Why is the Universe Comprehensible?

Comprehensible universeStone Age man 10,000 years ago had no use for calculus.

We have pretty much the same Stone Age brain and, with effort, we can understand calculus. And physics. And chemistry. And economics, math, literature, and other complicated topics for which primitive man had no use. These particular skills couldn’t have been selected by evolution.

As Einstein observed, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

The Christian has a ready answer: God did it. Our brains are able to understand the universe because we’re made in God’s image, and he wants us to understand.

A related example: skin

Let’s consider another marvel, animal skin. It can heal after being burned, but it’s possible that getting burned was such a rare event that natural selection didn’t have the chance to select animals for skin able to recover from burns. Worse, evolution has had no time to prepare us for modern injuries such as skin burns by nuclear radiation or from concentrated acids or other nasty chemicals.

And yet human skin does heal after injuries from fire, chemicals, or radiation. Evolution selected for general-purpose skin that responds well to general injuries like cuts, bites, and scrapes, and it’s able to repair after the new injuries as well.

In the same way, it seems to have also selected for a general-purpose brain that could make tools and coordinate hunting parties—and understand calculus and physics. So the quick answer to, “Why did evolution give us a brain that could understand calculus, physics, and the universe?” is, “Why not?”

The Flynn effect is a startling recent example showing how our brain adapts to environments that would be novel not only to the humans of thousands of years ago, but even to the previous generation. For about a century, new stimuli (possibly including new media like movies, TV, and the internet; broader education; or new work challenges) have driven up average IQ scores in the West by three points per decade.

The evolution connection becomes clearer when we consider some of the new fields we’ve entered in the last century or two. We’re comfortable with the everyday physics we see around us—gravity, buoyancy, air pressure, centrifugal force, and so on. But we live in a medium world, and the world of the tiny (cells, atoms, quantum physics) and the enormous (galaxies, black holes, the universe) are described by science that is well validated but often violates our common sense. As physicist Richard Feynman is quoted as saying, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

But is the universe comprehensible?

Before we congratulate ourselves too much on how much we can understand, keep in mind that we understand only what we’re capable of understanding. There could be enormous reservoirs of scientific fact that we’re inherently unable to perceive, let alone understand, because of our limited brains—like a red-green color distinction to a color blind person or a joke to a lizard.

The part of the universe that we comprehend isn’t that surprising, and much of what we don’t comprehend may be forever beyond our grasp.

Tide goes in, tide goes out.
Never a miscommunication.
You can’t explain that.
You can’t explain why the tide goes in.
— Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, 1/4/2011

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    For a guy who makes his living with words, you’d think that land-dweller Bill O’Reilly would have known to say “tide comes in”. Why didn’t he? You can’t explain that. Must be God working in mysterious ways again.

    • Greg G.

      From the perspective of someone who is lost at sea, his terminology may be correct.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      land-dweller Bill O’Reilly would have known to say “tide comes in”.

      Maybe he was on his yacht when it happened.

    • Jason Wexler

      Thank you for being the first comment… I felt a little embarrassed as I scrolled down to the comment section with the only response coming to me, being about the Bill O’Reilly quote as opposed to the content of the article.

      I can of course explain the tides, as I have a good understanding of tidal forces. Yet I get the impression Bill is right, I can’t explain the tides because he is probably unwilling to listen or learn. Does this comment rate up there with Sheri Sheapard claiming Christians preceded the Jews, Romans and Greeks or when she wasn’t sure if the Earth was round?

  • GCBill

    I’ve always thought the “intelligibility of the universe” argument was one of theism’s strongest (not that that’s saying much). This is partially because the atheist has to do a lot more work in explaining it than the theist does (“because God wanted us to be able to know Him” is relatively easy). Furthermore, I wonder if the theist couldn’t appeal to Ockham in order to claim this talking point due to the simplicity of their explanation? I’d recommend expanding the discussion to include human error, for on this point the naturalistic explanation is noticeably superior. If rationality were the product of an immaterial soul, you wouldn’t expect systematic biases to be produced in ways that make it indistinguishable from an intellect shaped by natural selection. When you consider both intelligibility and confusion, theism’s explanation no longer appears as strong, and thus the “all else being equal” criterion of Ockham’s Razor is not met. This transforms what otherwise might be a small victory for theism into a decisive one for atheism.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “There’s a supernatural being, and he did it” is an insanely complicating addition. I’ve heard apologists argue that it’s just one new concept, but it’s completely without precedent.

      A supernatural being like what?

      As for human error, I imagine they’d dismiss that by pointing to The Fall®.

      • GCBill

        RE: Ockham, I think there’s a limit on how much of one’s theory-web (i.e., worldview) is relevant to the immediate question. The natural world is insanely complex too, but someone who wants to give a naturalistic explanation for weather needn’t worry about the quantum mechanical equations that describe the behavior of the smallest constituents of the weather system. Likewise, proposing a God raises a ton of additional questions, but I don’t think they’re all necessarily relevant to assessing the complexity of the explanation in focus. In other words, the “like what” of a supernatural entity only need to be fleshed out well enough to answer the intelligibility question, just like naturalism only needs to go as far as explaining the weather.

        And The Fall® won’t work as an account for all human cognitive error, because Adam & Eve already had to err in judgment in order for it to occur. I don’t know how the authors let that one sneak through at all, but it’s especially inadequate in this situation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There’s a lo-o-o-ong list of inconsistencies in the Garden of Eden story, so it’s not much of a foundation to build on. But that’s a good one to add to the list.

    • Greg G.

      If rationality were the product of an immaterial soul, you wouldn’t expect systematic biases to be produced in ways that make it indistinguishable from an intellect shaped by natural selection. 

      I was trying to multiply a couple of two digit numbers in my head before reading this so it got me thinking. I had to multiply with two digits at a time, then add, then recall the first product and add one digit at a time. If my soul was being used to do the calculation in the spirit world, why couldn’t it do the calculation in one transmission? Is 37 that complex that each digit must be transmitted separately? If so, how could the soul be responsible for complex moral decisions?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        That’s the weird thing about human mental issues–inborn biases (racism, confirmation bias, etc.), mental illness, peredolia, optical illusions, and on and on. The brain is obviously a pretty imperfect instrument, and yet the Christian will likely respond that that’s due to the Fall. So therefore, it’s our fault (like everything else).

        And somehow he thinks he’s salvaged his remarkable supernatural claim.

        • Greg G.

          Right, but you can’t expect an omniscient being to grasp Murphy’s Law.

        • Nemo

          Falldidit is an escape hatch which essentially allows theists to dismiss any and all evidence which points away from an intelligent designer.

        • Mike Hatch

          As a Christian, I would not necessarily ascribe imperfection to the fall (although many likely would, unfortunately), but rather to the fact that human beings were given enough reason to make personal choices (free will), which requires the ability to err. Our ability to err can lead to choices that cause harm.

        • Kodie

          I keep wondering why Christians think that sounds pretty good, if you want to know. God is a metaphorical parent figure invented by humans with parents, and humans who are parents. It’s a justification for abusive relationships and power domination and hierarchy.

        • Mike Hatch

          The ascription of ‘father’ or ‘parent’ to God is not a primary definition of God, but rather a useful secondary analogy for understanding our relationship to him. God’s primary attributes stem from first cause argument (the universe had a beginning, all beginnings require a cause, there must be a beginner or first cause). His necessary attributes are transcendence (beyond the universe), Omnipotence (he must be all powerful, otherwise he is limited in some way, and that would require yet another ’cause’) for example. Many people have difficulty with God as parent due to poor treatment by human parents or relations, this does not necessarily make him false or evil.

        • Kodie

          It just sounds like some weak logic to believe in something so important (if it existed). I mean, here I will go and say I don’t believe in god for this or that reason, and then some Christian will make up attributes of a fairytale character. Still doesn’t make him real. It’s like you don’t even listen to yourselves. That’s what I meant by you think that sounds pretty good. My imaginary god – he has attributes! Have you really thought this through?

        • Mike Hatch

          Yes I have Kodie. Obviously I was trying to be too brief, but my comments stem from a thoughtful analysis of the reasons for the things I believe. The universe had a beginning, that needs explanation, and any explanation provided is by definition supernatural since it is not possible for us to know anything beyond the physical universe we live in. You can say multiverses, you can say quantum fluctuations, or a god, but it requires an explanation. Any explanation that does not postulate a necessary and infinite being simply puts off the question (who caused the multiverses). It is a deep logical and philosophical question, and I was providing some definition to my belief by describing the attributes of the being that I believe in. I would appreciate it if you would not attack Christians just because you disagree. (By attack, I’m referring to comments like ‘weak logic’, ‘fairytale’, and ‘you don’t even listen to yourselves’).

        • Kodie

          The universe had a beginning, that needs explanation, and any
          explanation provided is by definition supernatural since it is not
          possible for us to know anything beyond the physical universe we live
          in.

          That’s not what supernatural, by definition means. Unexplainable by current methods of understanding or explaining, or even beyond human grasp for understanding is not what supernatural, by definition, means. That right there is faulty logic. Supernatural means X does not make Y means supernatural.

          http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/supernatural

          su·per·nat·u·ral
          [soo-per-nach-er-uhl, -nach-ruhl] Show IPA
          adjective
          1.
          of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
          2.
          of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to God or a deity.
          3.
          of a superlative degree; preternatural: a missile of supernatural speed.
          4.
          of, pertaining to, or attributed to ghosts, goblins, or other unearthly beings; eerie; occult.

          “beyond what is natural,” not “beyond which is explainable”.

          Plus, it apparently has a personality? And is personally concerned about you?

        • Mike Hatch

          I was using the term in context of definition 1 in your reference, that which is beyond what is explainable by natural law, and in your words ‘unexplainable by current methods of understanding’, which is a subtle distinction, but I’ll grant your definition. (One valuable aspect of these discussions is that we get to the essence of meaning of the words we use – often a great reason for misunderstanding or interpretation).
          The concept of personality in the ‘first, necessary cause’ stems from the argument from reason, which is part of what I was discussing with the gentleman earlier in this thread. Trust in our ability to reason is an important thing to consider. From a naturalistic perspective, we have no reason to trust in what we think or reason since our thoughts are no more than the random collection of chemicals and electricity in our brains. Extending the question of where our reason comes from, and why we can trust in it, leads to a discussion of personality, and raises the question of personality in the first cause.

        • Kodie

          Maybe you are familiar with “god of the gaps”?

          Just because something doesn’t have an explanation now doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a natural explanation. If you came home to find your door open, and you don’t know why, is the answer supernatural? Maybe it was the wind, maybe it was your kid forgot to shut it, maybe there was an intruder. Those are only 3 possibilities, but you never find out why. Is the answer “god opened it”? I mean, is that the right answer for anything?

          Then here, you are arguing about “random” chemical impulses in the brain and not knowing why they exist, or how they work, or how to explain them. First of all, there are people who know a lot more about biology and neurobiology than you do, or I do, and they can explain this to you, or you can read about it instead of just leaping to the conclusion that it “points to” a supreme deity. Just because you don’t know doesn’t mean nobody knows or is ever going to know. And even if nobody ever found out, still doesn’t mean god had a hand in it. We have creative, innovative, solution-seeking brains. A lot of that creativity gets used up in ideas that aren’t true or even close, and a lot of it is meant to be fantasy. Some of it gets used to do medical research or invent machines you use. None of this stuff happens out of the blue – we have the older machines to refine, and newer, more efficient ways to do old things, like call your friend overseas.

          Let’s just put it another way – if humans didn’t exist, everything would still work the way it does. We might talk about animal intelligence. Animals know more than we might think they do, but we measure their intelligence by human standards, which is not really fair. They know what they need to know. It’s about survival, it’s not about “random neural firings”. Without humans, everything we know would not change because we weren’t here to know it. All of it was true before we learned it and labeled it and shared it with other people so they would know.

        • Mike Hatch

          I am aware of the god of the gaps critique, and I am actually very cautious about what I would attribute to god because far too many people will say ‘god did it’ erroneously. However, I’m not asserting god for just anything, I’m restating very fundamental philosophical arguments about things that NO ONE will ever be able to know completely, namely, why the universe exists (the subject of this article). We know it had a beginning, and we know from natural law that anything that begins to exist had a cause, therefore, there must be a first cause to the universe. The beginning of the universe is is by definition unknowable from science since it is not possible to measure that which is outside the universe. Hence, we must resort to other means to suggest an explanation. I am offering my explanation, which must stand equal to your explanation since we are both seeking answers to that which cannot be known evidentially. Using this reasoning your explanations, and my explanations, are both ‘gaps’ arguments.

          Regarding your comments on biology and brain function, I am presenting a fundamental critique of naturalism. Please see this article from philosopher Alvin Plantinga for a more thorough treatment of what I was trying to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

        • Kodie

          You mean, you reserve it just for the gaps you still can’t fill?

          Anyway, the subject of the article is not why does the universe exist, but why is it comprehensible.

          I am offering my explanation, which must stand equal to your explanation
          since we are both seeking answers to that which cannot be known
          evidentially. Using this reasoning your explanations, and my
          explanations, are both ‘gaps’ arguments.

          No, I am admitting I don’t know. You are asserting that the answer is both not knowable and your answer is as good as any. Not true. Your answer invokes superstitious thinking.

        • Mike Hatch

          I will admit that I don’t know either. I believe that a first cause, as an infinite being is an explanation worth discussing, and establish ground that we could work from. I did not say my answer was ‘as good as any’, please don’t put words in my mouth. It is the answer I believe has the most explanatory power. If we were to reach some common understanding of our definitions and explanations (of which I am doubtful, based on this thread), I would then offer other reasons why I believe in the God of the Bible as the best explanation for the world that we know. We are both certain of what we believe. I am not trying to attack you, I am trying to present my reasons.

        • Kodie

          I am offering my explanation, which must stand equal to your explanation
          since we are both seeking answers to that which cannot be known
          evidentially.
          Using this reasoning your explanations, and my
          explanations, are both ‘gaps’ arguments.

          Emphasis mine. Didn’t you say that? I am not putting words in your mouth, you said that!

          Anyway, the problem with getting stuck, as many seem to be, on this answer to the mystery, not being able to conceive of any other plausible yet natural answer, you invoke the superstitions. You leap from one supernatural cause of the universe to a particular one from a particular story. You also have a lot of uneducated ideas about how brains work, and evolution. None of your ignorance points to your god being real, no matter how much or why you believe it.

          As I started in with you earlier, it just makes you make ill-thought arguments in defense of a being you can’t know to exist. It makes you and others like you say things I can’t believe anyone thinks makes sense. If someone from another religion made similar remarks to you, you would find them lacking and kind of ridiculous. You’re not the first Christian I’ve encountered, so it is just that, every time someone pipes up with this “free will” argument, it’s not a valid response to valid criticisms of the character you call god. These aren’t obvious characteristics of a creator, they are more fiction added to fiction. Instead of saying, hmmm, that does kind of make god a creep, you say, he loves us and he wants to punish us if we don’t love him back.
          Except, in your head, it sounds nicer than that.

        • Castilliano

          I like your reasoning, Mike, but there are some assumptions you are making that would need to be proven before resting your argument upon:
          -The universe has a beginning. Fair enough, the Big Bang, but it’s not an objectively definitive beginning. It’s only as far back as evidence can lead us. The Big Bang could be one of many in a cycle. Whether that’s endless or not is unknown.
          -All things with a beginning have causes. Two errors here.
          First, no. There are ’causeless’ particles at the quantum level. Messy, but it means causes are not a given.
          Second, this assumption means a creator would need a cause too. Going back to a First Cause finds an exception to this rule, right? So there can be exceptions? Why couldn’t this exception be the universe itself? Why add another layer there’s no evidence for? And if adding one layer, why not two? (Turtles all the way down, so to speak.)
          The universe being the end all be all is the most reasonable answer.

          And then there’s the fact your god, so far, is not Yahweh, but some deistic god. Or gods, for that matter, which would better explain the strife.

          Cheers.

        • Mike Hatch

          Again, my brief comments get me into trouble. ‘All things with a beginning [within this universe] have causes’. Philosophically, I present that there could be an uncaused cause, which is outside this universe, and would not need a cause. It is one explanation.
          Saying that the ‘the universe being the end all be all’ is deism by definition. I am not a deist because I don’t believe God is only identified with the universe – he is outside of it, and also in it. I also believes he acts within the universe through time up to the current day.

        • Castilliano

          That’s not the definition of deism. Deism has an unrevealed creator. Your arguments support that, but not Christianity itself. You need to make the leap from god(s) to Yahweh.
          (And I’ve never seen a Christian pull that off.)

          My wording is closer to pantheism, which gives the universe divinity. But I’m proposing just a non-created, non-divine universe.

        • Mike Hatch

          I stand corrected, I was indeed confusing Pantheism and Deism. The reason my arguments seem to be associated with Deism is that I was trying to stick with the subject of first cause before moving on to discuss further my Theistic views. The way I would begin to move from an Infinite First Cause to the God of the Bible (Yahweh) would be to move from the Cosmological argument (CA) to an argument that reason (or more broadly, our uniquely human capabilities (creativity, logic, language, etc.)) are not possible through Neo-Darwinistic mechanisms. Because I am skeptical that new information and capabilities can be created through the mechanism. These capabilities could then have been the result of an Intelligent and Personal First Cause (Intelligent and personal because I am now postulating a source for human intelligence and personality that would require a greater source.) Then, I would ask, how would such a being reveal itself to us, and such revelation could come through language and writing. This then leads me to ask which expressions (i.e. books) could be revelatory to such a being. I would hold that the Bible is unique among historical work due to it’s broad origins (written over several hundred years and many authors) yet consistent message. The Bible documents several confirmed prophecies, and finally it tells of the unique life of Jesus Christ as an expression of love and intent to restore relationship between man and God. Jesus was a real individual, and is documented to have been raised from the dead. It is either a supreme hoax (and given the historical evidence, this is unlikely), or a trustworthy special revelation of the First Cause.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve already responded to Plantinga’s EAAN.

          The Bible was written over about 1000 years and no, it’s not consistent. For example, we see evidence of early polytheism in the Bible.

          I’ve written about the weak claims for prophecy here and elsewhere in this blog.

        • Castilliano

          I would add for Mike that Jesus was not unique.
          Messiah figures predate him, virginal, resurrected, bringing changes, etc. And his miracles mirror the miracles of other figures. Heck, there were dozens of Jewish messiah figures alone, and some posit Jesus is just an amalgamation of several of them. One strong argument shows how his story is the Odyssey, retold but containing all the same elements. (Legion’s name in Greek, for example, is a close match to the name of Odysseus’ cyclops.)

          The Bible is very much not unique. Many holy books were written over centuries, and have more internal consistency. And less atrocious gods within them.
          And clearer moral messages for that matter.
          How many times have you had to defend the OT? Perhaps by pushing it to the side?

          And Jesus’ resurrection was documented?
          Where outside of the Bible? The Bible, which by the way, attributes a horde of dead rising from their graves during that time, a fact which went unnoticed by everybody.
          Not one single eyewitness outside of the storybook itself?
          Hmm…
          If it were any other book, you’d recognize it was fiction from the risen horde of dead alone, much less the lack of corroboration.

          Anyway, it’s good tussling with you, Mike,
          Cheers.

        • Pofarmer

          Dude, you ain’t even started to demonstrate that your first argument has merit. I seriously doubt you are going to make it to the last, which is equally meritless.

        • Compuholic

          All things with a beginning within this universe have causes

          And how do you know that this set of things outside of this universe is not empty?

          You can make all sorts of arguments. I could make the argument that all martians wear a red hat. Since there are no martians, this statement is true because all of them (namely none) wear a red hat.

        • Mike Hatch

          I certainly don’t know what the conditions before the beginning of the universe could be by empirical evidence, as no one can know. Then we’re left to pose arguments, most of which are philosophical at this point. One argument is that there is nothing, which is no more provable than my explanation. I understand that many prefer not to postulate anything that cannot be tested. If this is the true explanation, then I am indeed misled in my beliefs, and some day I will cease to exist. There is little risk to me if indeed atheism is true, but a much greater risk if not – red hat-wearing martians be damned :).

        • Pofarmer

          “I certainly don’t know what the conditions before the beginning of the
          universe could be by empirical evidence, as no one can know.”

          But that’s not necessarily true. It’s not uncommon to look at something in a certain state, and say that this and this had to happen from a previous state for it to occur. Who’s to say that we won’t come up for a similar explanation for the origins of the universe?

          “There is little risk to me if indeed atheism is true, but a much greater risk if not -”

          So now we’re on to Pascals wager? What if you are believing in the WRONG God? And you just pissed off the real one? Better to believe in none.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There is little risk to me if indeed atheism is true, but a much greater risk if not

          I disagree on both points. If atheism is true, you’ve deluded yourself. That would certainly bother me. Not you?

          And Pascal’s Wager applies to you just as much as to the atheist. You seriously don’t want the Buddhist story to be true–they’ve got a hell too. And so on.

        • Kodie

          Risk of what?

        • Castilliano

          Pascal’s?
          Oh my, Kodie, I think Mr. Hatch’s arguments are heading backward in sophistication.

          Mike, you are at risk of wasting what life you have.
          And in your version, of having chosen the wrong deity of thousands. Or wrong denomination of 42,000 (though granted there’s much overlap).
          Pretty poor odds, with only one certain thing: this life now.
          Pascal’s helps nobody’s argument. (Which is why he didn’t publish it, it only becoming public from his found ponderings.)
          Cheers.

        • Compuholic

          […] what the conditions before the beginning of the universe could be by empirical evidence, as no one can know.

          Aside from the fact that “before the beginning of the universe” might not even be a coherent concept you claim that no one CAN know. And because no one can know you are justified in making shit up. If we don’t know the correct answer is “we don’t know (yet)”.

          One argument is that there is nothing, which is no more provable than my explanation

          But if it really turns out that nothing is required in order to make universes it is by Ockham’s Razor automatically more likely than your explanation.

          I understand that many prefer not to postulate anything that cannot be tested.

          Yes, postulating something without reason and evidence is also colloquially knows as pulling something out of one’s ass. Some of us prefer to live in the real world.
          And lets face it, nobody started believing those stories because they said to themselves: “Hey I really need an explanation for the beginning of the universe.” No they were brought up in a religious environment where the stuff gets drilled into your skull and later in life they are simply too lazy or too afraid to use their own brains. So they desperately grasp at straws in order to justify their own belief. You always have to act as an outsider to judge your own beliefs (“If I just arrived at this planet with no knowledge of anything whatsoever: Would I find that idea convincing?”)

          There is little risk to me if indeed atheism is true, but a much greater risk if not

          Oh great. Pascal’s wager. Like we haven’t heard that one before. Probably one of the more stupid arguments out there. What about the flying spaghetti monster that will grind you up into bolognese sauce if you don’t worship it? What about the god of the muslims? And my personal opinion on the subject: Of god really existed and he would damn me for demanding evidence, I want to have nothing to do with this piece of shit.

        • MNb

          “Then we’re left to pose arguments, most of which are philosophical at this point.”
          Not necessarily, like the hypothesis of the Multiverse shows. It’s an extrapolation following from a solid scientific theory. You can’t say this with any confidence before we have a Grand Unified Theory.

        • Pofarmer

          you Can expand your comments all you like, and it won’t salvage and argument that is basically, “because I said so” regarding uncaused causes and the like.

        • MNb

          “I present that there could be an uncaused cause”
          Now you sound quite different. It still doesn’t make much sense though. Yeah, your god could spend his time to trigger all those unstable atoms to decay one by one. That explains exactly nothing.
          Your uncaused cause is still based on many assumptions for which there is zero justification.

        • Mike Hatch

          I apologize for upsetting you, and for my ignorance. I am trying to work on that.

        • Kodie

          You know what upsets me? When people think I”m upset for no reason and then forget to respond to the comment I made.

        • Mike Hatch

          Kodie, I’ve re-read your last post several times, trying to formulate a response, and I am finding it difficult to find a single point to respond to amongst your attacks against me. Could I ask you to re-post the key question/point that you want me to comment on?

          Ok, looking again, I assume it is the quotes at the beginning of your post. I’m sorry if my quote there seemed to be putting words in your mouth (when I said your explanation must stand equal to mine). I apologize for that. I was assuming your explanation from other comments you made.

        • Kodie

          You said, “please don’t put words in my mouth” I didn’t.

          You are taking a weak argument, “I don’t know”, and turning it into an elaborate fiction. It doesn’t really matter to me how the universe started – that’s not even the topic, as you misread. What matters is what you take of that belief, simply because you cannot think of anything more plausible than magic and superstition, even when it’s explained to you, and expand on that idea with personal characteristics of this creator. How do you leap from “I don’t really know how the universe began,” to “but he gave us the opportunity to fail so he could demonstrate how much he loves us when we’re burning in hell.”

          I merely asked you why you think that’s a convincing argument for anything, or if Christians really listen to themselves talk when they say ridiculous things. You would not believe such stories from another religion. You would not even have to think about how to dismiss the claim.

          EDIT: It is not as good an explanation as anything else. Not knowing the real answer doesn’t make “by definition” that answer supernatural. You get a lot of things wrong, you make some basic mistakes leading you to conclude that your explanation is equal to mine. I don’t make a lot of life decisions based on explanations for the beginning of the universe. I don’t base a life or a worldview on a fill-in answer that’s made up. The beginning of the universe does not have a personality or care about anyone. That fiction is extraneous to the unknown answer to this particular question.

        • MNb

          ” I believe that a first cause, as an infinite being is an explanation worth discussing”
          It explains as much – possibly less – as invisible fairies tending the flowers in my garden, making sure they are beautiful.

          “It is the answer I believe has the most explanatory power.”
          As I have shown above it has less explanatory power as it leaves a lot of problems you haven’t addressed.

          “We are both certain of what we believe.”
          No, I’m not. In fact I don’t believe anything. True, I accept some metaphysical assumptions necessary for the scientific theory, but even they are solidly grounded: science works. As soon as you – or anyone – presents a method with comparable results I’ll pay attention.
          You only use deduction. We know since Descartes – or perhaps since Euclides – that the results of deduction only are just as strong as the assumptions it’s based on. Your assumptions are unjustified.

          “I am trying to present my reasons.”
          I understand. So do I and I notice you only use empirical information that suits you. That’s why I think your reasons are seriously lacking.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          you reserve it just for the gaps you still can’t
          fill?

          There are thousands of “God did it!” explanations that, over the centuries, have been replaced by scientific explanations. The trend is pretty clear. Any Christian advancing the “God did it” explanation must provide much evidence.

        • Kodie

          It’s maybe what they call “meta” – the story of god has its own gaps, and our friend Mike started off his participation in this thread by weaving a story to cover one of them, i.e. what explains human imperfection. Well, not weaving so much as telling a story off the rack.

          That’s why I criticize him and others who tell that “free will” story for not listening closely to what they’re actually saying. God as an answer for anything does not answer the question and only makes more questions that they answer with stories that humanize him, what he wanted for us, what he wants now, how he behaves and how we can relate to him – he just wants us so badly to act correctly that he had to make us able to fail! That explains everything in a neat little package that satisfies gullible people: we have “reason” because we’re given it, and all the reason we need to act right, but only god can explain why we can’t be perfect at it, always make the right choices and solve the world’s small and big problems with accuracy, why we have to grope around for an answer and sometimes head in the wrong direction. Only god can explain why humans can be wrong!

          So we come full circle – belief in god demonstrates how humans can be so very wrong. Beginning from a point where 2+2=19, the measurements just get a lot more excuse-filled from there, rather than admit that it’s 4.

        • MNb

          Spot on.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We know [the universe] had a beginning..

          in its present form. Doesn’t give us much.

          we know from natural law that anything that begins to exist had a beginner

          An alpha particle comes out of a decaying nucleus. What was the “beginner”?

          there must be a first cause to the universe

          You’ve already proven that it can’t be cyclic? Write a paper.

          . The beginning of the universe is is by definition unknowable from science since it is not possible to measure that which is outside the universe.

          Huh? It may be unknowable, but not for this reason. Maybe “reality” is a multiverse. We don’t know that that multiverse is out of our scientific reach.

          I am offering my explanation, which must stand equal to your explanation since we are both seeking answers to that which cannot be known evidentially.

          If you say “God did it,” you can’t make this remarkable claim without evidence.

          Using this reasoning your explanations, and my explanations, are both ‘gaps’ arguments.

          How is “science doesn’t know” a gaps argument?

        • MNb

          “we know from natural law that anything that begins to exist had a cause”
          Nope, not thoughtful at all. See Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. Before you start a semantic debate: the mathematical equation describes probability, no matter what linguistic analysis you provide. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty being very much a natural law – it makes clear that we’ll never be able to find a cause why a radioactive atom decays at particular moment X and not at another moment – you basically write nonsense here.

          “very fundamental philosophical arguments”
          Fundamental or not, if philosophy conflicts with science the latter wins. Period.
          But let me grant you causality for the sake of argument. Then you have to show that the chain of cause and effect is linear iso circular. The model of the pulsating Universe reflects the latter; Big Bang coincides with Big Crunch. If this model is correct your god hypothesis is falsified. This means your “very fundamental philosophical arguments” provide a god of the gaps indeed.
          But let me now grant you causality and linearity, again for the sake of argument. Then you have to show why there has to be only one First Cause. Physics recognizes about 30 natural constants. It’s far more likely – especially when using Bayesian analysis – that these many constants require more than one First Cause. Your “very fundamental philosophical arguments” rather support polytheism again then monotheism.
          Then let me now grant you not only causality and linearity, but also monotheism. Then you’ll have to explain why the First Cause doesn’t need a cause. Defining the First Cause into existence, like every single apologist defending your “very fundamental philosophical arguments” does is far from sufficient.
          Finally I’ll grant you causality, linearity, monotheism and First Cause. Then you’ll have to show why that First Cause needs to be some abrahamistic one, given the two mutual contradiction stories in Genesis (the Quran isn’t any better), which both conflict with the creation stories as told by science.
          So far your not so “thoughtful” analysis.
          The cosmological argument is the easiest to defeat for anyone who knows physics a bit.

          So Kodie is shown right by yourself – ” ‘weak logic’, ‘fairytale’, and ‘you don’t even listen to yourselves'” pretty much are justified.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Someone entering a debate on the origin of the universe using philosophical arguments has armed himself with a popgun.

        • Pofarmer

          Why must an explanation posit an infinite being? We used to think Angels moved the sun across the sky and hid it behind a mountain at night. We used to think that storms were punishment. We used to think that God “opened the windows of heaven” to make it rain. We used to think that comets were harbingers of divine wrath, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, I suppose, continue to retreat.

        • Mike Hatch

          Because once you get to the ‘first cause’, you have two choices, infinite regression of causes, or an uncaused cause (that is also infinite, but uncaused, or necessary). If the uncaused entity or being is not inifinite, then it must have limits, and therefore would beg the question of what set those limits, and require that the being could not be the first cause, starting the argument over again. There could not be more than one inifinite being, how would you tell them apart? Infinity plus infinity is still infinity. I choose to believe in the definition of a single infinite being.

        • Greg G.

          You left out that at some scales, time isn’t like we experience. Quantum fluctuations are like self-caused events. A positron is mathematically the same as an electron traveling backward in time. A virtual positron-electron pair is like an electron traveling back and forth in a time loop with a photon being the energy that is turned into matter or released by the annihilation. Perhaps the beginning of the universe was something like that. Sure, it’s incredibly unlikely but given an unlimited time frame, it would be inevitable. It’s not as crazy as a cause acting on nothing yet having an effect.

        • Mike Hatch

          I certainly wouldn’t begin to claim any understanding of quantum mechanics. I believe you have made an error in reasoning, however, when you state ‘given an unlimited time frame, it would be inevitable.’ Time is only defined by the properties within this universe. Before the universe existed, there was no time, you cannot posit infinite time for quantum fluctuations to create the big bang as there was no ‘time’ before the big bang. (If you do posit time, you are resorting to multiverse explanations, which just push the argument back). So, this would put us back to the question of what started it?

        • Greg G.

          How do you know that quantum fluctuations couldn’t happen outside of a universe? As I understand it, the universe is expanding and the expansion is accelerating. These fluctuations are thought to be involved with the dark energy driving the superclusters apart. It is my understanding that the fluctuations are not dependent on the universe, they are not caused, and they create their own space. Space itself is expanding and space is not limited to the speed of light. So the superclusters’ space are expected to accelerate past light speed eventually, and disappear from view.

          Fluctuations happen. A perfect nothingness would require something to maintain it, to keep quantum fluctuations from occurring, and is therefore impossible. A perfect nothingness is simply a concept that cannot exist, just like a perfect equilateral triangle or a perfect circle can be imagined but cannot exist in the material universe.

          Read A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss, though he didn’t bring up the implications of pocket universes. I have read that Alan Guth is working on an idea that space is like negative energy. If you add up the potential energy of all the forces [at a given distance, I would expect) they equal the total energy of the particles.

        • Mike Hatch

          Please point me to material that indicates we know quantum fluctuations exist outside of the matter, energy, space, and time that is this universe. If you are saying that quantum energy existed before the big bang, then aren’t you claiming to know something that you cannot know, and are just as guilty as me for positing that God was there?

        • Kodie

          It would be irresponsible of Greg or anyone else to expand the lack of knowledge in this subject to any other area of life. So “just as guilty,” no.

        • Pofarmer

          He just did.

        • Mike Hatch

          Yep, my bad. I’ll put that on my reading list.

        • Greg G.

          Please point me to material that indicates we know quantum fluctuations exist outside of the matter, energy, space, and time that is this universe.

          I did, citing Krauss above but here’s some more.
          In physics, a virtual particle is a transient fluctuation that exhibits many of the characteristics of an ordinary particle, but that exists for a limited time. The concept of virtual particles arises in perturbation theory of quantum field theory where interactions between ordinary particles are described in terms of exchanges of virtual particles. Any process involving virtual particles admits a schematic representation known as a Feynman diagram, in which virtual particles are represented by internal lines.

          —————–

          Additionally, quantum foam can be used as a qualitative description of subatomic space-time turbulence at extremely small distances (on the order of the Planck length). At such small scales of time and space, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles and then annihilate without violating physical conservation laws.

          Also, quantum foam is theorized to be created by virtual particles of very high energy. Virtual particles appear in quantum field theory, arising briefly and then annihilating during particle interactions in such a way that they affect the measured outputs of the interaction, even though the virtual particles are themselves space.

          ————————

          Vacuum genesis (Zero-energy universe) is a hypothesis about the Big Bang that states that the universe began as a single particle arising from an absolute vacuum, similar to how virtual particles come into existence and then fall back into non-existence.

          ———————

          A pocket universe is a concept in inflationary theory, proposed by Alan Guth. It defines a realm like the one that contains the observable universe as only one of many inflationary zones.
          In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin, pg. 207, shows a Feynman diagram of an interaction between a proton, an antineutrino, and a pion. It is similar to the interaction on the right of this image, though an electron-positron interaction would produce more than one photon to conserve momentum. The antineutrino, which would be the wavy line in the middle, travels at light speed so time stands still so the interactions at either end is the same instant of time for it.

          If you are saying that quantum energy existed before the big bang, then aren’t you claiming to know something that you cannot know, and are just as guilty as me for positing that God was there?

          True, but I’m talking about things we have objective evidence for. I can point to a hundred things in this room that I don’t have to argue for their existence because they can be seen and felt and detected in many other ways. God’s existence must be argued for without objective evidence.
          I’m offering a few possibilities for the existence of the universe. We shouldn’t jump to supernatural explanations until all natural explanations are debunked. The Demon Theory of Disease was premature, for example, so the ill would have been better off if their symptoms were treated in the absence of Germ Theory. Every explanation we have come up with so far had no need for the God hypothesis.
          How do we know when all natural explanations have been eliminated? That’s a problem, so it’s seems that it is always too soon to jump to supernatural conclusions.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          point me to material that indicates we know …

          I’m a little surprised at your demand for evidence. Sure, that’s what I do. But it seems like you live in a glass house here. You prepared to give evidence that God exists?

          “God exists by definition” or something similar doesn’t cut it.

        • MNb

          There is no energy needed for quantum fluctuations. The sum energy is zero.
          Btw now you assume that god was there before the Universe in time. You’re contradicting yourself.

        • Pofarmer

          Was there time before you were born and able to comprehend it? Why would it be any different for the universe?

        • Mike Hatch

          Applying the concept of time, which is the measurement of change through cause and effect, to the beginning of the universe is a category error: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_mistake. Now, since we’re in an area of philosophy, there is no real way to know, so I suppose you can choose to apply time to events prior to the beginning of the universe if you want.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          since we’re in an area of philosophy…

          Since cosmology and physics have been the only things that have pushed forward the frontier of our knowledge of the universe, space, time, and all that, I’m not betting on philosophy.

        • Pofarmer

          I’m with you here Bob. The thing you have to keep in mind is that this concept of time only applies to THIS universe. It really can’t make a statement as to what might be before, or after. It’s at least as logical, IMHO, to assume that this universe is a continuation in time, rather than a unique event.

        • John son of John

          wow, thank you.
          glad You are still christian.

          God bless

        • MNb

          “Applying the concept of time, which is the measurement of change through cause and effect”
          The error is yours. Quantum fluctuations being probabilistic and not causal your defintion is wrong.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          This is the problem I have with popular philosophy.

          This is the leading edge of physics. Y’know, like cosmology and quantum physics? This is, in many cases, quite counterintuitive. The basic philosophical axioms (you can’t have a regression of causes; everything has a cause; etc.) fall apart. Your grounding is imaginary. Philosophy or metaphysics aren’t the tools.

          And your god hypothesis is the most ridiculous, outlandish idea imaginable. You must provide evidence.

        • Mike Hatch

          It is certainly outlandish. The only testable evidence I can provide is the revelation provided through the Bible and the historicity of Jesus Christ. One of the reasons that I am involved with Reasons To Believe (http://www.reasons.org) is because they are attempting to provide testable creation models that propose new predictions about what we should expect to find and see in the future.

        • Kodie

          Just as long as you understand theology is fanfic. Just because people are experts at it doesn’t mean it’s any more real than the Star Trek universe.

        • Castilliano

          What? God is as real as Star Trek!
          Beam me up, Jesus!
          Or wait…are you being blasphemous to Rodenberrian doctrine?
          Make it un-so, Number One, make it un-so.
          *sniffle, sniffle*

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          When that “science” bears fruit, let’s give it some attention. Until that point, it sure looks like wishful thinking to me.

          The only credible position you (as a Christian and a layman) have is to cheer on Creationism/ID/whatever from the sidelines, if that’s your wont, but to accept the scientific consensus as the best provisional approximation of the truth we have. When the consensus changes, then change your views.

        • MNb

          The only legitimate way to do philosophy.

        • Greg G.

          The historicity of Jesus? Here we go.
          The extrabiblical evidence only tells us there were believers by the late first century. Nearly every passage in Mark can be traced to the most popular Greek literature, Hebrew literature, and Christian literature, arranged as a fictional tale. The other gospels depend on Mark.
          Paul never met a Jesus. He never talks about him as having been recent. He had many disputes with other apostles that could have been settled with a good Jesus quote but we never get one. None of the early epistles mention a teacher or a preacher or his teachings and preachings. Everything Paul tells us about Jesus comes from Hebrew literature. Paul and others tells us flat out that they are reading the mysteries that are being revealed to them after ages of time, and they take that as a sign that the Messiah was about to come, within their lifetimes even. This new way of reading the scriptures was to take out of context verses and interpret them as being about the Suffering Servant who was crucified in the mythical past.
          Chronologically, there were many Jews who expected a Messiah. One group began to think the Messiah had been crucified long ago but would be coming back to re-establish David’s throne. A generation or two later, after the home base for the main sect of Christianity was destroyed along with Jerusalem, some began to read Paul’s letters and the Gospel of Mark as actual history about a first century Jesus.
          I went over this a week and a half ago in this forum if you want to check there. Most of my evidence comes directly from the Bible. The Christian was getting interested then disappeared and deleted his pseudonym, so he is now “Guest”.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Nice summary, thanks.

        • MNb

          If there is anything subjective it is revelation. If you accept that as a source of your information you are a hypocrite to criticize naturalism.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I was making a philosophical point about objective truth

          Objective truth is tricky (is “1 + 1 = 2” objectively true?). More interesting IMO is objective moral truth. That claim is popular but, I argue, groundless.

          one first must explain why the universe exists

          Science has no answer at the moment. Why do you ask? You think you know? Give us the evidence.

          And, no, there’s no need to explain why the universe exists first.

          I would recommend looking at more recent research on DNA from the ENCODE project stud ies

          And I would recommend looking up “c-value enigma” on the web or in this blog. Most DNA is junk, sorry.

          And you get points taken off for citing Reasons 2 Believe, I’m afraid. Any site that has “[our] mission is to spread the Christian Gospel” in its mission statement is no objective source of science.

        • Pofarmer

          Can a being be “infinite” ? In order to be infinite it would have to be without form. How does something without form have intelligence? Your “answers” just invite more questions.

        • Mike Hatch

          Yes, they certainly do. Infinity is a difficult concept. The biblical God is also described as ‘Omni-present’ – everywhere at once, which would indeed be ‘without form’.

        • MNb

          “Yes, they certainly do.”
          Then I call in the help of William of Ockham.
          Btw in maths infinity is not a difficult concept at all; I understood it when I was 16. This for instance

          “Infinity plus infinity is still infinity.”
          still rather argues for polytheism. We perfectly can tell the set of even numbers apart from the set of uneven numbers. They are both infinite; if we add both the result is again an infite set.
          So you haven’t explained at all why the First Cause should be a single entity; rather the contrary.

          “I choose to believe”
          Which confirms what I wrote above. Your belief is not the result of “thoughtful analysis”. Your analysis is the result of what you want to believe – it’s wishful thinking.

          The Sensuous Curmudgeon has nicely summarized the Creationist Methodology.

          1. Select a conclusion which you already believe is true.
          2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
          3. Ignore all other evidence.
          4. That’s it.

          Replace “(piece of) evidence” with “philosophical argument(s)” and we have summarized christian apologetics.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Oh? God is a dude that walks around in the Garden and has to ask where Adam and Eve are. He’s a regular guy who pops in for a chat with Abraham. He had to send spies to Sodom and Gomorrah to recon the situation and verity rumors that he’d heard.

          I’m not seeing omnipresent or omniscient here. What I am seeing is a mythology that changes over time.

          You’re familiar with similar stories from nearby cultures that made their way into the Bible? There’s lots of that in this blog.

        • Pofarmer

          So, how can something which is infinite and omni-present have consciousness and intelligence?

        • RichardSRussell

          You list 2 hypotheses but neglect a 3rd, which is in fact the likeliest one, given our “understanding” of quantum mechanics, namely that the Universe sprang into being spontaneously, without a cause.

          I will pass gently over the 4th hypothesis, which is that you’re living in the Matrix and only imagining that there’s a Universe.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The universe had a beginning, that needs explanation

          Why? Science says, “I don’t know” or “We have lots of hypotheses but no consensus.” That sounds pretty good to me.

          and any explanation provided is by definition supernatural since it is not possible for us to know anything beyond the physical universe we live in

          Is the universe all that nature has? Maybe there’s more. Unless you’re defining “supernatural” = “outside the universe,” which is a bold definition, since you don’t know what that means.

          Again, science doesn’t know. Works for me.

          You can say multiverses, you can say quantum fluctuations, or a god, but it requires an explanation.

          Yes, and science is working on that. How about you? Are you obliged to provide an explanation behind god, or do you get a pass?

          Any explanation that does not postulate a necessary and infinite being …

          Ah—you answered my question. You do get a pass.

          It is a deep logical and philosophical question

          I have a very poor opinion of Philosophy providing much of value here. Science is what teaches us about reality.

        • MNb

          “you can say quantum fluctuations”
          You do realize that quantum fluctuations are not causal, do you? If not your analysis was far from thoughtful. If you bring this up as a serious argument you have to reconvert to the Olympic gods, hinduism, pastafarianism or something like that, which do not exclude probabilism.
          But you won’t and that shows the intellectual dishonesty of your (not so) thoughtful analysis – or weak logic, as Kodie says, because that’s what it is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’re saying that God isn’t a father but is like a father?

          The God of the OT is the take-off-the-belt-and-beat-some-manners kind of father. He doesn’t translate well into modernity.

          As for his attributes, I see them applied today, but I don’t see how they are unambiguously derived from the OT.

          He wasn’t omniscient when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah, for example–he had to send out 2 spies to check thing out. And so on.

        • smrnda

          The problem with linking the ability to err with free will, to me, is that if you’re looking at free will from the usual religious perspective, free will is a moral issue. If people are erring, morally, because of faulty brains, it’d be as if god was a general who gives a deceptive map to a pilot and tells him ‘drop the bomb anywhere where you see an X on this map those are enemy camps’ where the Xs are really preschools or hospitals, and all the enemy camps aren’t even on the map. Or a god who is like a doctor who writes the wrong drugs on a prescription – the pharmacist *thinks* they’re doing the right thing for the patient by filling the prescription, and instead they’re damaging their health.

          Now, you could fault people from errors in judgment morally if they were simply refusing to look into the information, but if their ability to process information is faulty, that seems rather sadistic.

        • Mike Hatch

          “If people are erring, morally, because of faulty brains” I did not say that god made brains faulty, that indeed would be a problem as you’ve described. I would argue that our brains are capable of rational reasoning, and we have will, and can make choices as free agents. If we make bad choices, that is not because god ‘made us that way’, but rather an action of our free will. This article presents a better explanation of why I believe naturalism fails to explain intelligence or reason. http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbgod.aspx?pageid=8589952728

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So God gave us free will but imperfect judgment to use that free will accurately?

          If that were a car, you’d slap God with the lawsuit when it failed.

        • Mike Hatch

          If we had perfect judgment, we would always make ‘the right choice’, and free will would be meaningless. We would be ‘perfect automatons’.

        • Castilliano

          In your version of heaven, what kinds of errors do people make? What wrong choices?
          Or don’t they have free will?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          How do you figure that?

          Do the angels have free will? Will you have free will after you get to heaven? I presumed heavenly beings had both free will and excellent judgment so that they could do whatever they wanted to but simply chose to do the right thing.

          Was Jesus an automaton here on earth? Apparently he was tempted. That he could invariably walk the right path while we can’t seems to only be explainable by his having perfect judgment.

          Reminds me of this by Penn Jillette: “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

        • Greg G.

          About the only purpose for a soul, or what it does, that anyone has given me is “free will”. I’m also told that the possibility of sin is required for there to be free will. This implies that when the thing that does free will goes to heaven, either it will cease to exist or maintain its free will ability, which requires the possibility of sin in heaven.
          Now eternity is a long time, so it will be inevitable that sin will happen for every human who makes it to heaven. What happens then? Some of the best angels have been cast out. Revelation 6:13 says that a third of the stars fell to earth but that is impossible so it must be a metaphor for a third of the angels getting kicked out. If a third of the angels can’t last the age of the universe, what chance do human souls have?
          Hell is not likely to be evenly heated. The best strategy is to find a slightly cooler spot than the average temperature. So the last human kicked out of heaven gets a choice of the hottest spots in hell.
          A slight difference in temperature will reduce the suffering only slightly on a per day or per hour basis, but multiply that small difference by infinity and the best Christian gets the most suffering of all.
          Would the Christian God do that? If he is omnipotent, he can do an infinite number of miracles perpetually to prevent all suffering. That makes all suffering unnecessary. But the omnipotence chooses for there to be unnecessary suffering. Rather than benevolent, the Christian God would be sadistic.
          If I’m right that there is no god, I spend an eternity in the same state as before I was born, which didn’t inconvenience me in the least ( thank you, Mark Twain). If you are right, you get to be with an omnipotent sadist for as long as you can stand it.

        • MNb

          How does that play out in heaven, where you are supposed to go according to your belief system? According to your own argument either you don’t have free will there – which makes it kind of a lame place to stay eternally, again according to you – or the realm is not perfect, which robs it from its main attraction.
          Ah – I see Castilliano underneath beat me.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So our judgment is imperfect? That sounds like an inborn imperfection that either God put in there from the start or that we brought upon ourselves with the Fall.

        • Mike Hatch

          Yes, I would say our judgment is imperfect, but I would not blame it on breeding or genes, or an ‘imperfection placed by God’. This seems to be reasoning connected to the view that the natural world is all that there is (if an imperfection in judgment exists, it must have a biological cause?). From a Christian perspective, our judgment is part our capacities that go beyond simple brain function and are connected with the Image of God, and our ability to have true choice and free will. I would ask, that according to naturalism, how could we even begin to say a judgment is good or bad in the first place?

        • Kodie

          I think if god made us, we’d be perfect? This “free will” excuse again, it comes from not knowing and then making assumptions, given a god, and given we’re not perfect, some sort of logical leap. Then again, you did dismiss the fall. You then later say that Jesus came to, in your own words, “restore” the relationship between man and god. Restore from what? Why are we not related from the beginning of his creation of us?

          The answers you have are made up. You have been taught them, obviously not coming here with any original ideas, but a pile of common theology that doesn’t have an actual answer to “does god exist?” You have to assume that he does. And then “what is he like?” comes from well, he loves us, and then you get “oh, really? and then you have to make up some jazz about why it doesn’t seem like he does all the time, and why we’re not perfect, and why it takes thousands of years for god to “be revealed”. He’s not being revealed, you are imagining things.

          A biological cause for imperfection makes much more sense. If you look around at nature and see very little “perfect”. Everything looks – natural – not manufactured to look like a cartoon. The basis of evolution is to find a pathway, genes that work well enough are not discarded. Evolution isn’t perfecting any organisms. I even think you have survival of the fittest wrong, and you haven’t even said it yet. It doesn’t take a genius to look around and find all these people getting together and passing on their genes – reproduction is hardly exclusive terrain for the physically and mentally elite. “Fittest” is a huge percentile. Grading humanity, a humongous majority gets an A on the test of passing on their genes – unhealthy and genetically deficient people pass on their genes because they’re good enough (for someone) to mate with.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-a64OwOYqU

        • MNb

          “The answers you have are made up.”
          While this is correct this is imo not enough to dismiss them. We atheists need to show that they are incoherent, inconsistent, meaningless, contradictory and/or in conflict with science. You’re doing pretty well in this respect.

        • Pofarmer

          “A biological cause for imperfection makes more sense.”

          This, much more of this. Carl Sagan did a good job of demonstrating that natural explanations always have more power than supernatural explanations. Trying to shoehorn too much stuff in behind “God Loves Us”. Just leaves more holes.

        • Castilliano

          Through empathy, an innate trait for almost all of humanity.
          Even preverbal toddlers show concern and charity.
          Yet most religions, Christianity too, have facets that are inhumane, some quite pronounced, i.e misogyny & sacrifice.

          (Bob has many posts tackling objective morality.)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          For naturalism, see my EAAN discussion.

          And I don’t see how you think you’ve gotten God off the hook. We have imperfect judgment, and yet that was out of God’s control?

        • MNb

          “how could we even begin to say a judgment is good or bad in the first place?”
          By accepting an axiom like “being happy is better than being unhappy”. A worldwide inquiry highly probably will learn that the vast majority of mankind agrees. In itself that’s an argumentum ad populum, but it doesn’t follow that this axiom is wrong, especially when considering that the content of ethics cannot be decided by scientific means anyway. Imo ethics is a matter of opinion, not of objective fact.

        • Greg G.

          Many Christians, WL Craig included, think that a child that dies goes to heaven but an adult is liable to not go to heaven. Now there are passages in the Old Testament where God derides the knowledge of humans compared to his own. So our ability to reason is just barely good enough to get us damned but not much better, certainly when the childhood exemption expires, for example.

          Why couldn’t there be a Tree of Knowledge of the Consequences of One’s Choices available to us all?

          If God is omnipotent, why can’t he prevent the harm of poor choices with any number of miracles perpetually? He could prevent all suffering that way. Therefore all suffering is unnecessary so the omnipotence would be choosing the existence of unnecessary suffering. That is sadism, not benevolence. Why worship a sadistic being even if it existed?

        • Pofarmer

          “Why worship a sadistic being even if it existed?”

          Because he’ll smite you if you don’t?

        • Greg G.

          But “smiting” is just giving a Thai therapeuetic massage, isn’t it?

          EDIT:
          Oh, that’s not what smiting is. I’d better start practicing my fake sincerity for my new worship techniques.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          From the loving hand of God? Sure, that’s a good spin. “Therapeutic”–yeah, that’s it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well, WL Craig does argue that, when he has to. I doubt, however, that he would buy Amanda Yates’s argument that she was sending her 5 children to heaven by murdering them and so doing them a favor by guaranteeing them heaven instead of risking hell.

          Yes, the god of the OT is a sick piece of work.

        • Pofarmer

          But how does something like that apply to genetic imperfections such as what Bob was talking about above? And before you spout out some nonsense, keep in mind that I have a son with a serious Genetic condition.

      • Kodie

        Some people don’t need to do the paper steps like you do, and they are called witches.

    • UWIR

      Your first argument is implicitly a Greatest Likelihood argument: find the hypothesis under which the evidence is most likely. However, that is a problematic strategy that is fallacious if applied incorrectly. For instance, suppose you flip a coin and get TTTHTHHTHT. The likelihood of getting that under the “it’s a random coin” hypothesis is 1/1024. But the likelihood of getting that under the “there’s a pixie in your house that made the coin come up that way” hypothesis is 100%. Any explanation tailored to the evidence is going to beat out a general explanation.

      As for your second argument, the original Ockham’s Razor was that one should not posit concepts that are not necessary. Since it is possible for the world to be intelligible without God, God is unnecessary, and thus Ockham’s Razor rules him out. You are contemplating a related idea, that simpler explanations should be preferred to complicated ones, but then one needs a way of evaluating complexity.

      • GCBill

        There’s a reason I avoided mentioning specific probabilities in my analysis – I’m very aware of the pitfalls of Greatest Likelihood arguments and the problem of tailored evidence. That’s why I consider both explanations satisfactory if they can plausibly explain the phenomena in question. The probability of intelligibility given God is higher than that of intelligibility given naturalism, but that doesn’t disadvantage naturalism so long as it can still offer a reasonable explanation. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that.

        I appreciate the clarification on Ockham’s Razor. I’ve heard both formulations of the principle – however, I had forgotten that the one dealing with “simplicity” was an attribution, not something he himself wrote. I should have opted to only speak of parsimony for the sake of clarity.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The probability of intelligibility given God is higher than that of intelligibility given naturalism,

          Sure, but that’s an enormous given, right?

        • GCBill

          It is. Here, “given” isn’t meant to trivialize the assumption of theism, only to explore its consequences.

    • Mike Hatch

      GCBill, could you expand on your meaning when you say that naturalism has a stronger argument when considering both intelligibility and confusion? My understanding of “intelligibility” (or reason) from a naturalistic perspective is that ascribing intention is not possible since random change and natural selection is not a directed process (you use the phrase ‘an intellect shaped by natural selection’, although I don’t think you meant ‘directed’), intellect is not shaped at all, according to naturalism. This leads to the conclusion that our understanding of reason is nothing more than the undirected collection of chemicals and electricity in our brains, which we cannot reasonably trust according to naturalism, yet we only trust through experience. Nor can naturalistic reason independently critique itself since there is no independent intelligence or directed (first) cause that could provided the basis for objective truth? I would propose that arguing that rationality produced by an ‘immaterial soul’ does not require biases that would distinguish rationality from natural selection, rather, the more fundamental argument is how can we trust our reason at all, without requiring a necessary intelligence outside of nature? A necessary intelligence could direct the creation of lesser human intelligence that is capable of reason, yet, also capable of confusion and error. I would argue that our ability to err is part of what enables freedom of choice. If we did not have the ability to be confused or err, we would have an essentially perfect intelligence, and make us indistinguishable from god. By your argument, if an immaterial soul existed, our intelligence would need to be ‘perfect’ (or at least distinguishable) when directed by said immaterial soul or first cause, but what basis would we have to compare our conclusions? Without a necessary intelligence, our discussion of this topic is ultimately meaningless, isn’t it?

      • Pofarmer

        What is your evidence for “objective truth? What about necessary intelligence? Why is it more necessary to say that there must be a perfect, unknowable, all powerful creator, than to say that our 2% DNA difference from the other apes gives us cognitive advantages that we have used to further develope our intelligence over time? Which argument has actual, ya know, evidence for it?

        • Mike Hatch

          I was making a philosophical point about objective truth, that according to naturalism we don’t have any basis for objective truth, all truth is subjective to our chemical brains. I have made points about a necessary first cause further down in this thread, or look up the Cosmological Argument for more details. I don’t get the connection or comparison to DNA or apes? If you’re simply saying why wouldn’t evolution be just as good an argument, you’ve switched topics, as one first must explain why the universe exists (the subject of the article we’re discussing) before discussing how life exists or evolution as the explanation for human intelligence. Regarding our similarity to apes, I would recommend looking at more recent research on DNA from the ENCODE project studies, which indicates that over 80% of our DNA is functional, which completely changes the 2% differential comparison to apes, which is a number based on previous assumptions of the amount of junk DNA that existed in our genomes. For some further discussion on this topic see: http://www.reasons.org/search?q=encode

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, the Cosmological argument has been dealt with in detail on other posts in this blog. TheoreticalBullshit on youtube has done a fine job of deconstructing it as well.

          “If you’re simply saying why wouldn’t evolution be just as good an
          argument, you’ve switched topics, as one first must explain why the
          universe exists”

          Now, you didn’t say how the universe exists, you said why the universe exists. Is there some evidence that the universe has a purpose? A reason why? Evidence we are part of some grand experiment beyond our conceptualization?

          So, no, to have an objection to objective morality, I don’t have to posit a “why” for the universe to exist. To deal with this question it is enough to note that it does. The reason that I bring up Apes, well, all of biology really, is to note that we are made of the same stuff. Same organs, same limbs, same brains, same hearts, same blood, same nerves, well, within reason, anyway. If we were “Created in the Image of God”, first of all, wouldn’t you expect there to be marked differences in the way that we are constructed vs the rest of mammalian biology on the planet? The reason that I bring it up, is because all the evidence points to the fact that all of life on earth has evolved right along side each other. Most species, including humans, including Apes, including Wolves, including Lions, Including killer whales, including Elk, including Zebras, including Kangaroos have evolved to work in groups and not do unnecessary harm to their own kind. We evolved to cooperate because cooperation is the mutually beneficial option. If the reason for humans to act the way we do is “objective truth” then why do most if not all, other species on the planet behave in generally the same ways? Then why, if objective morals/truths were a real thing, are the morals of human societies so difference? Is the Hindu caste system moral? Where the bottom can never rise up and their shadow shouldn’t even fall on someone in the higher castes? What about the morals in Muslim Culture, where women may be stained with acid or murdered for “infractions” against men. And that’s just a very, very short list. No, it’s up to you to attempt to prove something akin to “objective truths” given by a divine being, that couldn’t have arisen in an ordinary way right here on earth. Ockahms razor states that the Supernatural explanation is always the least likely one.

        • MNb

          “according to naturalism we don’t have any basis for objective truth”
          I agree with the truth part, but not with the objective part. Neither deduction nor induction depend on the subject. You can argue that they depend on the species as a whole, but that’s not a problem for naturalism.

      • Greg G.

        This leads to the conclusion that our understanding of reason is nothing more than the undirected collection of chemicals and electricity in our brains, which we cannot reasonably trust according to naturalism, yet we only trust through experience. 

        Our collection of chemicals and electricity has been honed by a selection process that allowed collectons of chemicals and electrons that functioned slightly better than others to reproduce themselves more frequently. They aren’t perfect but with training, we can overcome many of the limitations of mere collections of chemicals and electricity.

      • GCBill

        I’m not convinced that intention can never be attributed to the products of a random process. I’m perfectly comfortable ascribing intentions to animals (though obviously not necessarily the same sort of intentions as I ascribe to humans). Yet, as far as I can tell, and I suspect most theists who accept evolution would agree, those animals were able to evolve without divine guidance. If that’s true, it implies that intention *can* come from random processes. I myself assign intention based on the kinds of interactions a creature can have with its environment, and that assessment doesn’t depend at all on the organism’s history.

        I cannot “prove” my reason is reliable on naturalism, but that’s true in any worldview, for proving the reliability of reason is inevitably a circular endeavor. The best you can ever do is come up with a set of conditions that can *plausibly* allow you to trust your reason, and I think naturalism allows that. I’m not sure why you single out reason as being particularly hurt by being a “random” collection of chemicals and electricity. The same is true of all corporeal faculties, yet we don’t argue for their immateriality to bolster their reliability (or at least, non-idealists don’t, haha). I don’t see how this objection is really any different than the radical skeptic argument, and if you’re really committed to that position, that way lies madness.

        I should mention that the potential to err *cannot* be required for choice, otherwise you must deny that God has free will. And that would imply a limitation, meaning that “God” wasn’t actually worthy of that title after all. Furthermore, we humans would *not* be indistinguishable from God if we possessed perfect intelligence, for the ability to reason perfectly entails neither perfect knowledge nor unlimited power. There’s really no reason for the God of classical theism to create humans with (somewhat) unreliable cognitive faculties.

  • Greg G.

    Our basic ability to heal was probably perfected in fish where they didn’t have fire. The ability to regenerate limbs was lost after separating from reptiles. I wonder if our healing process it optimized for a particular time of injury?

    Healing is not optimized for sprains. We treat them with ice to keep the swelling down to aid healing. Some injuries cause nearby uninjured cells to die to make it more painful so the injured will be used less. Which designer came up with that idea?

    I’ve speculated that we were in a brain power arms race with Neandertals. Brain capacities increased bt 200cc steadily in our common and separate ancestors for a million years. Then 250,000 years ago, both species brains increased by 250cc until 50K years ago when the Neandertal population declined to extinction. In that the last 20K to 30K years, the human brain has been decreasing in size, possibly because we are domesticating ourselves. The increase in brain size was probably the fastest way to increase cognitive abilities. Birds have remarkably refined abilities where brain size was restrained by the need to fly. So the competition to outsmart competitors created excess brainpower. The trick was to develop methods to use the unrefined brainpower while reducing its ability to jump to wrong conclusions and rationalize justifications that prevented optimization.

    There is evidence for dark matter that may make up 80% of the universe. We can only infer its existence from the evidence.

    • MNb

      Problem with this hypothesis is that brain size is not exactly correlated to intelligence. Anatole France had a pretty small one. So you lack data, which of course is not saying you’re wrong.

      • Greg G.

        Lord Byron’s brain was 33% larger than average. France’s brain was still twice the size of a chimpanzee brain. There’s also the efficiency of the brain that would affect intelligence which is why I mentioned birds. I think that more important than overall brain size is the size of certain components. Mutations affecting one component’s size may have a side effect of stealing nutrition from neighboring areas during development. Mutations that increase brain size bypasses that problem, even if it reduces jaw size, for example. The trade off must have paid off.

        Brains use lots of food and oxygen so that’s another trade off. The increase in survival paid off there, too.

        For a million years, brain size increases for a few ideas that couldn’t be passed on weren’t worth the food requirements for a lifetime. Those that made the owner smarter enough to pay the cost survived.

        With a new selection pressure, the pay off exchange was different.

        The evidence is there for a long-term steady growth of brain size that continued for maybe 350K years, and then it suddenly and simultaneously escalated in two species. I don’t know why it happened but I suggest there was some interaction that produced a selective pressure. I guess at the rest of the story.

        • Machintelligence

          I don’t think it is the efficiency of the brain, as hardware, but rather the efficiency of the soft ware which it is running that makes the difference. Once language evolved, it should have been easier to “produce possible futures” (which is what the higher functions of brains do) by sharing thoughts with others. Written language then allowed memory to be downloaded to physical objects, freeing up more brain for thinking. In a second hand quote from Dan Dennett’s book ‘Thinking Tools’:”You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain.”

        • Greg G.

          A twenty year old computer cannot run Windows 7. You must have faster processing and more memory to run advanced software. That means you have to upgrade the hardware first. Sure, you can update the software and tune it to the old hardware. Your explanation would account for why the big brains took so long to develop agriculture, civilizations, and technology.

          That doesn’t explain why the rate of growth of brain size of two different species simultaneously increased. Homo erectus brains increased from about 900cc to 1100cc over one million years. Then both Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and early Homo sapiens sapiens brains increased from 1100cc to 1350cc in only 200K years.

          Why the sudden increase and why was it simultaneous in different species?

        • Machintelligence

          Only guessing here, but I suspect that two closely related species started to develop language (which is a powerful instinct — see Steve Pinker’s book on the topic) and there was only room enough in the niche for one. There was then an “arms race” which the smarter (or more aggressive and better to communicate) won. Differences in diet do not seem to have been an issue, both were pretty generalized omnivores.

        • Greg G.

          We are on the same page. Another possibility is that the Neandertals reached their limit for baby head size vs. birth canal size first, allowing our ancestors to get an insurmountable lead.

          I’ve been reading the past week that Europeans and Asians have 1% to 4% Neandertal genes, but they aren’t all the same genes, so the human race has about 20% of the Neandertal genome. But they are no male Neandertal genes. An article suggested that a cross with a Neandertal might have produced sterile males but fertile females or something like that. IMHO, we can always trace our ancestry back to a Y-chromosome Adam and in this case, he wasn’t a Neandertal.

        • John son of John

          my theory is climate, change in natural earth order, or pre-existing genetics/dinosaurs.

          God bless

        • Greg G.

          I hadn’t considered dinosaurs. That’s interesting.

        • John son of John

          yes, that is one of the possibilities i thought when one discovered that many early humans were nearly like those “Modern” humans in higher and different climates, those with roman syndrome, individuals with small skulls/brains, etc …

          God bless

        • John son of John

          got the idea along when other when was comparing skulls of actual early human life with those people in recent times effected by altitude, “normal” genetics, and age.

          God bless

        • RichardSRussell

          Broader pelvises evolved in women?

          There’s a reason why even the writers of the Bible, notoriously oblivious to anything affecting the female half of the species, noticed that childbirth was way harder for human women than, say, cows or pigs or horses. What they didn’t tumble to at the time was that the cause of the problem was these big honkin’ brains the poor women had to push thru their nether regions. And even then the infants’ skulls weren’t fully formed and still had some significant growing to do.

          Terrible price? Yup. But the payoff in intelligence made it worthwhile for the species as a whole, regardless of how hard it was on some of its members.

        • Greg G.

          Somewhere I speculated that the growth race ended when one species reached the limit the mothers could manage.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          One of the interesting examples that Flynn (researcher mentioned above) gave was this: he interviewed the leaders in primitive societies. There were clearly smart people well adapted to their situation. He asked this question: “There are no camels in Germany; Hamburg is a city in Germany; are there camels in Hamburg?”

          The typical answer: “I don’t know, since I’ve never been to Hamburg.” Their sources of information were personal or trusted witness. But of course a child today would have little problem with this hypothetical. These are the kinds of mental problems that more primitive societies simply don’t encounter.

          I realize this is a tangent, but it reminds me of the chain-letter emails you occasionally see that say, “Lookit this 8th grade test from 1880. Few 8th graders today would pass! Dadgummit, this just shows how society is getting dumbed down and is going down the toilet. Why, in my day …”

          (Example at snopes)

          But we simply teach different things today.

        • Greg G.

          Jared Diamond has argued that hunter-gatherers are more intelligent than “civilized” people as they have stronger selective pressures related to their figuring out their enviroments. Europeans, for example, would have had stroger selective pressures involving the immune system as domesticating herd and flock animals introduces communicable diseases that can jump to new species

          Logic takes some training. It’s not easy for a novice to pick up computer programming concepts. It’s not a hardware issue but more like a firmware deficiency. They have to create a few new neural connections to understand “for loops”.

        • Compuholic

          Jared Diamond has argued that hunter-gatherers are more intelligent than “civilized” people

          The problem already arises when it comes to define “intelligence”. If intelligence is defined as the capability to perform formal logic then the statement is clearly false. If “intelligence” is defined as the capability to dynamically adapt ones actions according to the environment he might have a point.

          I can only recommend a book I once read about gut feelings by a psychologist named Gerd Gigerenzer which I found very insightful (I think it has also been translated into English although I cannot vouch for the quality of this version). In his book he presents some interesting experiments. If I can remember correctly he thinks of intelligence as the brains ability to unconciously recognize and apply “rules of thumb” in order to react to the environment.

          One of his examples was the question: “How do humans catch a ball”. Of course one way to do it would be to calculate the trajectory, run to the appropiate point where the ball is going to land and catch it there. But psychologists have found that the brain is actually using a very simple heuristic in order to solve this problem. You look at the ball and simply run in a way so that the ball is always seen from a constant angle. Do this and the ball simply falls into your hand. Similar behaviour can be observed for dogs.

          But even if this is how intelligence is being defined, you can argue it both ways. You could say it could easily mean that some heuristics have been lost to us since we don’t require them anymore. However, if you apply those heuristics unconciously they must be somehow hardwired into your brain. And I would think it is unlikely that the structure of the brain would change so significantly over a few generations.

        • Greg G.

          I’m pretty sure Diamond’s wording was better than mine but the idea has stuck with me for well over a decade. If I was from a culture that transmitted information orally, I might have remembered it better. 80)

          I had heard of the catching a ball trick back when I was young and was a pretty good receiver in flag football. I remember reflecting on the heuristic as I was doing it and realized that was exactly what I was doing. Sometimes I could see that I wasn’t keeping up with the ball and it would land a little beyond my reach so I would focus on the spot where it would land and run with my head down, allowing me to run a little bit faster to catch up, then just before reaching that spot, I would look over my shoulder to make a quick adjustment to make the catch.

          I think those skills are not hard-wired as just catching a ball requires practice for the hand/eye coordination. Then there’s training to keep the eye on the ball which is not easy to maintain. Then there’s being able to take one’s eye off the ball, Those don’t come easy. I also saw that my dog had to learn how to catch a ball.

          The heuristic doesn’t work so well for catching a Frisbee as it will take a curved path. But dogs can learn to anticipate the curves, too.

          I think our brains are more powerful than they would need to be to survive as any of the Homo erectus species in the wild. But it may be just where it needs to be to compete with Neandertals with similar brain power. After the extinction of Neandertals, our ancestors were left with bigger, more powerful brains than they needed for survival but it needed to be fed more and the brain power allowed more strategies to develop to feed it.

          I don’t know any this, of course. I’m just brainstorming. If I get some evidence to the contrary, I’ll change my mind. I’m just curious why two species brains had simultaneous increases in size that stopped as one went extinct.

        • Compuholic

          I think those skills are not hard-wired as just catching a ball requires practice for the hand/eye coordination.

          At least part of it must be hardwired since

          1. people are generally not aware how exactly they perform actions like that

          2. nevertheless everyone exhibits the same mechanism for doing the same thing (even across species)

          I think our brains are more powerful than they would need to be to survive as any of the Homo erectus species in the wild.

          That might or might not be true. I would not even be so sure that your brain are indeed so much more powerful than any of the other brains out there. It could as well be that a small ability to abstract can already produce vastly different results.

          In any case the size alone is certainly not a factor here. Whales have a brain that is a lot bigger than ours. The ratio between brain size to body size is probably a better metric and indeed we humans do score pretty well in this category.

          And as a computer scientist I suspect that the level of interconnectivity between the neurons is also a major factor. We can observe similar behavior in artificial neural networks. In the case of a simple feed-forward ANNs the “hidden neurons” (the neurons between input and output layer) and the connections between them determine the complexity the ANN can express.

        • Greg G.

          I think there are some instincts at play that direct the type of play a young animal practices to learn necessary skills. Puppies chase each other and improve as they learn. Experienced predators have more success than the novice.

          I know of one example that is pretty much pure instinct. There’s a small snake in Vietnam that forms its body into a hook and waits for a small fish to swim through. It then twitches the side opposite its head. The fish has an auto-reflex that makes it turn away from the disturbance. They snakes strikes at the spot it anticipated the fish to swim to. The action is too fast for the nerves to carry the images to the brain. Young snakes can have a high success rate though I don’t recall if it can improve with practice.

          Brain mass to body mass ratio corresponds with intelligence when comparing species. Much of it is for controlling the body rather than cogitatin’. Humans are way above other animals in that ratio. I’m thinking that the human cortex is wrinkled to get more of it. I would expect crows and parrots might be low on the brain/body ratio as their brain mass is restricted for flight.

          I recall reading about a computer that was being trained to make some decision according to the inputs. It was very accurate but it had turned itself into an analog circuit using only six chips and feeding back through the power supply.

        • smrnda

          Intelligence is sometimes finding a way to make a complicated task simple. The ball is a great example, and lots of physical skills that look almost impossible are often achieved through similar heuristics.

          There’s also the ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’ problem. You don’t win chess by trying to spontaneously respond to novel positions – you read books and memorize tonnes of moves and countermoves, taking advantage of existing knowledge.

        • Kodie

          Intelligence is sometimes finding a way to make a complicated task simple.

          I think innovation is exactly that. Is it easier to run after a wild animal or throw a pointed stick at it? Is it easier to buy it in the grocery store in a package, freeing yourself up to do a different job? If your job pays kind of nice, you might even skip a step and eat all your meals in restaurants.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          30 years ago, the popular thinking withing the computer science community said that learning how to program would be a great way to expand the mind. That’s true, though I’m not sure anything tangible would result, and that’s not what happened (the child language Logo didn’t deliver, for example).

        • MNb

          Indeed. As a teacher maths and physics I can tell that those 8th graders from 1880 would have been ill-prepared for 1st class at my school (comparable to junior high school). I also suspect their comprehensive reading would be seriously lacking.

        • smrnda

          The other thing is that kids today know about things that didn’t even exist in 1880. They teach kids in grade school web design in some countries. I first programmed at about 11 or 12 (my father was an AI researcher, the reason for that.) If I learned anything when I was young, it was we invented computers so we wouldn’t have to KNOW some things.

          I heard someone say that the idea of a group of people arguing over a fact (examples = ‘who played the Detective in Movie X?’ ‘What team won the most championships?’ ‘Which country produces the most of THIS?’) isn’t going to happen anymore, since you can bust out your phone and look it up. The ability to memorize things is kind of less relevant since looking something up isn’t a hassle much anymore. We can do more because we’re using external devices to augment our brains, the way we use machines for any ability. Intelligence starts to become less a raw brain skill and more ‘how do you use these other things to improve your ability?’ test.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The “what do we do with calculators??” hand wringing was happening while I was in high school. Now, we understand how they fit in. I imagine there’s less time spent on algorithms for finding square roots now, and that’s a good thing.

        • MNb

          Which I applaud. In math and physics memorizing is far less important than understanding. Moreover I have a bad memory. I remember how cheated I felt when I saw for the first time a manual on standard integral equations. Why oh why had I to learn those by heart?

        • smrnda

          There is no reason to memorize something if you never really need to have it memorized.

          Though this makes me remember a discrete mathematics course I took as an undergraduate. The professor allowed a open book test. During the test, I did not end up looking up anything, and I came away thinking that unless you knew the material pretty well, and only were maybe looking up a few theorems you didn’t remember exactly, you wouldn’t get any help out of the book. Nobody is going to pass an essay test on a language they don’t speak because you give them a dictionary.

        • Greg G.

          Just saw this in the ads at the bottom of the page on the ESPN website:

          10 Surprising Things Kids Knew in 1980 and Don’t Have a Clue About Today

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Interesting. (I could only get it to work in IE, not Chrome.)

        • MNb

          Wow – for a site presenting decline of knowledge it has its share of errors.
          The Betsy Ross flag is probably a legend.
          Cleopatra was the Queen (rather Pharao) of Egypt, but she was not Egyptian, but Hellenistic, descendant from Ptolemaeus I Soter, general under Alexander the Great.
          Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca. He said “You played it for her, you can play it for me. Play it.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And what does knowledge of movie stars have to do with education?

        • MNb

          You must ask that site – they brought Humphrey Bogart up.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Right. My question was rhetorical. The article was kinda fun, but it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

        • MNb

          Oops – my bad.

        • smrnda

          On software, we’ve also augmented or brains with external devices. Combine maps and city planning and you can, with a few glaces on a piece of paper and a few quick checks of a timetable, figure out how to get from one place to another far away by mass transit in a densely populated city needing only a few instructions. We sort of store the maps in our brains, but having a good way to visualize a city, and having a city made on a nice grid (easier to visualize) goes a long way.

        • MNb

          “France’s brain was still twice the size of a chimpanzee brain.”
          Yes, but not larger than a Neanderthal brain.

        • Greg G.

          France was definitely more intelligent than a chimpanzee. I wonder how he would have done along the banks of the Seine 50,000 years ago. The humans of that time may have had higher IQs than we do but lacked the luxuries we enjoy that permit contemplation. We’ve invented a lot since then but it required a larger population than they had to accumulate knowledge and methods to preserve it.

          Neither Google nor Bing helped to give the height or weight of France or Byron. Brain size should correlate to relative body size.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve heard that some of the North American Indian cultures before the European invasion only needed a few hours per day (on average) to take care of their necessities. One wonders what they did with that free time. Maybe population pressures were low, otherwise they would’ve recreated an Olmec or Mayan or Inca building program?

        • MNb

          I have a few data for you, from a German book.
          Turgeniev: 2012 g.
          Bismarck: 1807 g.
          Kant: 1600 g.
          Schiller: 1530 g.
          Rafael: 1161 g.
          France: 1160 g.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And smaller still than a large whale’s.

          Now that I think of it, I can’t explain why a large animal needs a large brain. They still only have one heart, for example. Just more nerves from the rest of the body to deal with maybe?

        • Castilliano

          One of the corollaries of higher sentiency (so I’ve heard in nerdy science circles) is the brain mass to body mass ratio.

          So by that measure whales need not just to outweigh our brain, but out proportion our brains.

  • Y. A. Warren

    “We have pretty much the same Stone Age brain”

    This may be true, as far as most of the human brain is concerned, but I’m not sure it is true regarding development of the judgement and impulse control center in the frontal lobe.

    Buddhists tell those in meditation to focus on a point that roughly coincides with the location of the frontal lobe. Perhaps what religions refer to as “free will” is actually a function of an evolved and fully functioning frontal lobe.

    The big problem is that many children come through the trauma of birth with severely damaged frontal lobes. There are also people born with defects from other causes that keep them from having the ability to reason and to control their impulses. These people operate on stimulus/response and/or rules/consequences.

    I wish that all of today’s humans were born with fully functional fully evolved brain capacity, but it simply isn’t so.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Are you saying that evolution has made a significant change to our brains in the last 10,000 years?

      • Jason Wexler

        It isn’t outside the realm of possibility… significant need not mean large. Keep in mind blond hair and fair skin are currently thought to have developed in the last 11,000 years (or at least blond hair has), so mutations can produce measurable change in time scales which are short by the standard of geological time.

        • Castilliano

          There’s the old juxtaposition of nature vs. nurture.

          It might not be evolution bringing us the bigger and/or better brains, it could be societal influences.

          More efficient food development makes food more plentiful for developing babies and allows more parenting and teaching time.
          Technology brings easier access to knowledge acquisition, and gives greater reason to pursue intelligence and to foster it in one’s offspring.

          We may very well have the same brain DNA, but can better push its potential in the modern environment.

          Cheers.

        • Jason Wexler

          I agree entirely, that evolutionary change isn’t the only possible solution to the question nor that it is the most likely one. I was only attempting to show that was a possible solution in the time-frame suggested.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          As for the switch from hunter/gatherer to farming, I’ve heard that easy access to carbs allowed more people (cities) but was a poorer diet. The changes in average height in the West in the last century or so are due to dietary improvements.

          But I might have that wrong.

        • Jason Wexler

          I can’t help but wonder if we took the same coursera course recently which discussed that topic in depth.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No, I don’t think so.

        • Castilliano

          I’d learned the same thing about diet & height, and witnessed it to a degree teaching kids in Japan. While there were many exceptions, each male generation seemed to be 3 inches taller than the previous. Females not so much, but I met many girls (not women) notably taller than their fathers.

          I wonder if the larger frames will hurt their #1 life expectancy?

          Hadn’t heard about the carbs hurting our diet, but that seems plausible.

          Cheers.

        • smrnda

          My brother lived in Japan for a while and pointed out that levels of meat consumption have increased, and also that dairy products are consumed now that never were in the past.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And apparently tolerance for milk (as adults) and alcohol are also quite recent. I haven’t heard anything on how our brains have boosted measurably in the last 10K years, however.

        • Jason Wexler

          I’d be hesitant to accept the claim about alcohol tolerance as alcohol is probably fairly new itself. If alcohol tolerance is a valid argument it actually supercharges my point because alcohol probably only predates tolerance by a few centuries or millennia. Again as I responded to Castilliano evolutionary changes in the brain in the recent past aren’t impossible, just undiscovered if they exist.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you look at a map of Europe with isobars of alcohol tolerance, the Mediterranean lands have little problem with it. As you move farther north (where people have had less and less time to acclimate) you have more of a problem with alcoholism tendency.

          A quick internet search turned up nothing, so I don’t have a study to point to.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I don’t know if it is physical evolution or functional evolution. I do know that fear and ritual shut down our judgement centers; this is why I shy away from organized religions.

      • RichardSRussell

        You don’t have to change the hardware all that much if you keep upgrading the software. Besides, my typing skills are probably occupying the part of my brain that, in my ancestors, was used for, say, sewing or carpentry.

        But the hard fact is that we have no sense of whether the Flynn Effect extends back into the past, because we don’t have reliable records much farther back than the year 1900. Certainly nothing like autopsy results.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I suppose you have periods of explosive growth in different times and places. Maybe in the Middle East during the 500 years of the Islamic Golden Age. Or in the West starting with the Industrial Revolution. Maybe in Central America with some of those cultures (Olmec, Toltec, Mayan, Aztec, Incan). Or China, India, Egypt.

          My guess is that the breadth of the impact of the Industrial Revolution is unique, but that could be my Western bias.

  • http://batman-news.com Anton

    You may as well ask “Why are maps legible?”

    Humans developed scientific inquiry as a metaphorical construct through which we could try to make the complexities of reality comprehensible. It’s no surprise that we can relate to our knowledge of the universe, because we created it; as far as relating to the universe goes, who can say? We remove a lot of complexity from Wisconsin so we can put it on a map, but it’s very handy as long as we realize the map’s not the territory.

    And you’re absolutely right, much of what we don’t comprehend might just stay that way. A sad and tantalizing truth.

    • smrnda

      When I think of knowledge, I sometimes get caught up thinking about what we don’t know, but I also tend to be pragmatic. We use knowledge to make decisions and get things done. Exact and perfect knowledge is an unattainable ideal, but we can have enough knowledge to build a bridge, diagnose a disease or figure out where we should go shopping for groceries. My view *might* be that my job is using statistical data to recommend actions for people and agencies. I don’t promise that following the policies I set out will always, 100% be right, but they might give someone a margin that can make a big difference.

      • Kodie

        As I was thinking about animal intelligence, I think maybe I’m off-base here, but as far as I can tell, all or most animals know a lot about what they need to know, and none of what they don’t need to know. Where this might hurt an animal’s survival is usually humans. A bird might like to know we’re going to chop down this tree before it bothers to set up its nest. The adults can fly away when it gets dangerous, but the eggs or baby birds can’t. It’s hard (for me) to know if these example birds know and accept humans into their ecosystem or what. Some animals recognize humans, and some just go about their business, like bears. Humans tolerate a lot of animals in the yard, but not all of them, and maybe some animals take the risk? I don’t know.

        Anyway, with humans, what we need to know is not going to get us very far. Maybe, maybe not. Animals in the wild don’t have a doctor to cure its disease unless a human intervenes. Why can’t we just drop dead of diseases like animals? Because we don’t have to. That’s our thing. Humans specialize, nobody knows everything. Most people know hardly anything – they were trained, does that make anyone “intelligent”? When someone knows the answer to a serious question, did they go out and get that answer themselves, or did they read about it in a journal and spread the knowledge to others? Being able to read and to comprehend is a pretty handy skill because there is a lot more to know than one person or every person can be smart enough to know. And then, there is too much to know for even one person to learn. To that end, most people learn what they want to know, not necessarily what’s important for them to know.

        So, basically, some people know a lot of important stuff, the survival analog to animals, but that’s even spread over a multitude of specialized humans. The rest of us can either go wherever they’re going, or make up some other story, and many of these stories are persuasive. The rest of us, in an economic sense, know a lot of other stuff combined that keeps people fed and in homes and entertained and warm. A few people are working really hard to try to keep all our asses out of the fire, because the problems of survival never really go away, they just keep getting new and different.

        I’m not sure we can really know anything, either, we design instruments to detect things and get more accurate answers. We know what the instrument is telling us. We can be consistent, then, as well as precise as the instrument designed for the purpose that it serves, but not any more precise than that when something comes along that the instrument will no longer measure, and then we have to refine it, and measure some new stuff. Meanwhile, you will get even more accurate readings when you measure the old stuff with the finer instrument. Then, as long as Anton brings up Wisconsin, there’s the old coastline paradox.

        • MNb

          “the old coastline paradox”
          That’s not really a paradox as there is no contradiction involved and we understand why the problem can’t be solved.

        • Kodie

          It’s an example of something that can be measured with more than one answer, none of which is refined to a single precise answer. If you look under a typical lab microscope, you can see a lot more than just with your own eyes, and it is a good enough tool for a lot of things. Then you hit the limit of magnification. Of course the same things you saw under the weaker microscope are so much more vivid and accurate when you see them in an electron microscope. It might be too much information and an extraneous amount of power, but it is still more accurate. Maybe you see new things that didn’t appear, but in a lot of cases, you just see what you could recognize at a lower magnification more clearly. Is it the most accurate? Have we reached an actual limit or a human limit? We don’t try to make finer instruments because so far, we don’t need them for anything.

          I think this is where Anton likes to keep saying we don’t have as much knowledge as we like to think we do. We don’t know how long the border of Wisconsin actually is, we have estimates that serve a practical human purpose or capacity to compare something with another thing, such as, how far it is to drive, or some European country is about the land area of the state of Wisconsin, to give you an idea.

  • William J E Dempsey

    Many Christians claim our human minds have many qualities that animals do not have at all. And it seems clear that indeed our minds have some things that animals do not have to the same extent that we have. But are our minds really in TOTALLY new, divine, or virgin territory, when say, we do math?
    Animals have many of the skill sets that would easily grow into mathematics. Animals to some extent, can reason; rats can find their way around in mazes, and can learn various pathways, protocols, deductions, to get food. Even math at the simplest level, is about numbers of objects. And animals can see objects. Perhaps even tell “many” from “one” lion, probably.
    Just a bigger brain, and suddenly it becomes possible to extrapolate from what many animal know.
    Though humans have things in their minds, that seem “divine,” or above the animals, even in them, there is still some linkage back to animal nature. There is nothing TOTALLY unprecedented, transcendental, about our human minds or spirits.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Why pick the mind? What about other features? We’re not the best swimmers, flyers, or runners. We have decent running endurance, but not the best. We’re not the best armored or strongest fighters or have the scariest teeth or best agility.

      We pick the mind because it’s our best thing, so we spin it so that it’s the most important thing.

      Alligators don’t have the best brain, but they’ve been hangin’ in there for nearly 40 million years in the only game that actually matters–species survival. Turtles have been around for over 200 million years. And we’ve been around for how long?

      And when you look at other primates, they have similar brains with similar capabilities. Indeed, our coolest things (sense of morality, intelligence) are all double-edged swords (revenge, rage, machine guns, Zyclon-B).

      You’re right–we see lots of impressive problem solving and mathematical understanding. Crows are quite surprising. I hear that they’re better at telling which of two bowls has more of something than an adult human is (20 peanuts vs. 21 peanuts, for example).

    • MNb

      “There is nothing TOTALLY unprecedented”
      Homo Sapiens is the only animal capable of emotion induced crying. I would not call that transcendental though.

      • William J E Dempsey

        And animals will whine and yelp and whimper from the feeling of pain. Wolves will howl at the moon.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        I hadn’t thought of that. But there are some animal precedents, aren’t there? Evidence of sorrow or loss at the death of an infant?

  • Bruno

    Human skin heals from “after injuries from fire, chemicals, or radiation” if these injuries are relatively minor.

    The human capacity for abstract reasoning is far beyond what a general purpose brain for tool making and coordinating hunting parties would require. This abstract reasoning works well in domains that don’t follow our commonsense such as quantum mechanics. A “general purpose brain” is simply too vague a notion to be of any use in explaining how this can happen.

    • Pofarmer

      Sooooooooo.,…….????????

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      But you’ve proven that “general purpose brain” could never explain the human brain. Is that right? I’m not seeing why you’re so confident.

      • Bruno

        A Commodore 64 computer is a general purpose computer, but it has nowhere near the capacity of a modern computer with i7 processor in it. I can’t run, say, a CAD program on a Commodore 64.

        So yes ancient humans had a “general purpose brain” that helped them hunt and make tools, build shelters, farm crops but we need more than a “general purpose brain” we need one with the right architecture and capacity that is capable of abstract cognitive creativity and reasoning that developed quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity etc.

        This is why I said that: “A “general purpose brain” is simply too vague a notion to be of any use in explaining how this can happen.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So you’re saying you’re unconvinced? That’s fine–I only claimed that this is a plausible explanation. I thought you were saying you dismissed this with cause.

          As for the C-64, there’s no problem with the CPU. It could handle the work of an i7 with two caveats: the address space is too small, and it wouldn’t run quickly.

          If you ignore the address space issue as being inconsequential, your example doesn’t work. The C-64 could do whatever you wanted … just not very quicly. And indeed our brains are not very quick about difficult concepts like calculus, philosophy, or chemistry. They’re very much like a C-64 with an enlarged address space slowly plodding through the instructions of a CAD program.

        • Bruno

          Yes, I’m unconvinced. I also think you’ve minimised the complexities involved.

          The point of my analogy was to illustrate that capacities have to be taken into account so you can’t dismiss the address space. But even if address space is not and issue the C-64 would not process a CAD program in a way that would be usable.

          I would suggest that when it comes to the difference between the concrete thinking required for hunting, toolmaking etc and abstract creative intelligence a better analogy would be between the C-64 and a quantum computer i.e. a difference of architecture not merely processing capacity.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          OK, you’re unconvinced. Seems to me that the explanation is still in play.

          Speed isn’t an issue with the complex intellectual challenges (calculus, etc.) we’re talking about.

          A quantum computer? OK–that’s a different comparison. It was a C-64 vs. an i7 before.

        • Msironen

          All computers built to date are (at best) Turing machines. An i7 can’t do anything essentially different than a tapemachine conceived in the 1950s. Quantum computers haven’t been shown to be generally super-Turing but only in extremely limited sense.

          (This was a reply to Bruno btw).

        • Kodie

          I think toolmaking is abstract creative intelligence. You seem to think they were just dumb blue collar guys because they didn’t invent cell phones right off the bat or something. Most humans do not use their brain to innovate – make do, sometimes, but most of what we learn and know is trained skills like hunting or toolmaking. You get one caveman who would like to bring more meat home after a hunt, and he’s going to try out some different pointed spears or some shit like that. Not everyone from his tribe is noticing or crafting up a new design, but when he shows them his new spears, they will want to upgrade.

          Just like you upgrade your phone. You could take just about any human in history and transport them to another time, as a baby, and they would have the same experience anyone of that time would have, as growing up in a particular society informs us, not what stage of human history we “belong” in. A primitive human in his own habitat would not be uncomfortable if they were born at another time and place, most of what they would learn would be useful training to navigate the contemporary world, and very little of the innovative creative abstract is put to use in solution-making. A lot of what we do is spend that intellect making arts and other stuff of the imagination. A lot of what we also do, for example, is calculate how much we have to spend at the grocery store and some people are wise and some are foolish with their choices. We’re not born with the skill to do that, we’re taught some useful tools to get us by in life. That is all the primitive humans you are talking about are doing, either, just in another format.

          I don’t like the computer analogies because I don’t know anything about computers. But I know how to use one for the things I need. As far as I can tell, coding is a common but specialized skill. I think it is too simplistic to make an observation of primitive humans and assume they didn’t need to have intelligent brains based on the simple tasks you think carried them all just fine. Someone saw a way to get a little better – easier to find, make or use; more efficient, better results; probably a lot of failed tries and possibly scandal – and then sold it to everyone else he knew. We still do this (as a species, I mean, not me or probably you). We’d all be wiped out a long time ago if we didn’t.

        • Bruno

          Where did I say that ancient humans were just “dumb blue collar guys”?

          I’ve been discussing the type of thinking involved in tool-making etc in comparison to abstract creative mathematical/scientific thinking. They are radically different types of thought.

          If ancient humans had the capacity for abstract creative mathematical/scientific thinking (which I believe they had) how did they get it? As there was no immediate survival value for this type of thought natural selection could not selected for it. The suggestion was made that a “general purpose brain” would have survival value. While true that still doesn’t help with the development of abstract creative mathematical/scientific thinking as it is radically different to concrete thinking needed for survival.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          If ancient humans had the capacity for abstract creative mathematical/scientific thinking (which I believe they had) how did they get it? As there was no immediate survival value for this type of thought natural selection could not selected for it. The suggestion was made that a “general purpose brain” would have survival value. While true that still doesn’t help with the development of abstract creative mathematical/scientific thinking as it is radically different to concrete thinking needed for survival.

          I’m not sure exactly what the boundaries of your “concerete thinking” are, but I see no reason why abstract thinking would have no survival value. Conceptualizing the world in terms of patterns and cause-and-effect relationships probably had value. Having to define and choose among a range of complex alternatives probably had survival value. There are plenty of ways that creating symbolic systems —you know, like language— to represent complicated concepts would have had survival value, and therefore conferred selective advantage.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Speech may have been the trigger–it would have been useful for survival, which opened up the possibility for thinking about the future, planning, organizing, and so on. That might be the foundation on which abstract thought (like, eventually, mathematics) was built.

        • Pofarmer

          Language is the tool that allows us to know what someone else knows. Now we don’t have to learn everything for ourselves, or by observing what someone else does. They can tell us, we can remember, and now we can pass it on. I read somewhere, maybe in “The Demon Haunted World” that the next game changer was books. Now, can we not only know what someone else knows, but we can save that knowledge for an extended period of time, and give it, pass it on to someone else, without having to personally transmit it each time, reducing errors and increasing the number of individuals an idea could reach.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And we’re in the middle of the next step, putting that information into machines so that they can do the work–calculators doing math, for example.

        • Pofarmer

          Some of the earliest cave paintings found, are now beleived to have been used as hunting aids, instead of recording a hunt. How can you look at a piece of flint, and see an arrowhead or a knife in the fault lines? Both are abstract reasoning, and we’ve been at it a long time. It’s one of our brain “skills” that makes us different from other animals, as far as we know. Or think about following the moon and signs, to know when winter was coming, or to know when to plant crops, etc, etc. humans have been developing these skills for a loooonnnnngggggg time. We have abandoned stone tool making , but the abstract reasoning used to visualize the tools is still there.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          it is radically different to concrete thinking needed for survival.

          Sure, it’s different. Show me why a general-purpose brain, plus speech, couldn’t have given Man 10,000 years ago the brain that we have today through evolution.

          Or is evolution the problem? Do you reject that?

        • Kodie

          How are they radically different? You think one guy stepped up from using his hands to make a tool. This is a powerful idea, and he can either share it, or he can keep the advantage to himself. Eventually, the knowledge spreads and everyone is using this tool, but only one guy thought of it. Sure, another guy could have, but he had other priorities of his time, or simply couldn’t bridge the gap between what he could envision and how to make it. Picture a writer or an inventor or a designer with a wastebasket full of bad ideas. To make a tool, you don’t just go get a kit and make that tool. You have to think what you want it to do and then you have to see if the thing you stopped hunting to sit down and make is an improvement at all by trying it in a hunt.

          You underestimate what this capacity is, and think about how many people out of all the people you know who actually have it – the vision, the persistence, and the time. If you take a hunter who hunts with a stick, take a second hunter who finds a broken stick. If all he could find was a broken stick, that’s what he’ll have to use and do his best. It turns out this broken stick works out very well, after all – it’s sharper, but it’s not as long. The solution to this problem is obvious to you and me – leap ahead to sharpening longer sticks. But this isn’t obvious.

          Invention goes step by step, and it damn sure is adaptive behavior and creative intelligence that ensured survival. When your favorite animal is easy to catch but populations are down, you have a problem to solve – to eat something else that is trickier to catch or starve to death. We could keep trying to catch this animal the hard way, or observe the animal and come up with a more specific solution that wasn’t necessary with the easy-to-catch animal. Imagine you are trying to grab a rabbit or club it with a rock. Rabbits are small and you have to hunt for a lot of them. Maybe you want to swing at a bear and eat well by hunting less. You can’t approach the bear with the same tools or strategies that were successful against a rabbit.

          We make and improve tools and share them. Other animals adapt in other ways – or die.

          You make all that sound too easy that it can’t possibly demonstrate some “other” kind of intelligence that you unnecessarily separate it from. It’s probably because a lot of this knowledge is quite obvious now that we’ve progressed to modernity. That’s because the information did not die with the people who knew it, to be learned over and over again the first time every generation.

        • MNb

          “Most humans do not use their brain to innovate”
          Originality is immensely overestimated. If I’m brutally honest I might have had one original idea – ie something I didn’t take over from someone else – my entire life.
          When something complicated and counterintuitive like quantummechanics is involved it’s amazing how many people have been involved developing he entire theory.

        • Kodie

          As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” most of us, I think, can come up with needs. Maybe there is a ready solution – your need is not likely original. Solving that problem may not be easy in the first place, or maybe it is so easy you can’t believe notody thought of it yet. Most people find today’s inventions so convenient they don’t know how they ever lived without them even if they didn’t know they needed them.

          I was watching a tv show about animals and how they adapt their approaches to the problems of being a predator or prey. Prey are not fucking stupid victims and predators are not precise instruments of death.

          http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/moment-of-impact/introduction/5583/

          Just like humans in battle or game refine their strategies to outwit their opponents, so do, apparently, animals, and they keep having to readjust to the challenges. I was also recalling something I’d seen about auto racing, of all things, though probably not unique to the sport. If you think about the modifications you can make to a car that might make a race unfair, rulebooks try to minimize these cheats that will disqualify a driver, and drivers come up with newer ways to get the slightly unethical edge over the other participants until that new cheat is discovered. It’s as much a game against the rules as it is against other players.

          We do not have the brains to look far ahead into the future. Primitive hunter/gatherers did not need a camera in their cell phone, so did not get right to work inventing cell phones and putting cameras in them. In a civilized modern setting, we’re not solving the problem of what to eat (a universal necessity) with better hunting gear, maybe some night goggles?, because the going strategy is to make oneself marketable to an employer and then taking our money to the store. And with your hands or cart full of groceries, you get to the door, and I’m sure generations of people thought, I wish that door opened itself. Necessity. A lot of people could think of a solution without having the creative brain enough to solve that problem.

          It seems every convenience of modernity brings more necessity that wouldn’t exist without it. Your smartphones only come with some basic apps, and the rest are created, refined, and shared, and a lot of those ideas are based on other programs. Few ideas are so original that they came from absolutely nothing. We traveled by buggy until someone said, let’s go faster and without horses. Not good enough. Now we have other problems created in part by that solution, so let’s make them electric. Let’s make them electric and programmed to drive you around.

          I want to talk to my friend in another town, well, we have to wire all y’all up, and then you have to share that wire with your neighbors. Buttons are so much better than a dial. I want to walk around too. I want to walk around and take pictures, and instead of call, I want to, like, email them sort of. Why not connect this gadget to the internet, and make it a dynamic and comprehensive knowledge tool we can use to call and tell someone we’re going to be late. People want to use these while they’re driving and cause accidents – take that electric car and make it also your phone/knowledge tool that talks to you so you can watch the road and not look at it your phone to read it.

        • Pofarmer

          I don’t think you want to underestimate the complexity of what ancient humans were doing. Living by your wits would not he an easy proposition in 50,000 b.c.

        • Bruno

          I agree it would not be easy. I’m sure I wouldn’t survive. I’m used to finding my food in the supermarkets.

          However, my point is that the type of “wits” required for survival is radically different to that required for creative scientific/mathematical thinking.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So what’s your point? That only God can explain our intellectual capacity?

        • MNb

          That would be another god of the gaps.

        • Bruno

          God is certainly the better explanation for our intellectual capacity.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “A supernatural being created the universe, and he gave us our intelligence” is just about the most outlandish, incredible claim. You have any evidence to back it up? Especially when we already have a plausible natural explanation?

        • Kodie

          If you’re happy to stop looking for answers, just shortcut to god, Christianese for “I have no idea, and no curiosity.”

          God is a diversion on the path to knowing things like how evolution works or how brains work. All of a sudden, it’s not just “god did it,” but using your precious capacity for curiosity to learn more and more about his character, all of which is an elaborate fiction.

          If you want to stop there and decide you know everything better than everyone else, don’t be surprised when you get outsmarted in the discussion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “I have no idea, and no curiosity.”

          And yet the irony is that they imagine it the other way around. The atheist says, “Science says about the origin of the universe, ‘I don’t know,’ and that’s good enough for me.”

          The Christian replies: “What?? You just gonna let it stand like that? This Biggest-of-all Mysteries you’re just going to ignore? I can’t stand that. I’m determined to know. And I do know–God did it!”

        • Kodie

          What’s really strange is how easily fascinated they are with the subject that they don’t really stop with “god did it,” either. There is an elaborate view into the workshop of god, and people who are not satisfied with the mere answer that “god” explains it, they want to know how, and there are people who can creatively come up with a story. God has curiously human behaviors and flaws we could not put up with in another person, but easily explains his jealous and sometimes arbitrary demands he makes, for our own good, or whatever happens that is not to our liking must be part of a better plan.

          As we are humans, we are mostly consumers of information, not innovators. We like to take credit for all of humanity’s technological advances – look what’s possible, we did that, we’re intelligent, god made us that way. You don’t see an animal following a blueprint and creating a bridge. It is mostly because it doesn’t need to. It might be able to swim or climb trees or jump farther or just stay on this side of the river. I don’t see almost 100% of humans building bridges either – using them, all the time, though. We don’t strictly need to cross the river, do we? But as long as it’s there…

          But there is hardly any human who doesn’t want to know something. Little kids ask why, they don’t stumble around and figure it out. We all want to know something, we all want to learn something, even if it’s who’s dating who in Hollywood. It’s someone’s job to discover and report back what the people want to know. We all would like a cure for cancer, but we aren’t all generating the research necessary to solve that problem. Could we cure cancer if we trained everyone in all the necessary subjects and took them out of their jobs to work on one problem? Doctors don’t know how to cure cancer – they don’t start from scratch with initial research and trial and error, they get medicine and prescribe it for their patients. They are trained to match the medicine for the indications, and to keep up, read.

          Theists do the same thing. They have the same questions about god that you or I would, and the difference is, these answers they get are comforting, and sometimes packaged in a scholarly package to sound like “someone much smarter than me,” akin in their mind to a scientist, has devoted their life to figuring all these details, and the more you know, the more fascinating it is, the more realistic an environment it creates, that you no longer would recognize you’re in a fantasy land.

          I would ask anyone to think back in their life to find a subject that once introduced to you, you immersed yourself. For a lot of people, that answer might be baseball. I know some young kid who wants to know math. I joked and asked him if he was studying trigonometry yet, and he asked what that was, and he said he got in trouble because someone told him about binomial equations – once turned on, he wants to know everything – he’s only 9, about the age I was when my teacher took me and another bright student aside and let us figure out ratios while the rest of the class was stuck on long division or fractions or something. He’s already doing what I didn’t learn until 7th or 8th grade, and can’t get enough. Then again, think how easily some people get sucked up into reality tv. It’s set up to manipulate the viewer to obsess about it when they’re not watching it, and to consume it by talking about it on message boards, form “teams” and root for someone to take the final prize.

          I think of religion like that. It frames reality in a skewed way – signs, things pointing to there being a god. You, Bob, “follow the evidence,” and they are doing the same. A tree becomes “evidence” of god, life on earth becomes evidence, a lucky break becomes evidence. Once locked in, “then how do you explain _____???” They don’t not know, they’ve done a lot more research and immersed themselves to become knowledgeable in a subject based on a fantasy character. We have natural curiosity, we just don’t all use it to find out the best and most useful things.

        • Pofarmer

          What’s really scary, is not that long ago, someone like Bruno, or John son, of John, could have you imprisoned, or worse, for merely disbelieving whatever it is he is selling. You could be imprisoned, tortured, or killed, merely for questioning the precepts. Thankfully, that’s not the way it is any more.

        • Bruno

          I think you need to study a bit of history. Science began by Christians who believed that “God did it” and wanted to know as much as possible how he did it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          (1) Christians didn’t invent science. I’m pretty sure it was a joint effort.

          (2) European scientists centuries ago happened to be Christians. So what? They also happened to be meat eaters. And wine drinkers. Or maybe coffee?

          Why pretend there’s a cause-and-effect thing going on here?

        • Pofarmer

          And then they found out he didn’t, which caused issues, that, apparently some haven’t come to grips with.

        • MNb

          Then I suppose Jesus revealed himself to Pythagoras, Archimedes and a few other guys, who lived well before christianity begun.

        • Kodie

          I think you need to take a look around right now. Maybe check yourself in a mirror while you’re at it.

        • Pofarmer

          C’mon Kodie, for Christians curiosity is a bad thing.

        • MNb

          And for the intellectual capacity of plants.

          http://www.pausetowonder.org/2013/06/26/even-plants-can-do-maths/

          And for the intellectual capacity of any living being. It’s such a good explanation that it explains everything – ie nothing, as Karl Popper pointed out.

        • Kodie

          I saw this documentary on PBS called “What Plants Talk About”. Fascinating.

          http://video.pbs.org/video/2338524490/

        • William J E Dempsey

          Empirical cause-and-effect reasoning is required for hunting: is that rabbit slow enough that I can intercept it taking this shortcut?

        • Bruno

          That’s a good example of concrete thinking. The abstract solution to the problem requires calculus.

          The first mode of thinking ensured survival, the second was not needed for survival. The question is why does humanity have this radically different mode of thinking?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And a fox makes the same calculation. Do foxes then have the ability to do calculus?

          The answer to your question is in the post. If you disagree, give your evidence.

        • William J E Dempsey

          Calculus proper, as symbolic system, no. But the ability to mentally guess at what different levels of ability/speed, performance the fox and the rabbit have, and what is the possibility of an intersection? Yes. Of course. The fox finds out that the rabbit has a rapid initial speed … but soon tires. With a declining speed, the fox with a higher durability performance curve, has a chance of an intersection.
          The hunter very ROUGHLY calculates patterns of performance curves, same as anti-missile physics. Calculus proper? Perhaps someone could fill this out a bit.
          Think of what calculus is used to DO.

          EDITORIAL ADDITION: My points? 1) I agree that we have a
          general purpose part to our brains; that are highly adaptable, relatively free, and programmable. Though 2) I qualify that by suggesting that however, even higher-order functions like Calculus, DO have some precedents, precursors, in the animal brain. The fox chasing a rabbit is calculating, guesstimating trajectories and variations; even without using a formal Calculus.

          Otherwise I have no huge objections to your thesis: humankind advances, thanks to a “general purpose” section to our brains. Mostly Cerebral cortex, probably.

        • Bruno

          I don’t need to provide evidence. Everyone is providing it for me.

          1. Most of us don’t need Calculus today.
          2. No-one needed calculus in the past in hunter-gatherer society.
          3. Foxes hunt quite well without Calculus.

          Natural selection didn’t select for our ability to do calculus as it had no survival value back then. It is useful today but there were no missiles back then. Let’s be clear calculus is only one example of a mode of thinking.

          You can have a general purpose brain which doesn’t do calculus. Lots of people today don’t do calculus but still have a general purpose brain. So positing merely a general purpose brain doesn’t explain how the capacity for calculus originated. You would have to argue that the capacity for calculus is a necessary concomitant of a general purpose brain you have all provided ample evidence that that is not the case.

          (My apologies to Kodie and William for not responding directly to your posts. I thought it would easier to make one post)

        • Pofarmer

          So, the fact that we think is evidence for God. It seems to me you’ve set up the perfect non-falsifiable hypothesis. Which is very un scientific.

        • MNb

          See above. Plants do math and are pretty good at it.

          http://www.pausetowonder.org/2013/06/26/even-plants-can-do-maths/

          Suddenly this human skill isn’t that impressive anymore, is it?

        • Kodie

          You keep talking about calculus, an advanced math subject or language or whatever, that has many practical applications, is difficult to do, and most people who have ever lived or even currently alive do not have any idea how to do.

          But they can all be taught.

          It is merely the creative abstract thinking. Most of us use it in mundane daily activities that are in no way novel or original. Most of us do not use it to calculate hard math problems when “by eye” will do just fine. You think that skill, which you keep exemplifying as “the ability to do calculus as calculus had no practical application” is all and everything, and precise way of thinking that could not possibly be selected for because nobody needed to know calculus then.

          What diversionary nonsense.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t need to provide evidence.

          Yeah, you kinda do.

          Evolution is the consensus view, so that’s a given for our conversation, and our brain doing calculus is like out skin recovering from a nuclear radiation burn. But I’m repeating myself—that was all in the post, which has yet to be rebutted.

          So positing merely a general purpose brain doesn’t explain how the capacity for calculus originated.

          Huh?

          You would have to argue that the capacity for calculus is a necessary concomitant of a general purpose brain you have all provided ample evidence that that is not the case.

          Concomitant” is an adjective. Did you mean “prerequisite”?

          Whatever you think you’ve proven, I don’t see it. Try again?

        • Bruno

          That’s a bit of a hasty response.

          When I said that I didn’t need to provide evidence it was because you and the others already provided all the evidence I needed to show that you can have a general purpose brain without the capacity for calculus.

          My argument is based on evolution and your skin example is merely a weak analogy not evidence for your position.

          “Concomitant” is also a noun just scroll down a bit further on your dictionary link. I didn’t mean prerequisite.

          A general purpose brain without the capacity for calculus is selectable because it had survival value in our hunter gatherer past. If the capacity for calculus is a spandrel (i.e. a trait that is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic) then that would explain the human capacity for calculus. So concomitant is the appropriate word.

          Do you have any evidence that the capacity for calculus is a spandrel? If not then you haven’t made your case, you’ve only mooted an interesting idea.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You said that a brain might be general-purpose and lack the ability to understand calculus. Agreed. I’m saying that given the fact that we have brains that understand calculus, is it plausible that evolution would’ve given us a general-purpose brain that just happens (surprise!) to be able to handle calculus. General-purpose skin was my example.

          I’m looking for the slap-the-forehead moment where I get an insight from your comment that shows the flaw in my argument. So far all I can get is one No vote. OK, thanks for your input.

        • William J E Dempsey

          Basically, I 1) agree with you that there is a substantial “general purpose” part of the brain. One that is relatively free/programmable; and that played a very important role in the development of Calculus. I merely 2) add that however, there were ALSO some rather natural impulses or mental skills, even hardwired, even in animals, then Neanderthals. That ALSO help even the development of Calculus. Consider for example, the informal calculations of an actual fox, on relative speeds and so forth; which are required for hunting.

        • Kodie

          We don’t leap straight to calculus. Calculus may be interesting way to understand, but you do realize, most people are taught calculus if they want to know how to use it, they aren’t born with this language of understanding or calculating. What you are suggesting is a huge leap. We make small steps. Human knowledge is somewhat unique in that we improve upon it and teach what we know to others. We don’t all have to start life as primitive hunter/gatherers. We can take modern advances for granted from birth and witness even more improvements before we die, without making a single creative step ourselves. Humanity is consumer of knowledge more than any individual uses their creative capacity. We climb the stairs so the next generation can sleep indoors, and plug in a lamp to read a book.

          Are you saying we don’t need this to survive? I mean, we could have survived just fine in primitive societies – many humans on earth do just that. We don’t need cars, we don’t need computers to live, we don’t need medicine. We can all be born into a blank slate and have to learn all over again. For the most part, methods of hunting are just like methods to find a job – I was an adult about a decade before the internet became a popular thing, so I still had to look for a job by walking around looking for “Help Wanted” signs and reading the classifieds in the newspaper. We got by just fine for a long time, right? We don’t need ALL need calculus to improve our prospects. You can get a lot of jobs without knowing calculus, and you can even use the internet to look for a job without ever having heard the word. But someone somewhere along the way found that calculus was probably useful in aiding humanity to improve methods of doing what they were already trying to do the hard way.

          I think you glorify human intellectual capacity and aren’t realistic in your estimation. Nobody needs calculus to hunt a rabbit, or to gradually improve methods of hunting so they could take down something bigger and meaner.

        • William J E Dempsey

          Nobody needs calculus to bring down a rabbit. But when you move on to bigger practical projects like bringing down an incoming missile, or landing a lander on the moon, then you DO need it.
          Not only does it have practical application; it also had practical roots. “Pure” intellect developed in large part out of, and in response to, practical material situations.
          And an intellect entirely divorced from material life, has philosophical problems too. To believe it can and should exist purely in itself, above all material situations, is a strange and untenable new form of the old religious “spirituality,” and free-floating Platonism.

        • Kodie

          Most people don’t need calculus for anything in their own practical lives. In the jobhunter example, I’m pretty sure it’s not on anyone’s resume, either. If you need to know calculus for your job or the one you’re applying for, then you might demonstrate some kind of degree that includes having learned calculus. Calculus helps a lot of people that don’t need to know it firsthand. Another thing I was saying was that you can still use calculus for hunting rabbits, but I have some idea that is too much information, but it can still be measured if you want to be a math nerd about it.

          When I was learning calculus in high school, my teacher liked to use symbolic language to represent equations, namely, a lot about the shape of shot glasses. It still didn’t make the formulas easy to comprehend, but it was useful to me because I got 6 AP credits (barely) to apply to college. You don’t need calculus to be a bartender, but that doesn’t mean the bartender doesn’t know calculus, or his patrons are not benefiting from some people devoting themselves to applying it to solutions we use all the time.

        • purr

          If one was to take a group of babies, and allow them to be raised by bonobos, these babies would never develop into anything more than clever animals, would they? They might pick up some tool use, and pass that onto their descendents, and so on and so on. If you could imagine starting with homo erectus’ primitive tool use eventually leading up to cro magnon with all of its knowledge and advanced tool usage.

          So basically, humans are nothing more than clever animals by nature. We act as rational creatures only because we learn to do so. If that opportunity is missed, we are never able to use our big brains.

          Humans are not rational beings by nature. It is not an inevitable result of being born human. It is learned.

        • William J E Dempsey

          Calculus developed, was accepted, because it solved lots of practical problems. Like missile performance. There isn’t so much difference therefore between it, and concrete problem solving. Concrete situations were in the minds of most of those who developed it.
          For that matter? Many theories of symbolic logic (Mill’s?) suggest that abstract symbol systems developed out of induction, or seeing common patterns in many concrete situations.

        • MNb

          Plants are capable of arithmetic.

          http://www.pausetowonder.org/2013/06/26/even-plants-can-do-maths/

          I guess your god gave it them too.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          One thing that I found startling was why cicadas typically have a prime-number of years for their gestation cycles (17 and 13 being the primary ones in the US).

          It has nothing to do with their mathematical ability, just with evolution, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

        • TheNuszAbides

          it’s a wonder how ferns get anything done with all the chromosomes they have to replicate

        • jason

          Catching rabbits is not the only skill humans need for survival. For example, math allows better engineering which allows stronger buildings, which makes humans more likely to survive. Electricity? Nuclear energy?

        • William J E Dempsey

          Probably all of them had one important general ability common to hunters and mathematicians: Reason.

    • Greg G.

      We’ve been discussing why our ancestor’s brains and the brains of Neandertals had a simultaneous increase in the growth rate of brain capacity. Perhaps it was some sort of arms race with brains that produced the excess brain power. Explaining the simultaneous rapid increases in two species would be on the road to an explanation for why it happened.

  • RichardSRussell

    Imagine the set of all things that can be known as a vast, dark plane.
    The things we actually know are represented by a bright spot in that plane.
    It’s surrounded by a twilight zone — an annulus of things we’re learning about.

    The paradox of intelligence is that, as the central circle (the bright spot) grows, the gray ring around it does as well, so the more we know, they more we’re aware of that we don’t know.

    This is one reason why science is fun and religion is boring.

    • Greg G.

      There are knowns and unknowns. There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. There are probably unknowable unknowns. When we identify them, they become known unknowable unknowns. I’ll stop now because I might have gray hair before I finish.

    • Bruno

      Religion, more specifically Christianity, is why I think science is worth pursuing.

      As Bob Seidensticker put it so well, “Our brains are able to understand the universe because we’re made in God’s image, and he wants us to understand.”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Tell us more. Any evidence to back up your position?

        • Bruno

          I think there are two main lines of evidence. The first is historical. Paraphrasing Stanley Jaki, science as a sustained ongoing endeavour was stillborn in all ancient cultures except medieval Christian Europe. This is not to say that other cultures had no science but that it never went anywhere.

          One reason for this as the cosmologist Paul Davies acknowledges is that the notion of physcial laws is theological.

          “…the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html

          Now Davies doesn’t like this idea and wants to ground physical laws in the cosmos itself but the point is this where the concept came from.

          My second line of evidence is philosophical. Unlike Davies who thinks that Christian concepts only gave rise to Science, I would say that they continue to provide the philosophical foundations of science even if unacknowledged by its practitioners.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          science as a sustained ongoing endeavour was stillborn in all ancient cultures except medieval Christian Europe. This is not to say that other cultures had no science but that it never went anywhere.

          No, it’s not to say that other cultures had no science. ‘Cause they did. Civilization didn’t start in Europe—they had to import that. You had great mathematical advances in Greece before Christianity. And China. And the Muslim Golden Age (lots of Muslim loan words: algorithm, alcohol, alchemy, many stars’ names, and so on).

          Never went anywhere? So Christianity just happens to sort of coincide with modern science, so you’re going to take credit for it? It’s not just a coincidence, but Christianity actually encouraged science where no other culture had?

          What the heck could you be talking about?

          One reason for this as the cosmologist Paul Davies acknowledges is that the notion of physcial laws is theological.

          Oh, yeah. I forgot that theologians are where science comes from.

          “…the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm.”

          Sure, Christians want to shanghai science and take credit for it. I get that. Doesn’t make it so.

          And, yeah, Newton was a Christian. Actually, pretty much everyone was in Europe at that time. Newton’s position had a faith requirement.

          I guess we’ll never know what contributions atheists could’ve made (if there had been many) back then since there were excluded.

          Now Davies doesn’t like this idea and wants to ground physical laws in the cosmos itself but the point is this where the concept came from.

          German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé got the idea of the ring structure of benzene from a daydream of a snake curling around and biting its tail. The source of the inspiration doesn’t count for much.

          I would say that they continue to provide the philosophical foundations of science even if unacknowledged by its practitioners.

          Reminds me of the little dog that walks under the ox and pretends that he is pulling the cart.

        • MNb

          “So Christianity just happens to sort of coincide with modern science”
          Not at all. In Europe the progress of science came to a halt with the rise of the Roman Empire. Christianity for at least 10 ages did exactly nothing to give it a push. The first breakthrough came with the conquest of Toledo, end of the 11th Century (when christianity had dominated Europe for some 800 frigging years and science could have been very helpful to fight off all those nasty barbarians who kept coming). It gave us scholasticism, hardly relevant for modern science as it merely resulted in parroting Aristoteles of Stagyra (granted, that man was a genius, so it’s forgivable given the lack of understanding even scholars had before said conquest).
          The second breakthrough, decisive for the rise of modern science, was the fall of Constantinople. It gave Europe (the first country to benefit was Italy) many new exciting information to investigate. Because of the Black Death the previous century and as a result the collapsed authority of the RCC – the popes of that time were more interested in art, politics and yes, science – that new information fell in a fertile ground.
          Still I would not be surprised to learn that Copernicus, who started modern science, had read Aristarchos of Samos – the Greek who was the first to propose the Heliocentric Model 17th Centuries before.
          To debunk another myth: the first European university was not the christian one in Bologna, but the muslim one in Toledo. Christianity never could have pulled off the scientific revolution on its own.

        • MNb

          Can’t help to tell this anecdote. The Bishop of Utrecht late 900’s send a letter to Pope Sylvester thanking him for explaining why the volume of something got eight times as big when doubling its dimensions. That was the level of scientific knowledge before the conquest of Toledo. So far christian concepts giving rise to science.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          the progress of science came to a halt with the rise of the Roman Empire.

          You mean the rise of Christianity? The Romans did much engineering, which I would imagine required science and math behind it.

        • Bruno

          Davies is not a Christian. I cited him because he has no bias towards Christianity.

          Perhaps this New Scientist article might interest you.

          “The scientist pope who lit up the Dark Ages”

          http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/12/the-scientist-pope-who-lit-up-the-dark-ages.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

          Here’s a teaser “..Draper characterised the Middle Ages as an era of faith, a time when everyone thought that the Earth was flat. Draper may have been forgotten, but his narrative lives on. And that is what makes Gerbert of Aurillac so fascinating. At a time supposedly devoid of science, here is a medieval pope who was highly proficient in mathematics and astronomy.”

          It’s interesting how history just doesn’t co-operate with popular myths about the so-called dark ages.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You happen to live in the region of the world that’s on top at the moment. 1000 years ago, that would’ve been China, with the Muslim world perhaps being in second place. 1000 years from now, it’s a safe bet that your argument will look even flabbier, with Christianity morphed into who knows what or (more likely) gone. Any argument that depends on an accident of time isn’t much of an argument.

          It’s interesting how history just doesn’t co-operate with popular myths about the so-called dark ages.

          The rapid evolution of cathedral building in the 1200s is my favorite example of technology during the middle ages. Yeah, I’m somewhat familiar with this point.

          Zoom out a little to take in somewhere besides just Christian Europe, and you’ll get a different view of Christianity’s inevitable patronage of all of science.

        • MNb

          “it never went anywhere.”
          Eh? Someone needs a course in History of Antiquity, History of China and History of Maya’s, Aztecs and Inca’s.
          Where Maya science went? The most accurate calendar ever developed.
          In 1500 CE the Chinese had ships ten times as large as the biggest European ships. Obviously their science didn’t go anywhere.
          Archimedes will be known long after Bruno and MNb have been forgotten. The man was a genius in physics (and no slouch in math either) only comparable with Newton and Einstein.

          “I would say …”
          Yeah, too many christians would. It’s still bullocks. For one thing you won’t find any induction in the Bible.

        • Bruno

          These are achievements but what happened after that? Where did it go from there?

        • Jason

          Where do you want it to go? There are plenty of examples of theory and technology from the pre-Christian ancient world.

        • Bruno

          Yes there are plenty of examples which shows that the ancients had the capacity and the potential to develop modern science. But that only makes the question more pointed.

          Why didn’t any of these sparks catch fire? Why did science as a sustained ongoing endeavour was stillborn in all ancient cultures except medieval Christian Europe?

          Here’s a quick sketch of reasons why science in ancient cultures was stillborn.

          Polytheism – if each god has its own agenda in governing the world then you wouldn’t expect regularities in nature that can be studied.
          Cyclical view of time – if you’re stuck in a cosmic Ground Hogs day then what’s the point.
          Matter is evil or an illusion – experimenting on matter is not going going to be on your todo list.

          Christianity corrected all these.
          One God – who created an ordered universe that exhibits lawlike regularities that can and ought to be studied.
          Linear view of time. Time has a direction and life has purpose, therefore scientific progress is worthwhile.
          Matter was created good and is separate to God therefore it can be experimented with and studied.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Why didn’t any of these sparks catch fire? Why did science as a sustained ongoing endeavour was stillborn in all ancient cultures except medieval Christian Europe?

          It wasn’t. Have you not seen the examples of science in other cultures mentioned?

          If you’re saying, “Why does science now trace its genesis back to Christian Europe?” then that’s simply an anomaly of history. Look back 1000 years, and you’ll see science in China and Arabia but not Europe. Look back 2000 years, and you’ll see it in Greece and Rome. Look ahead 1000 years, after America has been turned into a theocratic wasteland, and who knows where it’ll be.

          Your argument is simply taking the status quo and rationalizing why Christianity is its genesis. This conceit that religion of any sort is the origin of science everywhere makes no sense.

          Christianity corrected all these.

          Show me one scientific discovery that the Bible pointed us to first.

          One God – who created an ordered universe that exhibits lawlike regularities that can and ought to be studied.

          That OT guy is a capricious dude. If he were in charge, who knows what the laws of science would be like.

          The Jews had a linear view of time. So what? As has been mentioned, science flourished in lots of other places.

        • Bruno

          How do you respond to:

          “Yes there are plenty of examples which shows that the ancients had the capacity and the potential to develop modern science. But that only makes the question more pointed.”

          with

          “Have you not seen the examples of science in other cultures mentioned?”

          It looks like you are avoiding the issue.

        • MNb

          No, you are. How come christianity failed to make any scientific progress for more than 10 centuries, both in christian western Europe and christian Byzantium?
          First of all science wasn’t stillborn in other cultures. It gave many amazing results christianity took a looooong time to catch up with. Second it’s easy to explain why scientific progress stagnated in these cultures. No matter how often you repeat your silly points, none of them have anything to do with “lack of christianity”.
          China had an authoritarian political system; the political elite saw scientific progress as a threat.
          The Roman Empire was so dominating and had so much interest in slave labor, plus its scientists suffered so much from the authority of Aristoteles (which christianity typically took over) that there simply was no incentive in doing groundbreaking science. Plus the decline of the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century coincided with the rise of christianity, which typically did not have any interest in science. Of the christian churchfathers only Augustine of Hippo wrote a bit about it, but even he (alas as he was brilliant) spend way more time on theology.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Christianity is such a fertile Petri dish that it’s inconceivable to Bruno and me that science didn’t thrive. Maybe we just missed it somehow …

        • MNb

          I definitely do have a bad influence on you.
          +1.
          You’re developing your sarcastic skills quickly.

        • Bruno

          “First of all science wasn’t stillborn in other cultures. It gave many amazing results christianity took a looooong time to catch up with. Second it’s easy to explain why scientific progress stagnated in these cultures. ”

          I think you are a little confused, you’re contradicting yourself. This is precisely what stillborn means – after a promising start science stagnated.

          Thank you for providing additional reasons and evidence as to why in ancient cultures scientific endeavours stagnated.

        • MNb

          “I think you are a little confused”
          I think I’m not a native English speaker. I thought, from context, that “stillborn” meant “not going anywhere”, which is simply silly.

          “after a promising start”
          This is meaningless in this context. During Antiquity science started in the 6th Century and stagnated in the 2nd Century. A start lasting almost 400 years? Yeah.
          Still not answering my question, as the good dogmatic christian you are.

          How come christianity failed to make any scientific progress for more than 10 centuries, both in christian western Europe and christian Byzantium?

        • Bruno

          My apologies I I didn’t realise that English wasn’t your native language.

          “How come christianity failed to make any scientific progress for more than 10 centuries, both in christian western Europe and christian Byzantium?”

          Here are few thoughts.
          1.Recovering from the collapse of the Roman Empire
          2. Military expansion of medieval Islam
          3. Sorting through the muddle of ideas inherited from pagan Europe and developing the philosophical framework that would eventually lead to the development of modern science.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m confused. I thought your point was that Christianity was the special sauce that would succeed where those other blundering civilizations (Egypt, India, China, and so on) had failed.

          Surely those civilizations had their own problems. I’m not sure sure your thesis holds if the issues you list are enough to snuff out the flame of scientific progress within Christian Europe.

        • Bruno

          I’m saying that although it was a long wick it was Christianity that provided the philosophical framework that would eventually lead to the development of modern science as self-sustaining enterprise.

        • MNb

          You can repeat this as much as you like, but that still doesn’t explain why it took christianity such a long time. In addition to BobS’ valid point I’d like to mention that in the 16th Century (when Copernicus and Brahe lived) Islam still was a threat (in the form of the Osman Turks) and Europe just was flooded by Ancient Greek texts, which were pagan by definition.
          Plus you still have to make the connection; see my question above.
          You are incoherent. Not that I’m surprised; “proving” your statement demands a lot of selective arguing. But you seem to be a master when it comes to neglecting relevant facts.

        • Kodie

          I don’t understand your claim. From what I can gather from the conversation, you believe a desire to know all about a fictional god’s universe led humanity to an establishment of modern science, but how does that answer the original question? Are you arriving at an illogical conclusion based on your sense of historical sequence?

          Nobody would be surprised if a Christian continent bred the most curious and prolific scientists of an era. A lot of people are Christian, but that has nothing to do with science.

        • MNb

          Nah, I’m familiar with this christian bogus. He claims that modern science only was possible because of the work done before by christian philosophers. He is just an empty vessel making a lot of noise as he can’t connect christian philosophy (actually mainly theology, but whatever) with the work done by Copernicus and Brahe and can’t explain why it took so long as christianity has dominated southern Europe since at least the early 4th Century and western Europe since at least the 7th Century.
          The exception is islamic Spain. Well, the Caliphate of Cordoba maintained a higher level of scientific knowledge than western Europe until its collapse. Another typical christian lie is that the first European university was build in Bologna; the first one was in islamic Toledo, which with Constantinople and Baghdad (until its destruction by the Mongols under leadership of a …. christian) had an excellent library.
          I’m slightly amazed Bruno hasn’t brought up Jean Buridan’s impetus yet. They usually do.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know about all that, I was just trying to cut to the chase here. It seems he started off by claiming some connection between Christian people accomplishing whatever and Christianity having something more to it than fantasy. It seems to me this thread (interesting and informative as it is) is far afield of the topic and whatever Bruno had in mind to argue. It is not for me to have a conversation about the sequences of history and whether this or that happened when or whether we’re ignoring accomplishments elsewhere in the world, or exaggerating or inventing a world where Christians always thought of everything first. Doesn’t matter to me even if everything Bruno said was correct.

          If I set out on a journey to discover the truth about Emerald City, does anything I learn along the way mean Emerald City is real? If the more I learn about Emerald City, the more I have to admit it doesn’t seem to exist, does my original intention or philosophy make a difference to anything? Believing in something (which I think everyone does in life*) can be a good motivation to act, but what you actually end up with can contradict your original intention and can be even better. Is how you got there significant?

          *I mean a lot of people set goals and have dreams in life that motivate them to pursue. A lot of people don’t end up where they planned. For example, getting an education to get a job so you can make a lot of money so you can attract a really amazing spouse so you can finally be happy – a lot of people do stuff like that and end up with something else and aren’t bitter about missing their goals. Their belief in their goal doesn’t get all the credit for one’s happiness if one agrees that other things also make them happy and they don’t need to pursue visions anymore. A lot of people pursue exactly that formula and when they get there, they aren’t happy, but they have to act like they are or buy lots of stuff to convince themselves they are. Personal beliefs of this example, “what will make me feel complete” and setting it up this way to go after it can have a variety of outcomes. If you’re a Christian who wants to understand how god’s universe works, you might go for science, but the further you go with it, you discover a universe not led by any gods. I mean, you should if you’re honest and don’t fall for traps of dishonest people.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Bruno seems impervious to evidence that rebuts his thesis. He’ll happily acknowledge it, shake it off, and then go back to his claim.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          In an earlier comment, you dismissed the remarkable scientific, mathematical, and engineering achievements of other cultures by calling them “sparks.” Presumably you mean that they were impressive (as far as they went) but that they weren’t sustained.

          But how is Christianity different? The only difference that I see is that it’s the one that happens to be in process right now. Go back to some other flowering (say, the Islamic Golden Age a thousand years ago) and you’d be saying the same thing about that civilization.

          Your point apparently is that the one that emerged from a predominantly Christian culture happens to be in process right now. Yes, that’s true. Doesn’t seem like much of a feather for Christianity’s cap.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Have you read Guns, Germs, and Steel? That gives another interesting perspective on why the Europeans came out on top. Nothing was mentioned about Yahweh jumpstarting science, though.

        • Bruno

          No, I’ll add it to my reading list, thanks.

        • Jason

          Bruno, I don’t mean this to sounds snide, but you might try explaining you ideas without all the colorful language like “spark”, “wick”, “stillborn”, and not to mention the movie analogy. I think you’ve been in part convinced by the richness of your own language. Most of what I see you saying here consists of defending and elaborating on your imagery rather than your points and the evidence.

        • MNb

          Don’t worry, I take it as a compliment if people don’t realise that English is not my native language.

          1. That took 1000 years? Not to mention that the Roman Empire did not collapse until 1453 – the Byzantines (all christians!) called themselves Romans.
          2. Oh? I wasn’t aware that medieval Islam ever had occupied or even threatened cities like Rome, Milan, Paris, Cologne, Utrecht and London.
          3. Eh? The Franks became christian before they had established France. Clovis I converted around 500 CE. The Gallo-Romans (who were far from exterminated then and whom Clovis needed to run his kingdom) already had been christians for a long time. Italy always was and has been christian since the coup d’etat by Odoaker (who was a christian). Sure England was conquered by pagans, but they were converted in the 7th Century.
          You seem to say that educated proselytizers like Saint Boniface (born in England, active in The Netherlands and Germany) and other christian scholars were not capable to do science because they suffered from pagan influences. That’s … weird.

          Moreover you don’t address Byzantium, the successor state which flourished for many decades. Sure Constantinople was threatened by muslims; I would think that an excellent stimulus to accelerate scientific progress. Indeed the Byzantines developed Greek fire, but that’s not very much for 10 centuries, is it? With all those christian scholars, who had done away with all non-christian influences long before? Who had access to an excellent library full of Ancient Greek texts and did zilch with it? Who could have formulated heliocentrism long before Copernicus because they had access to that information?
          Am I to believe that these Byzantine scholars were too concerned with paganry (which had disappeared long before) and islam (which threat the Byzantines managed to contain for centuries) to study some actual physics, available right under their christian noses?

          “developing the philosophical framework”
          Ah – that’s what took christians at least 10 centuries. Remarkable that both the Ancient Greeks and the Chinese were a lot faster.
          Concerning that philosophical framework: how exactly did christianity develop inductive reasoning? You see, it’s always Copernicus who gets the credit, but the real revolution was pulled off by Tycho Brahe in the 16th Century, who painstakingly made observations to decide between Copernicus’ model, Ptolemaeus’ model and his own compromise. Which christian scholars, based on which Biblical verses, inspired Tycho Brahe to take up this work, from which Johannes Kepler benefited so much?
          If you can’t answer that I’ll have to conclude that your sucking things out of your big fat thumb.

        • Bruno

          I don’t know about Byzantium, I’ll look into it.

          As for Tycho Brahe and Copernicus while an interesting question does it really matter in the context our present discussion?

          “Which christian scholars, based on which Biblical verses, inspired Tycho Brahe to take up this work, from which Johannes Kepler benefited so much?”

          It looks like you think Biblical fundamentalism is the only stance Christians can take towards science.

          The Bible is not a science text book. It provides the worldview from which a philosophical framework can be developed in which in turn provides a rational foundation for science rather then a merely pragmatic impetus.

          If we take a modern day example as an illustration we can see that the philosophical framework structures the approach Christians take to evolution. Broadly speaking the philosophical pre-commitments of a young-earth creationists like Ken Ham mean that the Bible triumphs science. Old earth creationists like Hugh Ross aim to integrate the Bible and science, while theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins work with the framework that the Bible and science provide different perspectives on reality.

          And this is only a single issue. So it makes sense to me that it took time to develop a philosophical framework that would provide a rational foundation for science. There was millennia of pre-Christian thought that had to be thought through, some of it to be integrated and some of it to be rejected and new directions needed to be taken.

          So your other examples of various peoples Frank, Gallo Romans etc are not really relevant unless you want to say something about the progression of their philosophical thinking. I think we can both agree that merely being Christian did not produce science, .

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The
          Bible is not a science text book. It provides the worldview from which a
          philosophical framework can be developed in which in turn provides a rational
          foundation for science rather then a merely pragmatic impetus.

          Just to recap: you’re saying that Christianity and only Christianity would allow the development of a philosophical foundation that allows a sustaining environment for science, math, and engineering?

          The very slow start that Christianity apparently gave in Europe plus the remarkable developments in other parts of the world don’t argue that your thesis is flawed?

        • MNb

          “does it really matter”
          Of course it matters. They started the Scientific Revolution in the 16th Century, so according to you their work only was possible because of the preparations done by christian philosophers, based on their christian belief.

          “It looks like …”
          You’re silly. And you’re silly because you can’t answer my question, which means you can’t show any connection between medieval christian philosophers and the two guys who started the Scientific Revolution, namely Copernicus and Brahe. That means again you’re selling baked air.

          “It provides the worldview from which a philosophical framework can be developed in which in turn provides a rational foundation for science”
          Then show, in the work of Copernicus and Brahe and in the Bible, with concrete quotations, how that book “provided the worldview from which a philosophical framework” – describe that framework in concrete terms – “can be developed in which in turn provides a rational foundation for science” – and show how we find back that rational foundation in the work of Copernicus and Brahe. If you refuse to get concrete (which is likely) I’ll conclude you are only capable of producing meaningless abstractions, ie baked air.
          I already described that rational foundation for you: Copernicus’ mathematical model (ie deduction) and Brahe’s observations (ie induction). My challenge, which you typically duck, is to show how they connect via that philosophical framework (which you until now have failed to describe) to the Bible (of which you failed to give relevant quotations).

          “the philosophical framework structures the approach Christians take to evolution”
          A posteriori. To prove your statement you have to show how christian medieval philosophers did it a priori. Your examples are thus irrelevant. What Collins and co do, very respectable btw, is adapting their interpretation of the Bible, their entire belief system, to the newest scientific developments. Ie science determines christian philosophy, not the other way round like you wish to show (but fail).

          “So it makes sense ”
          A non-sequitur based on wishful thinking doesn’t make sense.

          “are not really relevant ”
          That’s because your made up explanations why christianity was not capable of pulling off the Scientific Revolution many centuries before are not relevant. Given your statement that question remains relevant. The correct explanation is that christianity did not provide such a philosophical framework; rather that the philosophical paradigm with which medieval christian philosophers worked changed due to three influences. I have mentioned them already: the Fall of Toledo, 1085, the Black Plague, 1348 and the Fall of Constantinople, 1453. None of them was the product of any christian philosophical framework. These three events induced the change of the contemporary christian philosophical framework (resp. the rise of scholasticism, the decline of the authority of the RCC and the availability of Ancient texts) and that induced the Scientific Revolution.
          Ie discontinuity instead of the continuity you propagate.

        • Bruno

          My challenge, which you typically duck, is to show how they connect via that philosophical framework (which you until now have failed to describe) to the Bible (of which you failed to give relevant quotations).

          I only know the basics about Brahe and Copernicus, but they did not personally or directly need to link the philosophical framework to their scientific work.

          That is not how a philosophical framework operates in most peoples lives. For most people (including scientists) philosophical presuppositions operate reflexively. The framework is generally acquired through their education and absorbed from the general cultural milieu.

          I have already noted some elements of that framework in previous posts but in case you missed it, I’ve reiterated those points with some additional ones here.

          The philosophical framework that underpins science includes the following. These factors remain necessary for science to continue today. The only difference today is that they are no longer grounded but merely assumed.

          – the existence of an objectively real world
          – the comprehensibility of that world
          – the reliability of sense perception and human rationality
          – the orderliness and uniformity of nature
          – contingent reality necessitating experimentation and the insufficiency of a priori reason
          – the validity of mathematics and logic
          – linear view of time and the possibility of progress

          These are grounded theologically in:
          – God as rational creator and lawgiver
          – Creation of humanity in the image of God
          – Transcendence of God and contingency of creation
          – Creation ex-nihilo and Incarnation (unique events imply linear time and allow for progress)

          These are major Biblical doctrines that are developed by the systematic study and integration of the Biblical texts -not the simplistic proof-texting which you keep asking for.

          the Fall of Toledo, 1085, the Black Plague, 1348 and the Fall of Constantinople, 1453. None of them was the product of any christian philosophical framework. These three events induced the change of the contemporary christian philosophical framework (resp. the rise of scholasticism, the decline of the authority of the RCC and the availability of Ancient texts) and that induced the Scientific Revolution.

          I don’t doubt these factors were circumstantially important in inducing change but these factors don’t specify the philosophical content of that framework.

        • Pofarmer

          If your thesis is true, that Christianity is responsible for the philosophies required for science, then shouldn’t we see widespread scientific achievements rather than major achievements credited to a very few? I think you could argue as successfully that scientific achievement was caused by individuals who resisted the ongoing religious philosophies. Andrew Dickson White, while I realize somewhat controversial, documents and records many instances where Christianity specifically was either ignorant of science or actively opposed it. And, if your thesis is so self evidently true, why, as Mnb has pointed out, why didn’t the majority of real scientific innovation and achievement take place until after the Protestant reformation was underway? It seems to me that it is more self evident that this is indicative of the success of the rejection of the christian philosophy for scientific success.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Bruno seems to vacillate between (1) marveling at Christianity as the only and only True Petri Dish® that allowed science to thrive, and (2) having to fend off uncomfortable facts that show that science most definitely didn’t surge forward during most of the time that Christianity was in charge.

        • Pofarmer

          I would like to find a credible refutation of Andrew White Dickson’s work. I think it’s important to remember that Dickson wrote his articles, that were later collected into a book, as a REACTION to attacks on him, not as any kind of preemptive strike. The same kind of conversation came around on Connor Woods “Science and Religion” here on Patheos, and I asked for any sources against Dickson and the Conflict theory that didn’t read like apologetcs, and I got Crickets. When I investigated, I found quite a few titles by critics of the Conflict theory like this “For the Glory of God : The Role of Christianity in the Rise and Development of Modern Science.” That doesn’t strike my as unbiased scholarship. It seems like what we have here, is more of an attempt at image rehabilitation than any kind of objective history.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve seen this claim that Christianity is the cradle from which science sprung many times. Seems to me to be only a happy coincidence for the Christian without any backup.

          Is Dickson the origin of this idea? I’ve never heard of him.

        • Pofarmer

          Andrew White Dickson was the cofounder of Cornell University. He wrote a book titled

          “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom”
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_the_Warfare_of_Science_with_Theology_in_Christendom

          There are free copies of it available on line. I like one of the Critiques I read, “Dickson uses copious footnotes and quotations which SEEMS to make is work authoritative.” Lol. He and another chap were apparently two of the main proponents of the Conflict theory between science and religion.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_the_Warfare_of_Science_with_Theology_in_Christendom

          I’ve read most of Dickson’s book, but, like too many things, he pretty well had me convinced 2/3 of the way through and I moved on.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So we have no ultimate grounding for logic and math. You propose “God did it!” but how does that help? What puzzle does that resolve?

          The only difference today is that they are no longer grounded but merely assumed.

          The axioms are never assumed. They’re continually tested.

        • Pofarmer

          I think rather than christianity providing a framework, the freedom from christianity allowed the developement of the philosophies which would be necessary for science to develop. There are just too many incidences where christianity actively opposed scientific findings to say that it was central to the developement of science. I think it’s more likely to credit christianities dogmatic resitance of science with scientists developing methods which allowed them to make discoveries while keeping them alive.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I think the history of science and Christianity is more the story of science thriving in spite of this 800-pound gorilla.

          It is notable that the Vatican has an observatory and an official astronomer, but that was simply to make sure that the religious holidays were on the correct dates.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So where’s the issue? We agree that many cultures had lots of science and technology. Today’s science can point back to a culture that was predominantly Christian. So what? Interesting connection, but you’ve shown no cause and effect, just a list of how Christianity is different.

          But I already mentioned most of that. Perhaps it’s you who’s avoiding the issue.

        • MNb

          Still doesn’t explain why christianity failed to make any scientific progress for more than 10 centuries.

        • jason

          “Why didn’t any of these sparks catch fire?”

          Catch what on fire? Among other things, ancient peoples around the world built the pyramids, the Parthenon, navy war ships, calculated eclipses and other astronomical phenomena, the earth’s circumference, etc. In my view all this was put on hold for a while once Christianity took hold, so it took us a while to get to the industrial revolution and enlightenment after that. If you were right, we would have landed on the moon by the protestant reformation.

          “Polytheism – if each god has its own agenda in governing the world then
          you wouldn’t expect regularities in nature that can be studied.”

          This is a superficial understanding of the ancient world. From our earliest evidence in ancient Greece, there were philosophers/scientists (e.g. Xenophanes, Plato) who questioned traditional polytheistic understanding of the universe. You should also read Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.

          “Cyclical view of time – if you’re stuck in a cosmic Ground Hogs day then what’s the point.
          Matter is evil or an illusion – experimenting on matter is not going going to be on your todo list.”

          Not sure what you’re getting at here. Sounds like you are trying to paint the whole ancient world with a single brush. You can’t reduce multiple civilizations in multiple times to homogenous perspectives like this. These perspectives also have very little to do with what we are talking about. By the way, do you mind telling me your evidence for pre-Christian people having a “cyclical view of time.” ?? Then if possible, please explain how this view led to a lack of scientific advancement. If you are convinced by what you are saying, you should at least be able to provide empirical evidence and a coherent explanation for this.

          “Christianity corrected all these.”

          Still waiting on the evidence.

          “Matter was created good and is separate to God therefore it can be experimented with and studied.”

          Sounds like you are talking about a theological view of science rather than the methods and development of science itself.

          I encourage you to explore more about the ancient world outside of wherever you encountered these ideas. Whoever came up with all this has a way oversimplified and distorted view of what we know about the ancient world and its achievements.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sounds like you are talking about a theological view of science rather than the methods and development of science itself

          I think Bruno is determined to shoehorn his preconception that Christianity nurtured science by giving significance to whatever differences he can find between Christian/Jewish views and those of the surrounding cultures.

        • MNb

          You mean this?

          1. Select a conclusion which you already believe is true.
          2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
          3. Ignore all other evidence.
          4. That’s it.

          (From the Sensuous Curmudgeon)

        • MNb

          “In my view all this was put on hold for a while once Christianity took hold”
          In my view all this was put on hold before christianity took hold. That status quo didn’t change when christianity took over (in say early 4th Century, with the conversion of Constantine the not so Great).

        • Jason

          “That status quo didn’t change when christianity took over”

          I’m not suggesting the world changed the minute Constantine took over. Christianity was probably still a minority at that time in the Roman empire. It wasn’t until the 6th cent CE that the emperor Justinian closed the Academy in Athens,
          the traditional hub of pagan learning (even Cicero studied there).

          The biggest issue, I think, is that Greco-Roman religion existed somewhat separately from intellectual life, or at least much more so than was possible in later Christian cultures. Proper ritual and sacrifice was extremely important for Greeks and Romans, but there was no equivalent of the Vatican, for example, that actually determined orthodox belief. And it’s religious doctrine (not ritual) that gets in the way of intellectual advancement. So there was no centralized control over ideas and research as there often was in medieval Europe.

          If my point is not clear, then just consider Galileo. It’s inconceivable that he would have been executed in ancient Greece or the Roman empire. For some reason the Catholic church had an official position on the organization of the solar system (Talk about confusing science and religion). Greco-Roman mythological texts may speculate on cosmology, but there was no ‘official’ truth for Greeks and Romans.

        • MNb

          My point is that during Antiquity science stagnated well before christianity took over. Hence christianity can’t be the cause of that stagnation. You haven’t addressed that point.
          Btw Galilei never was executed and certainly not by the RCC. Try Giordano Bruno. Or Socrates. If you get your historical facts wrong you won’t make much sense.

        • Jason

          “My point is that during Antiquity science stagnated well before christianity took over.”

          Please give two or three examples of this point.

          “Btw Galilei never was executed and certainly not by the RCC. Try
          Giordano Bruno. Or Socrates. If you get your historical facts wrong you
          won’t make much sense.”

          I double checked and you’re right, Galileo was not executed but he was held under house arrest and persecuted for the reasons I stated. I think the point still stands. Socrates is an interesting case. Yes, according to Plato, his official charges were corrupting the youth and believing in the wrong gods and/or being an atheist. The charges were interesting precisely because this was not the sort of thing that normally happened in Athens. Athens was basically defeated by the Spartans at this point after a 30 year war, and in the last 5 years had been ruled by ruthless tyrants. Socrates was friends with some of those tyrants. His adversaries wanted to punish him but because of a law that gave protection to friends of the tyrants, they had to charge him with “impiety”, which was not a standard charge and probably would not have flown 10 years earlier. Good example, but it is really not the same thing as Galileo. Socrates lived his whole life philosophizing downtown in Athens. It wasn’t until the later political situation that he was persecuted.

        • MNb

          “Please give two or three examples of this point.”
          You ask examples of something that didn’t happen, namely progress?! Are you a creationist or what? It’s the other way round. Give me an example of any new scientific development after Archimedes and of any new mathematical development after Euclides. You can’t, because there isn’t any.

          “I think the point still stands”
          Which point? That the RCC persecuted naughty scientists? Then you have to explain why the RCC burned Giordano Bruno and not Galilei.
          That “it’s religious doctrine (not ritual) that gets in the way of intellectual advancement.”?
          Then you have to explain why
          a) the RCC left Galilei alone for the rest of his life and didn’t take any action when he violated in 1638 the order not to publish anything anymore.
          b) why the direct superior of Copernicus, the very catholic Bishop Tiedemann Giese, stimulated him to publish De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.

          You’re cherry picking. When an atheist does so it’s not any better than a creationist doing so.

          Your dwellings on Socrates are irrelevant for the point you made yourself:

          “It’s inconceivable that he would have been executed in ancient Greece”
          Socrates proves the opposite. Remember the scientific principle? One counterexample is enough to falsify a hypothesis. Bringing up apologetics like you do is pseudoscience a la creationism.
          End of the story is that I’m correct – christianity can’t be the cause of scientific stagnation during Antiquity. The historical data show this; that’s where the evidence leads us. I recommend you to not only apply scientific scepticism towards christians.

        • Bruno

          “Catch what on fire? Among other things, ancient peoples around the world built the pyramids, the Parthenon, navy war ships, calculated eclipses and other astronomical phenomena, the earth’s circumference, etc.”

          Yes that’s part of my point there were lots of sparks.

          “This is a superficial understanding of the ancient world. From our earliest evidence in ancient Greece, there were philosophers/scientists (e.g. Xenophanes, Plato) who questioned traditional polytheistic understanding of the universe.”

          Of course there were philosophers who questioned the prevailing view but why were they not able to change the traditional polytheistic understanding? What we have here is another another spark and another stillbirth. It took Christianity to put an end to polytheism.

          “By the way, do you mind telling me your evidence for pre-Christian people having a “cyclical view of time.” ?? Then if possible, please explain how this view led to a lack of scientific advancement. If you are convinced by what you are saying, you should at least be able to provide empirical evidence and a coherent explanation for this.”

          Most ancient cultures had a cyclical view of time. If you are interested in the details I would suggest the following book

          Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe Stanley L Jaki http://amzn.to/1dplGNU

          I’ve already explained how it led to a lack of scientific advancement. Have you seen the movie Ground Hog’s day? The character played by Bill Murray was forced to repeat living the same day in his life over and over again. All achievement was futile. He lost all hope. In the movie at least he had a lesson to learn and was eventually free to move on with his life. Most ancient cultures didn’t have that loophole.

          “”Matter was created good and is separate to God therefore it can be experimented with and studied.”

          Sounds like you are talking about a theological view of science rather than the methods and development of science itself.”

          I am talking about the philosophical framework and worldview that underpins science. Without this framework science always ground to a halt even though there were many promising starts.

        • Jason

          Bruno, I hoped we could discuss this in terms of specific details and evidence, but it doesn’t seem to be going that way. If you’d like to engage a particular example and follow it through with a close examination of evidence, we can do that. I’m not interested in just repeating vague opinions. Otherwise, here are my concluding thoughts:

          “Yes that’s part of my point there were lots of sparks.”

          It seems you have already decided what constitutes a “real” scientific advancement and what does not. I can’t wrap my mind around why you keep rejecting all the examples I give.

          “Of course there were philosophers who questioned the prevailing view but
          why were they not able to change the traditional polytheistic
          understanding? What we have here is another another spark and another
          stillbirth.”

          So you are interested in majority views? Regardless, that misses the point. The masses aren’t the ones doing science/philosophy. That was true in the ancient world and it’s pretty much still true today. Actually fundamentalist Christians are a good example of this. Despite all our scientific knowledge, they persist in superstition. My point is that you are oversimplifying ancient views.

          “Most ancient cultures had a cyclical view of time. If you are interested in the details I would suggest the following book”

          No, I don’t need any reading suggestions. I’ve read plenty of books and understand the evidence well. I’m just trying to get you to explain your ideas with reference to specific information so we can discuss it. Hesiod’s Theogony is the main traditional mythological explanaton for what Greeks thought about the origin of the universe, and it doesn’t mention cyclical time. Others like Stoic philosophers, however, did believe in cyclical time. The ancient world is complicated and you don’t seem to realize that.

          “I’ve already explained how it led to a lack of scientific advancement. Have you seen the movie Ground Hog’s day?”

          Great movie? But can you see that analogies simply illustrate points; they don’t prove them. I can give you a million excellent analogies for false ideas. They just make my false ideas vivid, not true. Your point is clear to me; your evidence is not.

          “I am talking about the philosophical framework and worldview that underpins science.”

          Empirical research does not require a world view. It just requires the scientific method. In my opinion, world views should be based on reliable information (scientific, etc). For many Christians, faith based world views comes first, then the reliable evidence.

        • Bruno

          “So you are interested in majority views? Regardless, that misses the point. The masses aren’t the ones doing science/philosophy.”

          No I’m arguing for what caused science to be a self-sustaining enterprise not sporadic insights that didn’t take hold.

          “Hesiod’s Theogony is the main traditional mythological explanaton for what Greeks thought about the origin of the universe, and it doesn’t mention cyclical time. Others like Stoic philosophers, however, did believe in cyclical time.

          It looks like your reading is incomplete, Plutarch seems to disagree your assessment:

          “Anaximandros, the companion of Thales, says that the infinite is the sole cause of all generation and destruction, and from it the heavens were separated, and similarly all the worlds, which are infinite in number. And he declared that destruction and, far earlier, generation have taken place since an indefinite time, since all things are involved in a cycle.”
          Plutarch. Doxography (Strom. 2 ; Dox. 579). 2nd century BC. from http://www.egs.edu/library/anaximander/quotes/

          If you are interested in more examples then I would recommend again the book by Jaki who outlines numerous examples.

          “Your point is clear to me; your evidence is not.”

          I’m glad it’s clear, but I’m not going t be able to provide the evidence in a few paragraphs. As you correctly say “The ancient world is complicated…” I’ve pointed you in the direction of the evidence. It’s up to you to do the hard work.

          “Empirical research does not require a world view.”

          it does if you want to rationally justify it. Otherwise all you have is that Science works for some unknown reason.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          it does if you want to rationally justify it.

          Much overrated, it seems to me. How does “justification” help a mathematician or scientist? “Justification” never enters into proofs or experiments.

          I’ve written more here.

        • Bruno

          My mistake I should have written rational explanation not justification.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Assuming I still know what we’re talking about, the fundamental axioms at the bottom (1 + 1 = 2, perhaps?) aren’t just taken on faith. We test them continually. And they keep working. That’s how we know that we can trust them.

          If you think that a universe in which 1 + 1 = 2 is remarkable and has that property only because God makes it so, then show that a godless universe would not have this property.

        • Bruno

          That’s pragmatism science works because it works. Why does it work? Why does mathematics apply so well? Some have referred to the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Why does it work? Why does mathematics
          apply so well?

          Who cares? Does it matter? Is this anything more than mental masturbation (or, more likely, a smokescreen where the Christian tries to force his attacker to pause and wrestle with an inconsequential puzzle)?

          Would you expect mathematics to not work?
          Show me that this is the situation in a godless universe.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes that’s part of my point there were lots of sparks.

          From the standpoint 1000 years in the future, Christian Europe may appear to be one more of your “sparks.”

          It took Christianity to put an end to polytheism.

          Uh … polytheism still exists. Indeed, Hindus gave us our numerals.

          Have you seen the movie Ground Hog’s day? The character played by Bill Murray was forced to repeat living the same day in his life over and over again. All achievement was futile.

          So you’re a Buddhist in the middle of one of hundreds of 5000-year cycles. Where is the futility again? I don’t see it.

          I am talking about the philosophical framework and worldview that underpins science. Without this framework science always ground to a halt even though there were many promising starts.

          Prove your cause-and-effect claim. China, Egypt, and Rome lost their edge in science. Show that it was a lack of Christianity and not just bad luck (collapse of empire, for example) that caused this.

        • Pofarmer

          Other titles from Laki

          The Savior of Science
          The Road of Science and the Ways to God

          The Road of Science and the Ways to God

          The Road of Science and the Ways to God
          The Road of Science and the Ways to God
          Praying the Psalms: A Commentary
          Why isn’t this just common Apologetics?

        • Pofarmer

          You gotta be kidding me, the early chriatians LOST tons of scientific information that then languished unused for hundreds or over a thousand years. Wat a load of uneducated bullcrap.

        • MNb

          A bit late as I only read this today (Disqus is to blame), but this is not really fair. The guys in Byzantine did a very good job preserving Ancient knowledge, which was quite helpful when Byzantine scholars moved to Europe in mid-15th Century (I’d really like to see evidence that Copernicus knew about Aristarchos of Samos). As far as western Europe goes the destroying was done by Barbarians who were definitely no christians.
          It’s what BobS writes above. Scientific progress had stagnated even before Jesus showed up, mainly because the Romans had no need for it. But there is evidence that even the 5th Century Romans still knew and understood Archimedes.

        • Pofarmer

          Richard Carrier has talked some about the scientific knowledge that was lost with the Roman Empire. Things like figuring the compression rate of springs, for instance. Or things like Concrete. The largest free standing Concrete structure in the world may be an ancient Roman Dome. So, they may have not been doing pure science, but they were certainly staying up on Engineering. And, how in the World do you “lose” the knowledge of Concrete for over 1000 years? The Byzantines may have preserved it, but they certainly didn’t know enough about any of it to use it.

        • MNb

          “The Byzantines may have preserved it, but they certainly didn’t know enough about any of it to use it.”
          That’s largely my point. I do not intend to give christianity any more credit than it deserves. My take is that both Byzantine and European christians for several reasons were not capable of starting the Scientific Revolution. That it happened in Europe needed external stimulation. We can point at two specific data: 1085, the conquest of Toledo with an intact library (thanks, muslims) and 1453, the fall of Constantinople (in between there were also contacts). Also relevant here is the Black Plague of 1347, which completely undermined both feodalism and the authority of the RCC.
          It’s interesting to compare with China around the same time. Its technology was enormously superior to European technology. Still Copernicus was European. If the decisive factor had been christianity his heliocentrism had been developed long before; enough christian scholars in the 10, 12 centuries before. The decisive factor must have been the authoritarian character of Chinese society, which just had disappeared in Europe.

        • TheNuszAbides

          what (if anything) would you credit the Mongol expansion with? i get the impression of a tendency (by fans) to handwave rather than posit counterfactuals. (and never hear anything from non-fans)

        • William J E Dempsey

          Bruno: Yours is a well-known position. But lots of problems with it. One is that civilization, math, technology, trial-and-error empiricism, were already well underway in the time of Greece and Rome from, c. 350 BCE.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I read an article that made a convincing case for the Romans being on the verge of the Industrial Revolution 1700 years before it started in England. Hero of Alexandria invented the aeolipile, a steam-driven novelty, in the first century, but nothing practical came of it.

          Because of the slave culture within the Roman empire, the last thing they wanted was labor-saving machinery. If not for that, perhaps European history would have been radically accelerated rather than crushed in Christianity’s loving embrace.

        • Jason

          Another example: Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth (accurately) in the 3rd cent.

          Bruno, I think you’ve been misinformed about the early history of science. Are you familiar with ancient Alexandria?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          3rd century BCE, right?

        • Jason

          yep

        • Bruno

          See my answer to your other question below.

      • Pofarmer

        presuppositionalism, anyone?

        • Bruno

          In part…

      • Kodie

        He didn’t say that, he says in context, this is a Christian’s ready answer. Apparently, he knows what Christians think like and not because he is guessing or making things up, but because Christians communicate, often, about making the long leap from wishful thinking to a random assumption about reasons of its character. It’s based on literally nothing. A premise that god exists is not enough to start filling in his character notes.

        • Bruno

          I realise that Bob is saying that is what Christians think. I’m acknowledging that he expressed it accurately and clearly. I’m not saying that he believes it himself.

          I’m coming from the position of a Christian not merely a theist which means I see Jesus as the embodiment of God’s character.

  • RichardSRussell

    I must commend the commenters on this post for a level of erudition and articulation several sigmas above the norm for the internet. Politeness is pretty good as well, and that’s often the first victim in such affairs.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      :-)

  • Jack

    Even without accepting a christian viewpoint, It seems that there needs to be an explanation for the intelligence which we (incompletely) apprehend in the universe. This seems to be the basis for assuming a deistic approach. How are you addressing this question? What is the basis for the unified wisdom we perceive in the cosmos?

    On the side of man, what is the faculty which allows us to apprehend the universe accurately as opposed to merely practical thought?

    • MNb

      I don’t perceive wisdom or intelligence in the Universe, let alone a unified one. All I see is a fascinating, but utterly hostile (for humans) environment.

      “what is the faculty which allows us to apprehend the universe accurately as opposed to merely practical thought?”
      What do you mean with “opposed”? I don’t see any “opposition”. Practical thought is exactly what enables us humans to try to understand the Universe.
      Sorry, you don’t make sense to me.

      • jack

        What is physics discovering if not wisdom in the universe? Doesn’t physics advance by showing unity in what appears to be many? (e.g. gravity is the force which causes objects to fall and planets to orbit as opposed to being separate phenomena, electromagnetism unifies many phenomena previously thought to be many).

        I am not trying to use this to sneak in any religious claims, rather I am curious as to why you (and others) reject an idea of God like Einstein’s? Without such an idea how do you explain the unity of knowledge (which isn’t a scientific issue, but rather a philosophical one arising from science)?

        Lets put aside the issue about our knowledge until the first is clarified.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What is physics discovering if not wisdom in the universe?

          I see no wisdom in the universe. I’ve never heard a physicist say this.

          Doesn’t physics advance by showing unity in what appears to be many?

          Huh? Are you saying that physicists theorize that in the early universe some of the fundamental forces were unified? That’s true, but there’s a lot more to physics than that.

          why you (and others) reject an idea of God like Einstein’s?

          If God = Nature, what’s not to like? I don’t think Einstein had any religious feelings.

        • Jack

          As I said, I am not a christian and am not trying to support Christianity, rather I am questioning atheism as opposed to deism, and science as a tool for control vs science as an appreciation of wisdom which we only scratch the surface of (or IOW rational order).

          What would you say physics is seeking?

          Your example is one of unity but I m referring to more basic examples like I mentioned above. Aristotelian physics viewed celestial mechanics as different then terrestrial mechanics, Newton showed their unity. Before Maxwell, electricity and magnetism were viewed as two unrelated phenomena, Maxwell unified them. Before relativity matter and energy were viewed as two different systems, Einstein unified them etc.

          Einstein seems to have been a proponent of a cosmic religious feeling.:
          http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm
          He definitely was opposed to religions of revelation and organized religion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          science as an appreciation of wisdom which we only scratch the surface of (or IOW rational order).

          Wisdom and order are two very different things. Wisdom requires a mind; order doesn’t.

          What would you say physics is seeking?

          Understanding?

          Before relativity matter and energy were viewed as two different systems, Einstein unified them etc.

          I don’t see unification as a universal theme within physics.

          Einstein seems to have been a proponent of a cosmic religious feeling.:

          Didn’t read it. What I have read, however, suggests that Einstein used “God” as a synonym for the universe (or perhaps the order/awe/majesty within the universe).

          But Einstein isn’t here, so I’m not sure that we need to worry too much about his beliefs.

        • Jack

          It seems we are arguing about words. If you take wisdom to imply a mind like ours then I agree the universe is not a result of wisdom, I was using the term as the object of understanding. If so we can drop the issue

          Even if he isn’t here, we should consider his beliefs not as gospel but as the beliefs of an intelligent person who may have something to teach us (like other great works of the past which we study in the absence of the author), and who is worth listening to and either agreeing with or arguing with as appropriate.
          I sent you that piece as the essay in which Einstein lays out his view of the importance of religious feeling, instead of relying on hearsay, I am inviting you to consider the argument he presented and explain why you disagree (if you disagree). You are, of course, under no obligation to do so.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I thought that you said that the universe contains wisdom. Anyway, I see no intelligence in the universe as a whole or in the “design” of the universe.

          I’ll pass on the Einstein articles. Kinda long. He is frequently misunderstood and was annoyed during his lifetime when he frequently had to correct people inferring religion from his views. My understanding was that he didn’t have much of a religious/spiritual view of the universe.

          But I don’t much care. Regardless of Einstein, I see nothing supernatural in the universe.

        • Kodie

          You know what something I like to do sometimes, is go look up song meanings on the internet. A lot of people think every song I like is about Jesus. When you want to refer to Einstein’s intelligence in being poetic or something about the universe, maybe you are reading what you want to read into it. Just saying.

        • purr
        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I prefer the Austin Powers version.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wBlpm0HQ2I

        • purr

          Your example is far sexier, and far more worthy of worship.

        • Kodie

          You’re anthropomorphizing the universe. It does not surprise me that it was sooner or later discovered the celestial mechanics apply to celestial objects because, duh, earth is one. I think you are starting from a conclusion and bending science to it. You are looking for instances of finding out two different things are actually the same thing because your premise is that there is wisdom behind it. You are ignoring everything else. Christians do the same thing when they see beautiful mountains or flowers and say “how can anyone look at a sunset and say there isn’t a god?”. Your focus is too narrow because you want to see what you want to see.

        • Jack

          Could you clarify how this is an anthropomorphizing of the universe? Which human quality am I assuming exists in the universe? I thought I was clear about rejecting the idea that human categories can encompass the universe.

          Could you provide an example where physics went in the other direction, moving from a theory which unified multiple phenomena and moving to a theory of multiplicity? If not, then unity seems like an actual feature of physical understanding (though by no means the only one)

          What is the narrowness of focus you are observing in my comment?

        • Kodie

          You are perceiving some kind of wisdom in how the universe is arranged. You weren’t clear, you keep applying wisdom. That requires a mind to be wise.

          You can’t think of any time a naive understanding of anything in the whole physical universe got cracked open wide to be understood to be many multiple things? Really? That paragraph makes almost no sense to me, actually. A “theory of multiplicity” makes me think you’ve been reading Chopra or something.

          Your focus is on

          What is physics discovering if not wisdom in the universe? Doesn’t physics advance by showing unity in what appears to be many?

          There are certain large themes if you could call them that, but why is that wisdom? Why do you think that’s the purpose of studying physics? Everything is made of atoms! Unity! Wisdom! ??? What else would everything be made of? Why does it make you think that atheism is wrong and deism is correct? What do you think atheism really is and why do you think it’s wrong? Because wisdom. That’s your focus.

          Your focus is so narrow you missed it the first time I explained it in my post. Your focus is so narrow you asked me a bunch of questions without reading my post.

          Sorry, but I don’t think you’re being honest.

        • Jack

          I haven’t read chopra, but if he is writing new age spirituality then that is not what I am saying

          If you don’t like the connotations of the word wisdom, replace my use of ‘wisdom’ with the ‘universe is comprehensible’

          “Everything is made of atoms”
          not technically true, but close enough. and that is another example where one concept explains many phenomena, as Feynman describes at length in his textbook on physics. I don’t know why you view it as obvious, as opposed to something which took careful research to discover?

          “What do you think atheism really is and why do you think it’s wrong? ”
          That’s what I came to find out. Instead I received ad hominem attacks, I think I will look elsewhere.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you don’t like the connotations of the word wisdom, replace my use of ‘wisdom’ with the ‘universe is comprehensible’

          But that’s the point. All we know is that the part that’s comprehensible is comprehensible. Is that the entire universe? Or just a tiny sliver? We’ll never know.

        • Pofarmer

          So, science has realized that there are certain fundamental laws that appear to govern the function of the Universe. Things that used to be attributed to multiple things have now been shown to be unified under a few rules. So, rather than a complex assembly needing many designed rules, what we have are a few basic rules causing what we perceive to be “wisdom”. If there were any Wisdom, it would be in making a complex seeming universe operate on so few laws.


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