops sit in Parliament just because they are bishops; 1/3 of state-funded schools are faith schools (faith meaning to think something utterly nonsensical is true without any reason, so they are brainwashed rather than educated); the BBC broadcasts plenty of whacko religious programmes. This is before we even consider the really crazy places, like Saudi where they chop your hand off for stealing and Brunei where they implemented a law recently to punish consensual homosexual sex by stoning to death.

      But you claim religion is not forced on people! There is an established church in my country and 1/3 of state schools brainwash children with nonsense. But sure, religion is not coercive. You are utterly deluded.

      The CofE apparently has assets of around $8 billion, the Catholic Church in Germany $25 billion, the Australian Catholic Church (where the most senior priest and No. 3 in the Catholic church was recently convicted of making children perform oral sex on him) around $21 billion. It doesn't look like the meek are inheriting the earth, it looks like a bunch of paedos are running a pyramid scheme and carrying out child rape on an industrial scale.

      It is no straw man fallacy, these are pervasive issues. And the individual members contribute financially to the corrupt organisations. 1.3 billion Catholics, for example, are funding a rich, powerful, unaccountable, global paedophile ring.

      "The only individual I know who wants his religious views imposed on others happens to be an atheist."
      Well, QED, then. What on earth are you wittering on about? That's one person. And atheism is not a religious view. Not brainwashing children with delusional nonsense is not imposing a religious view, it's not brainwashing them. Teaching children evolution and that all religions are superstitious myths is just teaching them the empirical facts. There is no such thing as an atheist anyway, this is a term used to try to pretend their is a 50-50 debate. You are delusionally insane, I'm not. That's all.

  49. Here in the US we have a constitutional prohibition against any establishment of religion. My friend believes his atheism is an exception. There is ample precedent in our courts against his view. He won't get what he wants. Numerous others also seek to have their views established. Again, there is ample precedent against them. They won't get what they want.

    If we have another civil war, it will be over sectional issues or class antagonisms. Some of these may masquerade as religious divisions.

    Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians are backing Trump because they have nowhere else to go. I don't think they like him. All of this may change. Neo-liberalism may have finally run its course.

    In any case, it's not going to do any good to try to put me on trial. I posted comments on Sabine's web site because I thought the questions she raised are really interesting.

    I think the difficulty we have when we ask physics to respond to questions about the existence of God essentially logical difficulties. That's why I brought up Plato's Form of the Good, why I quoted St. Paul on the same topic.

    At its core the Christian concept of God involves values: rationality, truth, beauty, justice, etc. These are prescriptive, normative. Physics cannot resolve questions about values: It is logically impossible to derive an ought from an is.

    As to the Christian scriptures, I would advise against literal understandings. When we approach scriptural texts literally, we usually wind up missing the point.

    1. Atheism is to religion what off is to a television channel. --- George Carlin

      I have to respond to the other side of this argument. The idea that religion stands for reason, say with Isaiah calling for us to “reason together” has been around since the Tanach was first penned, probably in the 6th century BCE. In the case of Christianity there are parallel calls for compassion towards the less fortunate, no rush to judgment over others, not to make the riches of the world your idol and so forth. Yet the reality that actually happens is quite the opposite. I see many Christians who are very judgmental, often very concerned with money so it is almost they believe in Jesus Cash, and frankly when it comes to the most sharp authoritarian leaders Christians are ecstatic. When ever the right wing wins elections they are cheering madly, and there is a clear history of churches and Christians lining up as little ducklings behind mama-duck when fascism takes over. They could not be more pleased.

      Religion does posit “The Truth” comes from God above. It is revealed and not derived or discovered. This sets up an authoritarian social-psychology. The fundamentalists and evangelicals are not really grudgingly supporting t'Rump, but in fact see him as almost a prophetic figure in Revelations who will usher in the coming Jesus. This sort of mental framework is entirely different from a scientific one. The psychological penchant for seeing truth as emerging from authority leads to the idea that on this “worldly plain” that authority is needed, particularly if it is of a religious nature.

      Hume argued the “is-ought” fallacy as a corollary to the fallacy of thinking if something is true it must be necessarily true. This is a generally correct inference, and as a rule we should not use science as a basis for moral instruction. Hume even said there is no logical reason to not be a serial murderer, and in some ways that is the case. However, we have a sense of something as right or wrong I think because our brains are wired in such a way so we can function together. Kierkegaard in the early 19th century argued from Hume that if this is the case then humanity is faced with the stark terror of a purposeless life in a meaningless universe. He saw this as a source of anguish that can only be quenched if there does turn out to be a God. This is argued by religious folks today when pointing to social chaos, never mind that during the middle ages or the so called Age of Faith that murder rates were 50 times what they are now.

      I am not particularly atheist, I would call myself an agnostic with a generally atheist tendency. If I have thinking along these lines I am more disposed to the Tao or Zen than I am towards God, and certainly not towards personal deities. I though tend to keep this close to my vest. I do not go around advertising my thinking about these things.

  50. Walter Esler 4:36 AM, June 19, 2019

    You think that baby Jesus' father was a supernatural being who made the universe, a tale from a story book.

    You think this because you are *delusionally insane*.

    It is empirically false to claim that a human has anything other than 2 human parents (excluding recent genetic tricks), despite what the blog post claims about science having nothing to say about the existence of "God". The blog post is incorrect.

    " I posted comments on Sabine's web site because I thought the questions she raised are really interesting."

    You have no interest in the truth. Don't lie. You have decided the insane dogma you are going to believe and you will believe it till the day you die regardless of any evidence or arguments. You have been programmed and you can't be deprogrammed.

    You think you are in a discussion or debate with me about the existence of "God". You are not. You are delusionally insane and I am pointing that out.

    Keep giving your money to the child rapists like a good Christian.

  51. Lawrence, in re "The idea that religion stands for reason:"

    My background was Roman Catholic.

    My world view growing up was roughly this: that the faith resulted from a synthesis of Hellenistic philosophy and the Judaic tradition. The approach was that of systematic philosophy, hence there were no partitions between one branch of learning and another. The same tools of rationality, evidence, etc. which applied in one field, applied as appropriate, everywhere else, in every field. When I wrote that "the Christian concept of God involves values: rationality, truth, beauty, justice, etc." I meant that it approximated to something like Plato's Form of the Good. This was what we were drawn toward. We were drawn to rationality.

    You said that religion has truth coming "from God above. It is revealed and not derived or discovered." This wasn't our world view. It was not what we were being taught. Not everyone would have understood. Perhaps it was simpler for some individuals to externalize in terms of laws imposed by authority. What limitations applied to some individuals were theirs and were not being imposed upon them.

    What applied to members of my faith may or may not have been the views of Christian groups separated from us. I don't know what they all believe. I usually have to ask someone. Some groups may have been somewhat authoritarian in their outlook, but I'm not sure how true this is generally. Some were quite progressive..

    In regard to the problem deriving "an ought from an is" the difficulty, I think, is fundamental. If an imperative is not contained in the premises, no imperative will be contained in the conclusions. Is there a logical operator I should know about, which can convert "is" to "ought?"

    1. Hume's is-ought fallacy is something elementary in modal logic. It I set □ to mean necessarily then an elementary statement is that □p → p. Or if it is necessary that p is true then p is true. It seems almost tautological. However we can't say p → □p, or if p then p is necessarily true. One can with □p → p take the logical complement to see that ⌐p → ⌐□p . Then if we let p = ⌐q then clearly we have q → ⌐□⌐q → q. The meaning of ⌐□⌐q, “not necessarily not q” is the same thing as “possibly q” or ◊q. Therefore if a proposition p holds we have ◊q and so we derives q → ◊q as the complement or modus tolens of □p → p. This means that if p is true then it is possible there is a reason for p. This gets really interesting with Löb's theorem as a modal logic form of Gödel's theorem.

      In general something can be true without there being any prior reason for it being true. By extension something can be true and there may not be any particular rationality to it. So if something “IS” it does not mean there is some reason for it existing or being true, nor any rationality, such as an “OUGHT.” This does not mean that if something is true there is no reason for it, it just means something can be true without there being something that derives it or some supporting statement such as an “ought.”

      So science is then not that strong with respect to ethical theory. The most we can say is that we humans are social beings and behavior that is damaging to social structures is admonished against. Maybe a Darwinian statement about survival can be included, though what is defined as group selection in evolution is considered weaker than individual selection. As a result it makes for interesting discussion on how is it that our existence has some purposeful meaning and structure in a universe that in general has no apparent purpose. To invoke God to define such a meaning is similar to Kierkegaard's argument. Camus would say otherwise, that such ideas are magical and can't fix this problem. As his Myth of Sisyphus puts it in the end we push the stone up the hill to find meaning, and the act of doing this is our meaning.

      The idea of Plato's form of the good stems from the answer Socrates gave to Euthyphro over whether God is good. Socrates argued that if God followed the good, this means the power of God is limited. As a note, here God was originally “the gods.” It would mean that God has no power to do other than what is good and this “goodness,” or what Plato considered the form of the good, has greater power. The converse would be that God chooses to do what is good or defines what is good, which means God has an arbitrary will over either defining good or in choosing what is good and as such one can't say God is omnibenevolent. This is a typical problem on has with God, in that arguments run into problems of infinity or operations on transfinite sets.

      Plato conceived of his forms with respect to a relationship between the ideal world in mathematics and the physical world. The set of ideal forms was extended into subjects such as ethics. The opening of the Gospel of John is Platonism, which is interesting because the Book of Revelations attributed to John is largely Aristotelian. The ancients had all grand ideas of there being a complete unification of all categories and subjects of study. This is carried over with these idea of forms of goodness. We know in a more modern setting that this sort of unification is really not possible, even within the field of mathematics.

      To be honest my favorite writing on the subject of ethics is Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It gets into the question of what we even can define as ethics.

  52. Dr. H, Your claim that science has no answer to the question "Does God exist?" is incorrect. Once you unpack the concept of God, it makes some very specific empirical claims with which science does not agree.

    Abrahamic religions claim (with no reason given) that the universe had a beginning, namely the moment of "creation", but science has not yet observed whether the observable universe had a beginning or not and it's reasonable to think this is an empirical question; Abrahamic religions claim (again with no reason given) that the universe was "created", but again this is not known to be the case in empirical science and could turn out to be an empirical question; all Christians believe that a woman reproduced non-sexually with a non-human being and gave birth to a non-human being in the form of a human, but science tells us that (aside from recent genetic treatments) it is an empirical fact that a woman can only reproduce with a man to produce a fully human child.

    So, obviously, the concept of God treads on empirical toes, and science doesn't just disagree with the concept of God, from the point of view of science the idea is pure gibberish. And science can even go further, it can diagnose the mental malfunction of the people who believe this gibberish with no reason to do so - it's delusion.

    This is what the scientific record tells us - empirical science refutes the concept of God and the believers in the concept are suffering from a mental malfunction termed delusion. What you, an individual scientist, have written in the blog post is incorrect from the point of view of the scientific record.

    1. Steven,

      As I said explicitly, there are of course certain aspects of certain religions that are in conflict with scientific evidence. This is not a case I am interested in discussing.

    2. Dr H., But the god is left with no properties when you remove all aspects that tread on the toes of empirical science. So in the case that you are interested in discussing, what property of a god is there that does not clash with empirical science?

      The god fathered a human - empirically false
      The god runs an afterlife resort - empirically false
      The god created the universe - the universe having a beginning is an open empirical question

    3. Steven Evans,

      I have already told you twice that I am not interested in discussing cases where religion is in conflict with evidence. Please go and discuss this elsewhere, this is the end of this exchange.

    4. Yes, so tell me a defining property of a "God" which is *not* in conflict with empirical evidence. You have failed to do this. So your claim that science cannot answer the question "Does God exist?" is incorrect.

    5. Dr H.,
      Let's make it really simple. Are these 2 statements empirically correct?
      A woman can only reproduce with a man, and they can only reproduce a human. (excluding recent medical techniques)
      It is not currently known whether the universe had a beginning or not.

      If so, how can you justify the title of the post?

    6. God is green with polka dots. Srsly, Steve, you are missing the point. You can add any number of axioms to a hypothesis provided they do not have observable consequences and the hypothesis will still be compatible with evidence. That's all I am saying.

    7. But the God-like properties of God (creation, asexual fathering of children, etc.) do have observable consequences and they are in contradiction with the evidence. So your title is incorrect.

      Are you claiming there are God-like properties (as opposed to dress-like properties) which do not have observable consequences? If so, can you give a single example?

    8. God is omniscient.

      "But the God-like properties of God (creation, asexual fathering of children, etc.) do have observable consequences and they are in contradiction with the evidence. So your title is incorrect."

      Once again: I have explicitly stated that I do not talk about Gods which are in conflict with evidence. This is now the 4th time I have to repeat it. What's wrong with you that you are not able to comprehend simple English sentences?

    9. Yes, but omniscience, like green with polka dots, is not a necessary property of a God. A God at least "created" the universe. This is a necessary property. But this then implies that the universe had a beginning which does not agree with the empirical evidence. If it didn't create the universe then it ain't God.

      A Christian God has the further necessary property that it fathered Jesus with a virgin asexually. This is empirically false. Therefore the Christian God does not exist according to science. If it didn't father Jesus asexually then it ain't the Christian God.

      You say that science does not answer the question "Does God exist?". But, in fact, science tells us that the theist God depends on an open empirical question, and the Christian God is false. So you are plain wrong.

      The same can be applied to all other concepts of a god. It will have a necessary property that has observable consequences that science disagrees with. I'm hoping we don't have to go through the whole pantheon.

    10. Of course it's not necessary because God him or herself is not necessary. I don't know why you want to talk about the beginning of the universe. I didn't say anything about the beginning of the universe.

    11. I mean properties necessary to the definition of "God".
      Definitions of God vary, some people may include omniscience, some not, but:
      "God" at the very minimum has the property that it created the universe, and therefore God's existence implies the universe had a beginning.
      But science tells us this is currently an open question.
      Similarly, the Christian God has at the very minimum the property that it created the universe and the additional property that it fathered a being asexually with a woman.
      Science tells us this is empirically not true. Women reproduce sexually with men to produce other humans.

      So science tells us *not* that God is not necessary, as you have just claimed, but that the theist God depends on an open question and may not exist, and that the Christian God does not exist.

      You want to talk only about properties of God which do not clash with science, but then you are not talking about God. The minimum definition of God includes properties that clash with science.

      If you talk about an omniscient, green and polka dot being which did *not* create the universe, you are no longer talking about "God".

      The existence of "God" has necessary implications which conflict with or are contradicted by empirical science. So the title of your blog post is wrong by simple logic.

    12. There isn't any "minimum definition" of the type that you talk about. I have made it clear what I am referring to. You seem to dislike the way I use the word "God", which is not a discussion I am interested in.

  53. " the one who listens to prayers, and tells you how to be a good person, and who sorts the good from the bad in afterlife"

    Again these claims are empirically not true. Empirically speaking the only beings listening to your prayers are the people in the congregation around you if you say the prayer out loud. Sound doesn't travel that far. A silent prayer could be observed in brain scan activity if the supplicant is bunged in an MRI scanner.

    Also, biology tells us that the human body ceases to function after the event known as death. So to talk of an "afterlife" is nonsense. I'm surprised you haven't come across this as a professional scientist.

    1. Steven, you are not following. These claims are not empirically disprovable. You cannot scientifically disprove the existence of something or someone who does not have any observable consequence.

  54. Lawrence,

    So it is not simply the case that we cannot derive an ought from an is, but the converse may also be true. That is something I had always suspected. By the way, I ran into some problems with rendering of symbols, but believe I was able to extract the sense of your response.

    “As a note, here God was originally ‘the gods.’”

    In the Timaeus “the gods” were created. So also was time. The pantheon of Greek gods were brought into being after time began, so apparently they had been demoted by the time of Timaeus. The one God – Plato would not have capitalized it, or at least the translator did not, but I am having trouble with the translation – the one God existed outside of time.

    Issues relating to ability to choose to do other than what is good, values as arbitrary etc. should not have been possible. Plato’s God wasn’t sitting somewhere deciding as events unfolded. There was no passage of time. Plato may have surfaced his Demiurge as a way to resolve the conceptual difficulties his readers might have with this concept.

    Interestingly, I can recall one teacher in my Catholic secondary school telling us that God had less freedom than us. He could not act against his own nature, i.e., the Form of the Good, whereas we were free and would all too often fail to measure up to our own values.

    ”The opening of the Gospel of John is Platonism, which is interesting because the Book of Revelations attributed to John is largely Aristotelian.”

    I wrote that I had received my understanding of Christianity as a synthesis of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaic prophecy. No one challenged my employment of this heuristic, which was fortunate. In fact, there were/are a number of schools, and more than one synthesis. Scholasticism is dominant in my faith, but the Church has never opted for a single philosophic outlook. There are some who wish to see Scholasticism imposed on everyone. They won’t get what they want.

    I have a number of difficulties with Scholasticism. Their conception of natural law troubles me. They have made some marvelous contributions, but I don’t think they are making sense just now. I think values are “baked in” with the Standard Model. Possibly with initial conditions? I hope that science will help to clarify this and other issues some of us are now struggling with.

    It’s not physics which will be called on. We will look to the social sciences. A current question involves the issue of personality disorders. I am hearing from someone who has been working with this population. How are we to understand this condition? Off topic for this site, I think.

    “The ancients had grand ideas of there being a complete unification of all categories and subjects of study.”

    A notable failure involves aesthetics.

    With respect to Dr. H, what is this issue of beauty in physics? I’m not pro or anti, just bewildered by it. Perhaps it has a more limited meaning in this context, but I am not getting it.

  55. Plato had ideas of a single universal God. The Christian God is in a way a fusion between Zeus and אֲדֹנָי or Adonai. The idea though of a God being physical is not Judaic, though somewhat Hellenic, and the Jewish idea of God does not involve God entering into us, or any other spirit. So when Christians say "Jesus is in my heart" it is a very Hellenic idea. In Judaism the Torah is in you or the law.

    I would more or less concur with your assessment of the is and ought fallacy.

    I have to make this a bit brief. Sabine's issue with beauty is not so much there will be no beauty if in the future we have a grand unification of QM with GR, quantum gravitation with gauge field and the full boat. It is more in a way that just because a math-physics construction has some sense of beauty that does not make it automatically correct. It is in some ways parallel to this modal logic and "is-ought" issue.

  56. Some of the things I have seen - equations - struck me as beautiful, lovely things to contemplate. I wondered if someone had gotten a sufficiently worked out aesthetics that they could use it as a tool to develop physics. Conceivably they were writing code and letting the computer do the theory - while they took an extended lunch break.

    I used to set up problems on my last job, and do just that. Extended lunch breaks while the machine chugged away. It was fun to work that way.

    If they are simply relying on their own subjective sense of beauty, I'm not so sure.

    In our undergraduate days, my wife decided to take an elective course in chemistry. I was helping her study. I was delighted to find an explanation in math as to why orbitals and sub-orbitals did not always fill up in strict order. That's when I noticed a rectangle expanding rapidly in the corner of my eye. A moment later, as I was picking myself up from the floor, I realized that the rectangle was the chemistry book.

    "But it was beautiful," I said. Ginny replied "I don't like it!"

  57. Lawrence, I think you are right. The Law must live within us. There are religious expressions, particularly about Jesus which I am not able to explicate. This may be due to an inability to comprehend on my part.

    Nothing forbids the Incarnation, nonetheless, it comes as a surprise. I think that's the word.

    1. Walter Esler4:19 PM, June 23, 2019

      "Nothing forbids the Incarnation"
      Except the whole of empirical science. You are simply declaring your own insanity.

    2. Steven, Lawrence had remarked that Judaism has trouble with a claim of Christianity about Jesus.

      Both groups agree on the existence of God, but not on some other points. Even if we went back in time there is no empirical test which could resolve this issue. Individuals would be forced to evaluate the evidence (mostly textual) supporting the claims and then judge for themselves. You are free to do so as well, or to remain agnostic on the issue.

      Having an opinion on this issue does not label someone as insane.

      Mental illness and insanity are legal terms in the US. I don't know about Britain. Courts here use these concepts to make certain decisions. Neither term is in the DSM.

      Generally, if you are able to go about your daily life without too much trouble, then you're okay.

    3. Steven, Lawrence had remarked that Judaism has trouble with a claim of Christianity about Jesus.

      Both groups agree on the existence of God. Both would agree that God could appear in person, should He see fit to do so. That was why I remarked that it was not "forbidden."

      Even if we went back in time there is no empirical test which could resolve this issue. Individuals would be forced to evaluate the evidence (mostly textual) supporting the claims and then judge for themselves. You are free to do so as well, or to remain agnostic on the issue. Many things in life are like this. We must judge for ourselves.

      Having an opinion on this issue does not label someone as insane.

      Mental illness and insanity are legal terms in the US. I don't know about Britain. Courts here use these concepts to make certain decisions. Neither term is in the DSM.

      Generally, if you are able to go about your daily life without too much trouble, then you're okay.

    4. Steven, Lawrence had remarked that Judaism has trouble with a claim of Christianity about Jesus.

      Both groups agree on the existence of God. Both would agree that God could appear in person, should He see fit to do so. That was why I remarked that it was not "forbidden."

      Even if we went back in time there is no empirical test which could resolve this issue. Individuals would be forced to evaluate the evidence (mostly textual) supporting the claims and then judge for themselves. You are free to do so as well, or to remain agnostic on the issue. Many things in life are like this. We must judge for ourselves.

      Having an opinion on this issue does not label someone as insane.

      Mental illness and insanity are legal terms in the US. (I don't know about Britain.) Courts here use these concepts to make certain decisions. Neither term is in the DSM.

      Generally, if you are able to go about your daily life without too much trouble, then you're okay.

    5. Walter Esler3:35 AM, June 24, 2019

      "Even if we went back in time there is no empirical test which could resolve this issue."

      LOL! So there is no empirical difference between one of your incarnate people and a non-incarnate person? So I might be God incarnate without knowing it?

    6. All of this is very magical thinking. A God becoming a human is magic. The stories around Jesus are very magical, such as water into wine or raising Lazarus. Of course if you are to have God as a physical human He better do better than Elijah who raised the dead. In the end these stories are not much different from Cinderella's fairy godmother who converted a pumpkin and mice into a horse drawn carriage.

      To reiterate what science can and can't do about God. A belief about God that he did "such and such" might be tested if there are fingerprints possible. God clearly did not create things a few thousand years ago. Evidence points in an entirely different direction. So we an say this sort of creator God does not exist. However, a God that is some invisible, undetectable and unapproachable Being who might say sustain the world in a thought etc is not falsifiable. This is not to say I put a lot of stock in such an idea. A God that is infinite in various forms, say power, knowing, or beneficence is also not observable, for we have no way of measuring anything that is "infinite." Infinity is a set cardinality and not a number in the usual sense. So it has no meaning to say we can ever observe such a God in any form.

    7. Walter Esler11:19 AM, June 24, 2019

      "You would have noticed."

      How, if there is empirically no difference?
      Anyway, there is a difference. You claim that Jesus died and came back to life 2 days later. Science tells us this doesn't happen, so do you have any evidence for this extraordinary claim? Or are you delusionally insane?

    8. Lawrence, the issue is very difficult because there are so many understandings, groups, etc. The faith I continue to adhere to stipulates relatively few doctrines. I think only two biblical interpretations have ever been mandated, one only partially. There is a central catechism published periodically. We're on our 4th edition at this point. It's roughly 950 pages. Very little of this is absolutely required.

      I lived in Kansas for three or four years. It's very different from what I grew up with. Still part of America: I don't think we can understand our history if we can't understand Kansas. It's not the whole story. I would not be the best person to tap for information on fundamentalism. I'm still trying to understand it.

      One of our philosophers defined the soul as the "forma corporeitas." I understand this to mean simply the information that makes up an individual. Nothing can be forgotten, "even the fall of a sparrow is noted." I don't think there is anything magical about this.

      In regard to Jesus, we should simply read what He said and did. He advised us not to worry about signs and wonders. Focus on the substannce. There is no need to guarantee any conclusion.

      We need to live. This imperative is unconditionally impressed in our genetics. This is why we rebel against the idea of death. As to an afterlife, I believe that we are subject to inherent limits, part of the way the universe is structured. To circumvent these limits would require us to go beyond this universe. We would also need to change, detach ourselves from the things we cling to. We have a paradox. What we must want we will reject. Unable to control our fate, we rage against our lack of power.

      All too often, we take it out on others.

  58. The multiverse exists, because otherwise string theorists will have to admit that they made no progress at all in explaining anything about the universe in the last 40 years. How inconvenient would that be ?

    1. Plato made an argument against the multiverse. I'm not sure it was valid.

  59. Is God a Kardashev level VI “programmer”?
    A testable hypothesis of higher level “sentient beings” interacting within the observable physical universe that can, and is being tested empirically now, would be a place to start.
    Scientist are presently working on the above hypothesis with observations of the Tabby’s star. If what we are seeing is the result of a structure built by high level “sentient beings of a advanced extra terrestrials of a Kardashev type I civilization, then this would be empirical evidence of “sentient beings” higher than us. According to Kardashev these civilizations types go up to a type level III civilization who are able to harness all the energy in the known universe. These guys would be at least “semi-godlike”. But this is not the limit to this line of though.
    The God I know could be a Kardashev type V or VI “Sentient Entity”(we are only “individual” conscious beings because of our imperfect communication abilities). This concept of God can best be understood as a “ God level programmer” who writes a program to create a “virtual universe” with laws and physical constants loaded to create a virtual, program universe to run on a super Kardashev level VI computer. This God also could have programmed “sentient sub-routines” within this program, (people) . These conscious “ virtual sub-routines people” within the virtual universe could interact with each other and the virtual universe. What these virtual beings observe as physically "real" is actually only a very complex computer program. The only thing that is “real” in this universe is the “programmer” and the relationship the “programmer” has with the "virtual sentient beings" within the program. These virtual people could live forever without this “virtual universe” if the “programmer” so desires. These virtual people could communicate with the programmer by simply “thinking or speaking what they want to say. The "programmer" will see the program output and respond in direct or subtle ways. Also since this is virtual physical reality the “programmer” can alter the physical “rules” anytime to manifest any phenomenon. This God "programmer" could enter this virtual physical reality and directly interact with these “virtual people” in any way that pleases. This “programmer” would likely hide the fact of this “virtual physical reality” from the “virtual people” as an experimenter hides the facts of a experiment from the subjects as not to effect the outcomes. This hiding of the virtual reality of the physical world could be called a “lie“ of the “programmer”. However, the “programmer” could provide the “virtual people” a “program guide”. This "program guide" could tell how the “virtual physical world” is ruled by a powerful “sentient sub-routine” that is the “Father of lies”, who’s main purpose is to convince the “virtual people” that this physical world is real and not virtual. This "great lie" would serve to seperate the "vertual people" from knowing the "real" "programmer". However, since most "virtual people" would not read the "program guide" they would not understand this. There are Scientist who are actually studying if were are living in a "virtual universe" controlled by some "super ET programmer" living in his mother's basement. There are emperical test that could support or negate this "God programmer" hypothesis.
    The “Elephant in the Room” of science, in relation to all of this, is consciousness itself. Consciousness as a “sub-routine running on a super computer is as good a guess as anything Science has to offer. It is quite possible without Consciousness the whole universe is just an useless, irrelevant eigenstate, that is if it exist at all.

  60. The concept of a soul has been intertwined with various religions since earliest times. In its modern incarnation the soul is imagined to be the continuation of consciousness after death, thus undergirding the belief system of reincarnation that has captivated the western world in recent decades with sensational films and books on the subject. Tales of having lived previous lives might well have been the stimulus for the founding of the earliest religions in the neolithic, and the notion of an all powerful deity residing in a mysterious realm that each person enters upon their demise.

    But might there be a scientific basis for these claims? A foundational principle of quantum mechanics is that quantum information is always conserved. So, conceivably, some sort of ‘self-awareness’ might persist even after an individual’s death. Of course, with this rationale, there shouldn’t be a privileged status for human consciousness. The ‘soul’ of Morris the cat, from the 1970’s might animate the mind of some newly born kitten in Tennessee decades on, for example. But this train of thought gets a little silly, when contemplating a situation where the number of birthed cats outstrips the supply of deceased cats ‘souls’, not to mention that particular species of living organisms today weren’t even around 50 million years ago. So, we might rationalize that at least for modern humans that in some ethereal realm there are assembly lines manned by angels as QC inspectors, who oversee the refurbishment of ‘used’ souls, as well as original ‘equipment’ manufacturing (OEM) lines, for newly minted souls - just kidding, of course.

    But, on a more serious note, all animals, including humans, are endowed with instincts. Perhaps the built-in information-conservation attribute of QM plays a role in this, for after all we are composed of quantum particles. If information from a previous generation of an organism, be it a single celled microbe or a modern mammal, can be accessed, it would enhance the survival prospects of the organism by enabling it to avoid dangers previous generations encountered, or find food sources the prior generations discovered, as pertinent examples.

  61. In my understanding instinct (gut-feeling, a sense of immediate knowing without involving rational thought) is (very fast) pattern recognition by certain neurons, based on previous learning experiences. Nothing metaphysical going on here.

  62. Martien, "Gut-feeling, a sense of immediate knowing..." reminds me of several incidents that my twin brother has had with his wife. In one incident my brother's wife had gone to church, which was about a mile away from their house. While she was off at church, my brother decided to go up in the attic of their house, setting up a 6 foot ladder to gain access to the ceiling hatch. As he began to push on the hatch he lost his balance falling backwards onto the hallway floor from his 6 foot perch. The air was completely knocked out of him, he couldn't move, and was in considerable pain. At church, his wife sensed something terrible had happened to her husband, and left in the middle of the service racing home in her car. She found my brother lying on the floor in pain, and proceeded to assist him. Fortunately, he only sustained some bruises, and recovered completely. On another occasion they were driving home from a visit to relatives in New Jersey, almost 20 years ago. Suddenly my brother's wife exclaimed out of the blue that something very bad had happened to our dad. Three, or four, hours later they arrived at their house to find a message on their answering machine that our dad had been admitted to a hospital with a very serious condition hundreds of miles away from their location at the time. There are other stories of the same type that my brother has related to me, though I've forgotten the details.

    It seems as if the human mind, at least those that are more sensitive to this sort of thing, can access information that isn't available by normal means. The non-locality aspect of QM might somehow be involved in this. I could easily imagine early human societies holding their tribal shamans, with similar sensitivity, in awe, presuming that they were communicating with a deity to obtain information about distant events not accessible by the five regular senses. Such experiences would solidify belief in an all-knowing deity in communities all over the world, while in reality it could just be a manifestation of the non-locality feature of QM. Even non-living matter seems to get in on the act. I was reading an article (which I'll have to find again) where quasiperiodic crystals seem to 'know' in advance how to grow so that every atom fits together properly when the full structure is completed. Perhaps this is a case of retrocausality. Huw Price (2012), and S. Leifer/Matthew Pusey (2017) have investigated the concept of a retrocausal interpretation of QM, an idea that has antecedents with the Wheeler-Feynman Absorber Theory, and its later development in John Cramer's Transactional Interpretation with advanced wave solutions.

  63. Mm... are coincidences not a better explanation? As far as I know scientific testing of paranormal 'knowing' has not provided support for its existence. Coincidences happen all the time. If one wins a lottery that person might want to than God. But somebody has to win anyway, no God needed.

    It is also likely that stories are 'polished up' during the process of telling and retelling, in the direction people like to belief how it happened.

    To add to my previous post. Not all 'instinct' is based on learning experiences. Some part of it is probably hardwired in our brains (the way neurons develop and relate before we are born). For instance the drinking reflex of infants.

    While it is true that science cannot yet explain consciousness (although scientists are getting better on describing how it arises from the brain), there seems not be a convincing theory linting it with QM.

    Quantum process exist in the world I think it is well possible that we can sometimes explain its contribution to certain processes, maybe growth of crystals, maybe with photo syntheses, maybe inside the neurons in our brains. Who knows. I am skeptic that it would support much or any of the claims paragnostics and that kind of people make.

  64. God exists. I discovered the Gospel in the Natural Logarithm. But you do not seem to be the sort of person willing to look at evidence that might contradict your beliefs. Good bye.

  65. I like the the more neutral term "fiction" instead of "religion" for all things not made of Bosons or Fermions.

    I would describe "scientifically true claims" as fiction in agreement with observations about regularities.

    I say always for all non-scientific type of existence: as far as we (humans) know they don't exist. Sean Carroll has a different approach, and accepts the existence of some of these things not made of Fermions or Bosons (like freewill, but not God's).

    However, in my daily life, outside of internet, to prevent being a complete social outcast, I often pretend they do exist. This goes with no effort.

  66. As a Physicist and as a Christian I found this (lengthy) entry in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy on the problem of fine tuning very interesting.

    The key section for me is 3.1 which looks at the rational impact of the observation that the constants, laws and boundary conditions of the universe are right for life on one's degree of belief that there is a cosmic designer (a.k.a. God).

    If you start (as I do) with an a priori view that there is a non-zero probability there is a God, then the evidence of fine tuning serves to convince you further.

    If on the other hand, like many professional physicists, you ascribe a vanishingly small a priori probability to there being a God, you are forced to look for alternative explanations such as the multiverse. It goes on to say "The persistent difficulties with testing multiverse theories are a prime reason of why the multiverse idea itself continues to be viewed very critically by many leading physicists."
    I guess this is what you are saying in categorising the multiverse as a religion.
    Personally I find the multiverse theory very odd and find it much more logical to believe in God than in the multiverse.

  67. @Sabine Hossenfelder “Does God exist? Science does not have an answer.”

    Hi Sabine, I just recently noticed this older blog topic, so I thought I’d insert my 2 cents.

    The irony of hardcore materialism (especially from the perspective of quantum physics) is that it seems to “hint” at what quite possibly could be a Berkeleyan form of idealism, which asserts that the universe is the MIND of God.

    And the way in which materialism hints at such a thing is that if it were true that all of reality is purely material in nature,...

    ...then that means that the substance that composes our thoughts and dreams is simply an inward extension of the same fundamental substance that composes the suns and planets.

    And the point is that if humans (via our imaginations) can willfully grasp the same fundamental substance that forms the suns and planets and shape it into absolutely anything we desire within the inner context of our own minds (just by thinking it)...

    ...then why couldn’t a higher mind (again, in the Berkeleyan sense) do the same thing with respect to the universe?...

    ...(especially if the owner of that higher mind had eternal life in which to accomplish such a feat)?

    Now clearly, for any of this to work, then the truth of the ontological conditions of “ultimate reality” must be an inversion of the illusion we are presently experiencing.

    In other words, instead of mind being encapsulated in (and dependent upon the existence of) physical matter, in truth, physical matter is encapsulated in (and dependent upon the existence of) mind,...

    (again, a higher mind in the case of this universe)

    ...wherein the stuff that we call “matter” is simply the infinitely malleable mental fabric through-which mind (consciousness) expresses itself.

    Whaddya think about that?

  68. As Dr. William Lane Craig said in response to Ockham's razor, "Simplicity purchased at the price of explanatory adequacy is a fool’s bargain. An explanatorily adequate theory will posit some additional causes to explain the phenomenon in question, and Ockham’s Razor counsels us not to postulate more causes than are necessary to explain the effect."

    He goes on to say, "So in inferring to a Creator of the universe, it would be a violation of Ockham’s Razor to postulate more than one Creator, because one Creator suffices to explain the phenomenon calling for explanation (viz., the beginning of the universe)."

    But it would not be a violation of Ockham's razor to postulate One God as the best explanation of the universe. Why? Because the universe demands an explanation of its existence and science is limited to the physical world. It cannot address metaphysical entities. But science has no way to explain many things that we embrace as truth. Science can't even confirm math and logic. Science presupposes math and logic in order to function so to try and prove math and logic through science would be to argue in a circle. Science can't prove that the universe wasn't created 5 minutes ago with an appearance of age and that all our faculties were preprogrammed to believe the memories we have. Yet all of us are rational to believe reality is real and that math and logic exist independent of scientific verification. So science has immense epistemic limitations.

    We have the universe before us. The scientist is stuck in the epistemic mire of having to conclude, "Well - the universe just is."

    But is that acceptable? No. It's not. The entire point of science is to offer a reasonable explanation for what we see in the physical world.

    Since Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin have concluded the universe had a finite beginning we have to deal with a cosmic beginning. Cosmologists can no longer hide behind the idea, as Vilenkin said, of a past eternal universe.

    Also, physicists have had to admit to the fine tuning of the universe. Dr. Sean Carroll appeals to the multiverse to explain away such fine tuning. But he also had to admit that when they tested the cosmic microwave background radiation very carefully, they did not find evidence of multiple universes. And he admitted that it is doubtful the multiverse is true.

    Therefore, the *best* explanation for the universe is that something had to cause it that is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, personal, and extremely powerful.

    And those are the attributes that everyone attributes to God.


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