Argument from Design Busted!

Argument from Design Busted! January 21, 2013

How DNA is like a Rube Goldberg machineThe Argument from Design (the Teleological Argument) says that life looks designed. We marvel at the cell’s tiny protein-building machines. Some bacteria have flagella that propel them at twice the proportionate speed (body lengths per second) of a running cheetah. A single microscopic cell is able to divide and differentiate into a full-grown oak or bear or human.

William Paley famously said over two centuries ago, “The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is God.”

We must avoid the temptation, however, to imagine that complexity implies design. Elegance might, but mere complexity (especially unnecessary or sloppy complexity) doesn’t give much support for design. The cell, marvelously complicated though it is, may be more a Rube Goldberg machine than the elegant product of an omniscient designer.

What Does the Argument from Design Mean?

The Argument from Design imagines that we see the hand of a designer. All right, then: what would that look like? The only designers we know are human designers. (Let’s ignore the possibility of animal designers.) The Argument from Design then says: life looks like it would if made by a human designer with sufficient capability.

Consider the design criteria human designers use. A bridge might be designed for unusually high loads, so strength would be most important in this design. Or maybe speed of assembly is an important criterion. Maybe the bridge is remote, so it should have a long life or be maintenance free. Maybe transportation is difficult, so it must use local materials. Maybe it’s in the middle of a town or city, so beauty is important.

These goals—strength, speed of assembly, durability, limits on materials, beauty—are just some of the criteria designers might follow. But a criterion you never find in a human design is that the finished product should have added junk.

You may not like the Art Deco decorations at the top of the Chrysler building, but they were put there deliberately to follow the criterion of beauty. You may find a design that was poorly built or left unfinished, but that was never a goal of the designer. Useless junk is never in a design on purpose.

Contrast this with the crap DNA has in it (as discussed in a recent post). Human DNA has a broken vitamin C gene in every cell as well as 20,000 other nonworking pseudogenes. Eight percent of our genome is composed of nonworking junk injected by viruses over millions of years. Atavisms (archaic genes that are accidentally switched on, like human tails) and vestigial structures (such as eyes in cave fish) are flashbacks to body features from species in the distant past. Onions have much more DNA than humans do, as do lots of other plants and animals.

The Christian Response

Creationist responses such as Jonathan Wells’ The Myth of Junk DNA argue that we keep finding new uses for fragments of human DNA that we previously thought were nonfunctional. Okay, so the fraction that we think is useless will decrease. Will it go to zero? Will we find that onions really do need five times more DNA than humans? There is no reason to imagine this, and junk DNA lives on.

The Design Argument says that life looks as if an omnipotent human designed it. It’s clearly wrong. DNA, the marvelous molecule that apologists point to as evidence of a designer, looks unlike anything that any sane designer would make. DNA alone is enough to sink the Design Argument.

Note that you can’t just say that life is impressive or amazing or marvelous or complex. True or not, that would be irrelevant. These attributes could apply to lots of things—crystals are complex and snowflakes are amazing and rainbows are marvelous, but they weren’t created by a designer. You must show how life follows design rules that a designer (and the only examples of designers that we have are human ones) would have followed.

Another Christian response: I guess that just shows that God has a broad palette. Tidy DNA or sloppy DNA, clearly these organisms work. I’m not complaining.

Yes, they work, but don’t make the Designer Argument to explain then.

Intelligent Design proponent Stephen Meyer said, “DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers.”

Not really. Some software comes from programmers, and some comes from random processes. Genetic programming evolves software like evolution evolves life forms. Competing versions of a program are randomly mutated and then selected for fitness, all within a computer. The winning programs in such an evolutionary process are the sloppiest software imaginable—not at all what a human would design, but reminiscent of DNA.

God’s design was perfect initially, but the Fall—that whole snake-and-apple thing—caused the imperfections in life that we see today.

Why would a human failing cause sloppiness in non­-human DNA? Anyway, this is irrelevant. It simply accepts that life doesn’t look designed, and the Design Argument fails.

Ah, but God is inscrutable. We don’t understand his ways. He designs in his own way that might seem bizarre to us.

If God’s handiwork is so bizarre that it doesn’t look like the work of any designer, then don’t make the Design Argument!

Does God exist? Maybe, but the Design Argument, which says that we see in life the attributes of design, is no tool by which to make the case.

There’s one thing the Bible makes clear:
The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer.
He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution.
He’d be out of business if there was any competition.
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  • Jerry Doerr

    For the onion DNA argument to work strongly for me, you need to show that an onion doesn’t really need 5 times our DNA. After all, we are only the pinnacle of evolution in our own eyes. Maybe onions are supremely adapted to … something … and so need all that DNA.

    • The whole “junk DNA” issue is a bit up in the air as new uses are found for noncoding DNA.

      We should keep in mind though that the original label was supposed to bring to mind a junk yard, not a garbage dump. Sometimes you go to a junk yard to retrieve something you didn’t know you wanted.

      Yes, maybe onions really do need 5× more DNA than we do. And some protozoa need 200× more. If Creationists wants to go down that path, I’m happy to let them.

  • Barry Visser

    So if I could use you bridge analogy:

    Commissioner: Hi I see you’ve finished the bridge but it looks a bit odd with all those extra bits on it and bizarre design features which appear to have no use.

    Architect: Trust me they’re there for good reason.

    Commissioner: Well I’m not very trusting, I’m gonna fill the entire bridge with huge trucks and see if your design holds up before I make payment.

    Architect: Cool let me know how it goes.

    Commissioner: OK I filled the bridge with trucks but still don’t see the point of your design, let me also fill the sidewalks with pedestrians and see if that makes your design more coherent.

    Architect: Cool.

    Commissioner: OK bridge is now full of trucks and people, I also landed a few helicopters on top of the trucks and ran a rail track down the middle and parked a bunch of trains on your bridge but this design still make no sense to me and looks faulty, sorry but I’m just not gonna pay for this bullshit bridge!

    Architect: Sigh…

    • Wow–you’re too clever for me! I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.

      Suggestion: respond to the points in the post directly. That’ll make it easier for both of us.

    • MNb

      Psssst – if you use an analogy you should pay attention to the differences as well. That architect of yours is totally material (he has a body consisting of matter), your god isn’t. Now tell me – how is an immaterial entity going to use material means and to follow material procedures, like your architect? If he does he by definition is not immaterial anymore.
      Your architect analogy proves your god could not design our Universe by definition.

    • Kodie

      But that’s not what happened.

  • A few things to consider:

    Christianity is a limited framework from which to approach the divine, as are all human belief systems, which are limited by bias/emotion/inability to process large sets of information and other factors. Better to start from a simpler paradigm, which is:

    Does God exist or not?

    In other words can we prove Agnosticism is correct (God exists in some form that we may or may not comprehend correctly) or is Atheism right (God does not exist at all and we make him up)?

    If there is a God, I would prefer to refer to God as It, as anthropomorphizing It is the result or our limited consciousness projected onto It, which is pretty foolish/arrogant of us. Anything truly omnipotent and powerful is likely to look/feel nothing like us and to transcend both human limitations and morals, which is why concepts like good and evil in attempts to prove God exists are foolhardy. A God that encompasses all things would contain both good and evil and not be limited by either. We as its creations, aka sub-divisions of it, might be good or evil but It would not as it is above both concepts, because well it created the concepts in the first place if we are assuming it designed the whole bloody thing. That’s a long way of saying God is not like us, so we should not look to project human characteristics onto it. If God does exist and it is omnipotent, what is omnipotent? It probably means “cannot be divided any further/absolute/able to do whatever the hell it feels like.” As such, we may be able to conceive of God as the indivisible, something that cannot be divided any further, the alpha and the omega if you will.

    Now onto your points. The fact that DNA contains junk does not disprove a designer. Because a program contains broken/outdated/commented code does not mean the overall program does not work as a whole/collective in a beautiful and consistent way. The broken strands are just a byproduct of the creative process, left over pieces, if you will. While the creative process looks messy, it consistently produces good results, so I deem it quite excellent indeed and not as you say “crappy design.” As a fiction writer and programmer myself I can tell you that the creative process is always messy, but the result is quite beautiful if I am dedicated to it. Also, onions are quiet excellent and tasty, despite some strands of stuff in there that don’t make sense. The resulting program might be elegant and efficient in its overall expression, even if the stuff it compiles from is less than beautiful to a programmer and even if the creative process was violent and nonsensical and wild.

    Also you asked if it is likely that junk DNA would go to zero? I don’t believe you can say either way. Black swan theory and all that. Just because you ain’t seen no black swan don’t mean he doesn’t exist. It is just as likely to go to zero as not.

    Also, how do we define “junk?”

    First off, we have to rule out “lack of our own understanding” as junk. Because we do not understand something does not mean it is junk, it just means we don’t understand it. Once we delete “lack of understanding” what is left? That is an unknown but does it really matter if the resulting program works fine? That’s not crappy design that’s actually pretty incredible that something inelegant and messy like the creative process results in an elegant final product. Who the hell cares what our tiny little minds label as junk or not. Labels are meaningless to the universe. Is a skunk bad or good? Bad if you happen to get hit its smell but good if it controls rodents and other pests.

    Also, you asked, why does the onion have more code than us? There are a few possibilities here. One that you miss/chose to ignore is the possibility that an onion has more DNA than us because it is more complex than us. On the surface this may seem not credible but looking deeper we can say why isn’t it more complex? Because we say so? Because we can think? Because we seem more complex on the surface? An onion has millions of all kinds of things going on inside it that must interact with the various biological organisms that consume it, many of which are different that it. It needs to interact with them all without poisoning most of them. That conceivably is a very complex process indeed that might just require more code. The appearance of simplicity does not imply lack of complexity. Often the simplest things hide amazing depths of complexity.

    We are incredibly arrogant and always see ourselves as the top of the chain because we can think, but what if thinking is not really all that important in the grand scheme of things? We are better/more complex than onions because we can post on blogs and think all kinds of irrational bullshit? Hell, I’d venture to say that humans are some of the worst and least advanced creatures in the vast expanse we call the universe considering our history. Do oceans think? Do they need to if the tide continues to roll in and out? Do cats need to perceive of themselves as individuals in the cosmic ocean in order to catch mice? No.

    One way to see the “junk” is as an after effect competing systems. Some of the ideas/viruses/systems lose out. They leave behind some of their ideas, which are incorporated into the whole. This is similar to masks found in China’s Sanxingdui province. The masks look completely different from everything else we discovered there. Chinese history is often thought of as a consistent, linear progression, all orderly, but the masks look radically different that other masks produced by the culture and point to a civilization on the continent that do not fit easily into the linear whole. They contributed to the whole but did not form the final expression of Chinese culture, much like dead or junk code in an onion, may or may not effect its ultimate expression.

    If we look closely we can see some very common and consistent design principals in the universe. And we can ask some hard questions. If some of the work of living is done by algorithms than who set the algorithms in motion? How do the algorithms know what to do? If we ask that question and follow it far enough we come to some interesting answers and conclusions. We can see some consistency in those algorithms and they are as follows:

    The primary design principal is one of gestalt/harmony/consensus from the various discordant elements in the universe. Its a bit like a democracy, messy but it comes to some type of consensus. This is the bazaar not the cathedral. Its distributed not centralized.

    The various algorithms of the universe seem to trend towards the following:

    – Consistent and efficient reuse of all matter, i.e energy cannot be created or destroyed (stuff dies and it gets recycled)

    – A tendency for it to compile into definite forms (planets/specks of dusts/people/water/stars) for no apparent reason other than it feels like it. A truly efficient system would have no reason to create anything at all, it would just stay in its most efficient form which is nothingness, so it seems like that something wanted a bunch of stuff to exist just because stuff is cool and why the hell not?

    – Systems compete with each other, and the best ideas win, aka evolution.

    There are others but you can find them yourself if you look hard enough and these are good enough for the point of this discussion.

    It’s really not that hard to rationalize an intelligent design with things like evolutionary algorithms. The intelligent design IS the evolutionary algorithms. The rational design is conceiving of those principals in the first place and setting them in motion to make everything else happen. It’s only foolhardy scientists and foolhardy religious folks who consider these two things as separate when in fact they could easily be a part of the same system.

    What is the point of the universe? It seems pretty simple, if we consider a saying from the I-Ching “without purpose and yet no purpose is unfurthered.” In other words there is no absolute purpose other than that things keep happening in infinite variety, over and over again, in an endless stream for no other reason than whatever created it felt like making it so. Stars die and new ones are made. People die and new ones are born. Planets disappear and new ones are created. I.E. energy cannot be created or destroyed.

    If we consider the possibility that there is nothing outside of God, i.e, you and me, poop, the stars and sunshine, cosmic dust, dark matter, all of it a part of God’s infinite body then we begin to see the ultimate design principal at work, which is unified harmony of disparate systems or as Phillip K Dick called it VALIS or a Vast Active Living Intelligent System. In other words, the universe is God. God is a system. The system as a whole is what we perceive as reality and it is highly intelligent, but in the way that an powerful AI would be, alien to our way of thinking, but more powerful.

    If we look at this way, then we can conceive of God as a singular entity that looks out from multiple eyes, as the shamans from Peru see when the hallucinate on Ayahuasca. In other words, God invented everything, built it out of its own self by infinitely folding it/dreaming it into various divisible forms, all of them repeating in an endless cycle for eternity then doing it again via perfect recycling, just because it can.

    It’s important to note that this blog is quite interesting but that the question of whether God does or does not exist means nothing to the overall system. The system allows the endless debate of that question, ad nauseum. The question is a subdivision of the system, inside it, not above or outside of it. It is absolutely possible to make an argument that is convincing for either side. If any side could eradicate the other, it would be correct because truth means that it is absolute ad indivisible (aka cannot be disproved) but nobody in the entire history of man has been able to eliminate thinkers of the opposite opinion, no matter what methods they use, either violence/force or elegant arguments in coliseums and on blogs. What does that tell you? It tells you that any God that does exist transcends the limitations of both opinions. The resulting answer is quantum. God both exists and does not exist. It is both good an evil. It is like Schrodinger’s cat, neither dead nor alive, until we interact with it. Of course that is a paradox and you are likely to say paradoxes disprove each other but in fact paradoxes exist all over the place. God is the paradox. Why else would you seem like something solid but in fact be made of 99% empty space at the quantum level? That is a paradox and the divine shows itself through the paradox. It is the freaking paradox. It is beyond our petty limitations and arguments.

    Of course the irony is that if I am correct in perceiving God as a singular entity, with nothing outside of it, than you and I don’t really exist as separate entities. We exist as a unified whole but perceive ourselves as different with different opinions. And that means we are just arguing with ourselves. And that’s pretty funny. At the very least if God does exist it has a strong sense of irony.

    • Greg G.

      I recall reading about some species of protozoa that with a reproductive strategy of growing and dividing rapidly so it has eliminated junk DNA as it would be a selective disadvantage. Birds also have little junk DNA, possibly to lighten the load for flight. So there can be a selective advantage for removing the extra DNA. It makes it appear to be indifference if it is designed.

      Then there is inefficient design in vertebrates. The nerves that controlled the gills and throat in fish had a straight run from the spine. But as gill supports were reproved gradually into jaw supports to ear bones and some into shoulder supports, the nerves still maintain the same routes around the bones as it would not be possible to evolve around them. The nerves to our throat run around the clavicle. In giraffes, it runs 18 feet. That is not intelligent desigb, it’s the contingency of the history of evolution.

      If a god designs everything to look like it was arranged by accident and contingency without foresight, why even think it is an entity? If the entity is omnipotent then all suffering is unnecessary but if suffering still exists, the entity is sadistic. Calling an indifferent universe “God” doesn’t make it a god any more than calling Julius Caesar a god made him a god.

      • Giraffes having long necks are not a good design? Why? What is the basis for that conclusion? You seem to be saying that evolution is “blind.” I guess. However, it seems to me that a long neck is pretty useful for getting a bunch of stuff out of tall trees. Tall trees exist and so something evolves to get things out of those trees. That’s a perfectly rational response to tall trees and doesn’t seem all that blind to me. What about this is not a good design? What about that is random? It may be “random” to get there but the eventual solution to the problem of tall trees is quite elegant, aka a long neck. If evolution always arrives at a pretty good answer to a problem is that really random or blind? Shouldn’t a blind system fail to come up with a good answer a lot of the time? And when it comes up with that good answer why does it stop? How does it know to settle on that good answer? Also you say that its simply a contingency of evolution. Did I not say that it seems likely that intelligent design is in fact evolution and the algorithms behind it and hence the contingencies of that algo are the whole point? So by saying its just evolution you are not really refuting anything at all. In fact I agree. It is just evolution and its pretty awesome and good at finding solutions to all kinds of problems.

        Who said anything about it all looking like an accident? From where I am sitting it doesn’t look like much of an accident at all. It all looks pretty orderly and consistent and robust. The process of how it gets there is messy, ie the creative process, but that doesn’t make it all an accident, even if certain processes of randomness are used to achieve it. When I sit down to write things, I may write a bunch of paragraphs that get tossed out or rearranged or I may rewrite things but I don’t really consider any of that an accident, just part of the process of creation. Messy, but no accident. I may also use accidents however, like flipping open a random book and seeing what I can use there in whatever I am doing. Sometimes that works. I flip open a book on a subject I am writing about and wham a pretty good answer. I guess that is an accident, but I am using the accidental process to further my own purposes. Accidental processes do no imply a lack of design at all. They could, but not necessarily.

        You called the universe indifferent? Why? Because you conceive of it as so? How would you even judge something as indifferent? On what basis do you conclude that? The fact that people suffer means its indifferent? If we go with my earlier thought experiment and God is in fact everything then God suffers along with all its creations. In fact its suffering is multiplied by all the sufferers. As such, if it were intelligent, I would imagine anything that created such a system, where it suffered along with its creations, would have some reason for doing so, even if we can’t perceive it as nodes in the system. Then again from inside the system its really hard to tell.

        In fact, that’s really the problem at its root, as we talk about any of this. We are trying to understand the nature of the universe/god/lack of god/whatever from inside the system. We are a point on the sphere trying to understand the sphere. We have limited information, restricted senses that distort and miss-perceive all kinds of phenomenon around us and we mistake stuff in our heads for what’s real, even when it conflicts with what is actually happening. It’s basically a losing battle, because we can only go so far before throwing up our hands and saying “I don’t really know and neither do any of you.” God may exist. It may not. It may be a paradox. It may be all things or nothing or it may be both nothing and everything at the same time or it may not exist at all. Inside the system its hard to come to a definite conclusion. In fact, its probably impossible. We’re all just guessing. Some people take that guess and turn it into a belief system. Then they go around making everyone else miserable with that belief system.

        If something is omnipotent then suffering is unnecessary? I guess. It’s also just as likely that its perfectly necessary. An omnipotent being, able to see all things, may decide that struggle and suffering are absolutely necessary. Why is it not? Because we don’t like it? Because it hurts us on the individual scale? If something is a system, suffering could be an intrinsic part of it even if the individual hates it. The individual may not want to suffer and perceive it as unnecessary, but its still a part of the system regardless, which doesn’t necessarily mean God is completely sadistic, just that suffering is useful in some other way to the system. Or it may prove It is sadistic in some ways. Either way it doesn’t really matter all that much, as I said that anything transcendent would necessarily be above our concept of good and evil so that idea of suffering as bad need not apply. It may be bad. Or it may be good from the perception of a being that was both good and bad in equal parts. Certainly I perceive suffering as bad when it applies to me or the things I love, but often times from suffering comes our greatest inventions, or best ideas, or most incredible achievements. The Egyptian pyramids were built with the suffering of the laborers who broke their backs building it but man it sure looks incredible a thousand years later and hence you could conceivably say there was a purpose in that suffering, perhaps not for the individuals at the time but certainly for the folks who came later. Either way it doesn’t really matter all that much. We are perceiving suffering from a single point on the sphere and so our perspective is too limited to draw a conclusion. From our perspective it sucks, but from the grand design who the hell can really say?

        • MNb

          “Shouldn’t a blind system fail to come up with a good answer a lot of the time?”
          It does. Most mutations are unfavourable.

          “And when it comes up with that good answer why does it stop?”
          It stops because there is no extra benefit anymore.

          “How does it know to settle on that good answer?”
          It doesn’t. It doesn’t need to. This question implies a goal, which is exactly what “a blind system” rejects. That your belief system is teleological doesn’t mean that a scientific theory has to be. Science doesn’t use teleology.

        • Greg G.

          Long necks are good for giraffes but the point is that the nerves for sense and control run from the brain stem behind the throat all the way down around the clavicle in the chest then all the way back up. Can you think of a better design? I can. It the nerve had been routed around the gill support that became the clavicle, it wouldn’t look so much like a kludge. Things like that make the “grand design” look like it was not designed.

          If there is a fortunate cross section of events, we call it “serendipity”. There are bound to be some in a randomly complex system. But there unfortunate collisions of events, too, that cause pain and suffering.

          An omnipotence could fulfill any wish just as elegantly with or without suffering. That makes the suffering unnecessary. So if suffering exists and an omnipotence exists, the choice has been made for suffering to exist. That goes beyond an indifferent psychopath to a sadist. A person could mount the skeleton of an animal that died But if the person was removing the bones from a still living’ conscious animal, the end result is the same but one way is sadistic.

          We create things that involve suffering but it is a trade-off because we are not omnipotent.

          The historians who wrote that the pyramids were built with slave labor were writing about a thousand years later. Archaeology suggests thso historians were wrong.

          So the “grand design” of the universe is only wonderful to psychopaths and sadists. Or it is not a deliberate design at all but just an indifferent universe. If you must view the cosmos as a wonderful design, it’s better as a non-design because it lacks the intentional cruelty.

        • Daniel seems to be stuck on the problem of proof. No, we can’t prove that evolution is all that explains things and that there was no Designer. But that’s where the evidence points.

          And that’s all we’ve got to work with. Picking the facts to support a preconception isn’t the way it works.

        • Daniel: are you rejecting evolution?

    • MNb

      “It’s really not that hard to rationalize an intelligent design with things like evolutionary algorithms.”
      Of course not. It’s very easy as well to rationalize little demons running your car with things like gas motors and exhaust pipes.

      • Well I have never seen demons running around so rationalizing that would not make much sense. Your answer is sarcasm designed to make my quote look absurd by comparison but it represents little beyond a straw man. Your other answers are a bit more interesting but don’t really explain the reasons behind anything other than to explain them in a reductionist way. It’s fairly obvious that your belief system is atheist/science above all else. You assume I have a belief system too and that it’s theistic or whatever your label is but I don’t actually have one, I am just playing with ideas and asking questions. Belief systems limit our ability to ask questions because they assume to have answers to some of those questions already when in fact we are all imperfect intelligences that don’t have all the pieces so we can’t really put the puzzle together. Atheists assume there is no possibility for the divine behind natural processes and agnostics assume there is something behind it. I guess if you really wanted to pin me down agnostic would be closest but I’ve often been atheist too depending on which side of bed I roll out of. My religion is always to ask questions and consider all possibilities. No possibility is automatically closed off to me as it seems to be to you. You automatically assume a divine process setting the wheels of nature in motion is absurd so you can’t really go much further. Your implication from your sarcasm is that people who consider that idea are idiots and yet the greatest and most influential scientist of our time, Einstein, felt a divine presence behind the design if the universe, hence his famous quote that “I can’t believe God plays dice with the universe.” I guess you could simply write that off as an unfortunate flaw in his thinking but I am open to at least the possibility he is right.

        • adam


        • I agree. I started by saying that Christianity and all organized religion are limited frameworks for discussing anything. They are projections/anthropomorphizing/a bunch of stories. Einsteins views are are bit more complex than this e-card. See here. He is referring to the Bible and the “word” of God as absurd. As I said, I agree. However he did seem to consider the possibility that a pantheistic God exists and that we should have humility in considering it because we are tiny little insignificant fucks who barely know one tenth of one percent about anything.

        • adam

          Einstein was a declared agnostic, and most likely atheistic.

          “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.[9]”

          “Einstein expressed his skepticism regarding an anthropomorphic deity, often describing it as “naïve” and “childlike”. He stated, “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. ”

          ” “I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”[17] This sentiment was also expressed in Einstein’s The World as I See It,
          stating: “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. ”

          While Einstein claimed he was not an atheist, his quotes about this seem to limit atheist to the declaration that there is no god, rather that the obviously stated (which he claimed) disbelief in gods.

          He describe nature as Spinoza’s god, which makes sense for the times, because that has been the purpose of gods – to explain our ignorance of nature.

          Many agnostics go through this process of defining ‘gods’ as nature before coming out atheistic.

        • Kodie

          It depends what you mean by humility. In the Christian sense, one is supposed to shy away from questions that will tear this legend down, lest you succumb to leaving their church. I.e. they talk of “ultimate” consequences for not humbling yourself. Nobody thinks we know everything, but there’s no need to hinder exploration unless you think this “god” however you imagine it doesn’t like scientific research, and then you have to make your case that we must “humble” ourselves. As it is, I think you’re clinging to an intentional force, which is just ridiculous. You use phrases like “no other reason other than it feels like it.” That’s anthropomorphizing an object, even if that object is the “entirety” of the universe. It’s not like a person who wakes up in the morning and decides whether to wear a blue shirt or a white shirt, like, has moods and preferences, think I’ll put this here, no there, hmmm. Let me see it in the first spot again. Do you anthropomorphize the water in your bathroom sink? It “decides” to go down the drain, or “decides” to fill up the sink? No, something is down the drain if your water backs up, otherwise it will act accordingly and go down the drain.

        • Eh I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Christian sense of anything is, or any other organized religion that is basically just telling a collection of interesting stories as I said in several posts. Certainly I am not afraid to ask questions that would destroy my idea of anything be it a pantheistic God or one that doesn’t exist. As you noted, most organized religious worldviews are built around the concept of not asking questions out of fear that they will have to abandon their faith. If you think that’s what I’m espousing then you haven’t really read any of my posts.

          As for anthropomorphizing the questions I asked, you got me. I did. But only semantically, only because of the fact that I can’t think of a better way to phrase the fundamental questions of the folowing:

          Either there was:

          – Nothing and then something


          Something (gas, cosmic whatever the hell, a tiny dot, doesn’t really matter) and said something existed forever.

          Why? Who the hells knows? But the answers seem to resolve to “because God wanted it so” or “because its just a blind natural process that existed forever just because” and both are inherently unsatisfactory.

          Einstein was pointing to the fact that we can’t really understand any of this and that we are so limited in our capacity to understand anything that we should be humble and not assume that our worldview is the correct one. I find both atheists and agnostics equally insufferable, which is why I vacillate between the concepts. Both are pretty sure they are right, just like all the atheists and agnostics who ever lived before and neither has ever proved a damn thing INCLUDING me.

        • MNb

          Why is and remains the wrong and arrogant question, exactly because it tempts people like you to bite of more than they can chew. I stick to how and we know quite a lot about that one.

        • Kodie

          I don’t give a rat’s ass for your assessment of atheism, or conscious created designed universe you feel like shooting shit about, or whatever either. We good?

        • MNb

          “However he did seem to consider the possibility that a pantheistic God exists”
          And seemed to reject it at the end of his life. Regarding Einstein the best advise comes from Richard Feynman:

          “Einstein was a giant. His head was in the clouds, but his feet were on the ground. Those of us who are not so tall have to choose!”

          I rather stay with my feet on the ground. You try to get your head in the clouds. So perhaps you should consider your own advise and display some humility – ie stop writing about an intelligent designer, whether you’re a believer or an agnost.

        • Greg G.

          Well I have never seen demons running around so rationalizing that would not make much sense.

          Is rationalizing a god out of the universe any more sensible?

          Einstein made predictions that were confirmed. His formula predicted that a star that was behind the sun would be visible during an eclipse. Not only were astronomers able to see the star, it was precisely where the calculations predicted it would be.

          Einstein was an atheist in regard to a personal god and seemed to be an agnostic in regard to pantheistic god. Of all the predictions Einstein made and have been shown to be right, the quote you cite was about quantum physics and is something he was probably wrong about it.

        • Einstein: “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal god
          is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the
          crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due
          to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious
          indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility
          corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of
          nature and of our own being.”[1] According to Prince Hubertus,
          Einstein said, “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my
          limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say
          there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me
          for the support of such views.”

        • Greg G.

          crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is

          Can I get paid for being an atheist, too?

          More Einstein quotes:

          I believe in Spinoza’s god, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a god who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.

          I cannot conceive of a god who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.

          Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not.

          I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.

          I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal god is a childlike one.

          I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious.

          Why do you write to me “God should punish the English”? I have no close connection to either one or the other. I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of his children for their numerous stupidities, for which only he himself can be held.

        • Pofarmer

          “You automatically assume a divine process is absurd”

          Actually no. The evident lack of divine process is a conclusion, not an assumption.

        • MNb

          “I have never seen demons running around so rationalizing that would not make much sense.”
          And I have never seen an immaterial agent designing a universe or life.

          “Your answer is sarcasm designed to make my quote look absurd by comparison”
          Sarcasm no. Absurd yes. I point out a very serious problem for you: you don’t have a method to separate correct claims about the supernatural from incorrect ones.

          “It’s fairly obvious that your belief system is atheist/science above all else.”
          I embrace scientism indeed, but it’s not a belief system. The scientific method relies on two pillars: induction and deduction. Both are objective. Neither requires faith. Your immaterial designer does; he/she/it can’t be tested by definition – ie induction is not possible. For you only deduction is left and that’s not enough.

          “You assume I have a belief system too and that it’s theistic”
          Assuming an intelligent designer by definition belongs to some belief system for the reason I already gave: induction (ie observation, experiment, empiry) can’t be used and is replaced by faith.

          “You automatically assume a divine process setting the wheels of nature in motion is absurd”
          And you automatically assume demons running your car is absurd. That demonstrates the problem I mentioned above: everything you bring up pro an intelligent designer I can bring up pro demons running your car. Or intelligent falling, for that matter.


          You spend a lot of words, but duck the issue I raised: what method do you use to decide that intelligent falling and demons running your car are incorrect but intelligent design of the universe and/or life are correct? The answer is that you don’t have such a method. But you’re welcome to prove me wrong and present me your method.

          “yet the greatest and most influential scientist of our time, Einstein, felt a divine presence behind the design if the universe, hence his famous quote that “I can’t believe God plays dice with the universe.”
          Beware whom you quote – he might turn against you.

          1. He was wrong indeed. Modern Physics is thoroughly probabilistic. Considering the possibility that Einstein was right means rejecting Modern Physics, which gives you the burden to replace it by a deterministic version (ie not playing dice, because that’s what Einstein meant).

          2. Einstein tried it but failed; towards the end of his life he tended towards atheism.

          He is actually on my side, not on yours.

        • MNb can speak for himself, but my own view is atheist/science because that’s where the evidence points.

          Do you think the supernatural exists?

        • A few clarifications:

          First, there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. Please stop conflating the two.

          (Bob, I am replying to you specifically, but I am talking about the forum in general. Your post was just an easy one to click reply to. 🙂 )

          Spirituality/agnosticism are about as closely related to each other as neutron stars and Jessica Alba.

          I think there is a reason great spiritual leaders like the Buddha/Jesus (if they actually existed as real historical personages) did not bother to write anything down. It’s because they knew those words would get twisted, warped, and codified into assine rules that hurt mankind more than they helped. Spirituality is discovered on a individual basis and cannot be passed down in book form, or as a set of rules or laws. The people who create religion are like rust around the original message of spiritual leaders. It accreates over time, obscuring, obstructing and eventually destroying the original message so it eventually collapses in on itself.

          I am not advocating going to church or converting to XYZ religion be it Aboriginal Dreamtime or Christianity, though you are free to do so if you like or not. In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently agnostic, have been atheist and grew up Catholic ( though I threw off the spiritual chains of that belief system pretty early).

          Also, for background, I found this site while researching a robot character who has developed the irrational idea that God exists and his fellow robots torment him for it. I Googled for “god equations” figuring maybe someone tried to come up with one. The ones I did find were fairly woeful, such as Godel’s. He looked in the wrong place. He thought things like “good exists” so God gets one point. There is absolutely nothing that indicate that a God would need to be entirely good or even good at all, so a point for goodness means shit. It’s likely that anything that build this whole crazy place is above good and evil as we understand them. It may be a bit like creating a video game such as Grand Theft Auto. The mayham takes place for the unfortunate digital folks inside of the game, but the programmers don’t really worry that the creations are actually suffering nor do they feel the suffering themselves.

          For the record, I DO NOT think any of the following:

          – The universe is really only a few thousand years old
          – We were hanging out/riding dinosaurs
          – Evolution is wrong/evil/against some book.

          Evolution is real and obvious to me and anyone who bother to consider it.

          Or for those who like less words:

          I am not denying ANY scientific process.

          Unfortunately, since there are idiots who think shit like this and who manage to get a few 100 million to build something in Kentucky as a monument to that ignorance they somehow get to act as a stand in/straw man to folks who still consider the possibility that we may have a designed/clockwork/pantheistic universe. That’s like having Charlie Manson stand is as a spokeman for religious tolerance.

          Now, on to what I am saying, which admittedly was less than crystal clear, owing to my deficient brain. Luckily, all of your big brains are around to help me. Please speak slowly though, so I can understand.

          As noted I’m a also little wordy (OK, a lot wordy). But this stuff is messy and hard to put into words. This is philosophy and the big questions and they are messy.

          I am saying is that to consider atheism as the only possible viewpoint compatible with science is totally wrong. Many, many folks who invented and or discovered the various scientific discoveries we hold dear, felt there was something greater than themselves at work, even if they can’t see it, touch it, taste it, understand it and/or measure it with scientific methods currently known.

          Specifically we spoke about Einstein. He felt that something deeper was at work in the universe, though he did not have a personal god/religion. He’s not the only one. A lot of folks think they can just write that aspect of their intelligence off as a flaw. I don’t think so. I think that looking at the universe or life as a consistent whole leads to systemic, big picture thinking and an attept to unify disparate disciplines of knowledge that on the surface seem disconnected but probably aren’t. In other words that type of thinking is absolutely essential to be able to make connections between things that don’t seem related. The inventor of Velcor modeled it after the burbs of a burdock plant after they stuck to his plants on a hunting trip. Einstein saw that space and time were not seperate things but connected as space/time.

          Deleting/denying an aspect of a person’s thinking makes them and you less capable, not more.

          The scientific method is only one way of understanding the universe. It’s a damn good one. It’s a marvel. It’s given us all kinds of things, like this computer I am typing on and the lamp next to me. It lets us look at Lithium in the sands of Bolvia and figure out that if we combine it with other stuff we can store energy. It shows us that elements are the same all over the visible galaxy, based on the light pattern they give off. Good stuff.

          But it is a framework for understanding only one aspect of things. It is woefully silent on the why behind anything.

          One person noted that asking why is arrogant. I categorically reject the notion that asking why is arrogant. Saying its arrogant is merely an attempt by your mind to not ask hard questions. Not asking the question does not make you intelligent, it makes you self limiting. If the question exists, it can and should be asked. And we can pursue it to whatever end it leads us, even if at the end of that chain of questions we have “I don’t know/not sure/need more information.”

          Whoever said Einstein was probably wrong about quantum mechanics, I say, how the hell do you know? It’s barely been around a hundred years. Who knows what we will discover in another thousand or two thousand years, if we manage to not blow ourselves up? Einstein felt there was something deeper than quantum mechanics at work. Actually, based on past patterns of discovery he is probably right. His attempts to prove it lead to the discovery of quantum entanglement, which couldn’t be tested until the 1980s, well after his death, and is the foundation for next-gen cryptography and a few other things we haven’t figured out. It’s most likely is turtles all the way down. And QM is just another turtle. Also it’s likely that a turtle below that turtle would yield more insight into the turtle above it and make it less spooky and bizarre. We should keep looking.

          Let’s talk anthropomorphizing. I am guilty of it too, in my language choices, as one poster noted. However, I think that there are a few ways to anthropomorphize things. Traditional religions have ascribed human characteristics like emotion and personality disorders to their Gods. God is mad. He’s intervening, a la the Greek Gods mucking about in people’s lives or Yahweh starting floods because he is pissed off as how violent and stupid we are. While I am in general agreement with Yahweh’s assesment I don’t think God is stepping in to solve the problem for folks in a dues ex machina. If anything, God is silent on such matters because for some reason he/she/it wants us to work that shit out on our own.

          I do think that there are levels of anthropomorphizing though. We don’t have to ascribe human personalities to God, as the Greeks or Biblical folks did. For instance, if we conceive of God as a singular system, with nothing outside of it, where the system itself is the deity, then we can perhaps ascribe certain aspects of intelligence to it, such as decision trees, genetic algorithms that use iterations to acheive its goals. These aspects would look closer to a powerful AI than a human. In one of the best SF short stories ever written, The Last Question, by Asimov has a great riff on this. People build a giant supercomputer that runs everything, get drunk and ask it “when will the universe end?” It responds “not enough data for an answer yet.” The computer evolves over the course of the story, as the universe collapses and dies over millenia and people who have reached technological immortality continue to ask the question, with the same answer. Finally, as the universe is dying and Man with a capital M is folding back into the void, the question is asked one last time. The computer/god responds again “not enough data for an answer yet.” Finally there is nothing but this computer/god/void. It figures out the answer to the question. Unfortunately, there is no one left around to tell it to, so it says “let there be light.” This is similiar to how the Brahamns considered the universe as one that continually dies and recreates itself in an endless repeating pattern.

          As one person noted this deity may be psychopathic or malicious in some ways. Certainly it often feels that way on the individual level. A holocaust victim scratched this on the wall of a death camp “if there is a God he will have to beg my forgiveness.” I agree. However, it does seem that from a systemic perspective things sort of “work out.” Someone noted that most mutations are not beneficial. That’s right. For an individual perspective that fucking
          sucks. If I happen to get some shitty traits I get weeded out of existence ruthlessly. But if I have one of the good ones I survive and pass on my traits. The system benefits. It means we are not as important on the individual level and that is freaking hard to swallow.

          The Chinese philosophers felt that this was because God was not really omnipotent but that it was bound by certain inevitable laws/outgrowths of the creation. If God were a unified entity of absolute nothingness/a void and then divided from the one into the two, the very aspect of dividing into the two creates all the aspects of the universe, both good an evil. In essence, conflict is an inevitable outgrowth of the division. Tolkein posited something similar in the Silmarilian. The one creates multiple entities and of course they created discord. He envisions it with the metaphor of a cosmic song. The new creatures create a discordant song. The creator than re-harmonizes the song. But the bad guys act up again and create cacophony. So finally the Creator just says fuck it, and uifies the cacophony into the song as part of its harmony since he can’t get rid of it. This is akin to the hidden harmony defense in the book Blameless in Abbaddon where God is put on trial for crimes against humanity in the Hague and various defenses of his goodness are proposed.

          I don’t propose any such defenses. If there is a systemic deity that exists, it is both good and bad. We can say this just by recognizing what is. There is both good and bad in the world. Anything that made that is both good and bad.

          None of this is comforting to consider in the least, which is why most folks just dodge the question, either by choosing a religion and burying their heads in the sand or by taking the opposite extreme and saying we don’t even
          need to ask the question and I will only focus on the how. It’s scary to consider these questions. It might mean you have to change your belief system and losing a belief system is like death to most people.

          How do we understand any of this? There are other forms of knowing, often called non-ordinary states of knowing. Unfortunately, they are not as reliable as the scientific method and have lead to all manner of stupid,
          superstitious beliefs along with some more interesting ones. But they can lead to great insight.

          How else do the ancient Buddhist or the Indian Yogis puffing hash figure out principals that seem to coincide beautifully with what science discovered two thousand years after them? Luck I guess. Fuck that. No way. There are incredible parallels in what people who no telescopes, no internet, no scientific method discovered that line up with modern quantum mechanics, as Fritjof Capra pointed out in Tao of Physics. How else does Giordani Bruno look out into the sky and figure out that
          “your God is too small” and that for all intents and purposes infinite amount of stars and planets probably exist without any access to modern theory or technology? Only one answer, non-ordinary states of knowing. You may poo-poo it/not like it but that doesn’t mean much other than you have little to no chance of contributing to the next great insight that moves humanity forward.

          Like the ancient Buddhists I don’t see randomness at all. I see definite patterns that repeat over and over again, everywhere. The same elements. The same shapes, such as tubes, plains and spheres. There are certainly all kinds of random processes that lead to it, but they result in a definite, consistent and unerstandable pattern.
          I also feel that analyzing/deconstructing aspects of the evolutionary algorithm do not prove or disprove the need for a designer. It’s a fools errand. You can’t “bust” the designer theory. People will still be debating this long after we are pushing up daisies. There is no final word.

          Why is evolution inefficient? Maybe its the best thing that can possibly exist. It seems a lot like any other creative processes. As I write, or think about starting a new business, I have to come up with a lot of ideas, many that get thrown away. I cut paragraphs, move them around or come up with different business ideas. When I write I program, I don’t write it end to end. I have false starts, dead ends. I introduce bugs. In other words, its iterative. And its pretty much all we got. It is neither bad nor good. It just is.

          Of course, the problem with using words like God, Designer, Creator, Intelligent Design is that they are all absolutely poisoned words/phrases. They come with thousands of years of cultural baggage and pain. But throwing off the yoke of that pain should not mean that we can’t come to a better understanding of what the heck would something divine actually look like?

          I am always look for a unification of all forms of knowledge. Einstein was looking for the same. I don’t think I’m close to his level, but I do look to great minds to see how they considered the world. If they viewed it in a particular way that I don’t agree with, I consider the possibility that I am wrong. Most people immedietly look for ways to attack and defend their own positions and that is self-limiting.

          In fact, most of you are not reading this text at all. You are hunting through it, looking for points to seize on and attack. That’s what the mind does, it attacks and defends. Its actually not good at much else. I know, I write a lot of words. It gets mind-numbing. I am painfully aware of my own flaws/limits. Are you? Or are you just hunting for flaws in others and unaware of the mote in your own eyes? For instance, I am perfectly aware of my own arrogant and wordiness and many other flaws that I shall not list here. I’m doing the best I can to wade through something that is infinite and unknowable. You are too, but I am saying, go a little further. Step outside of what you already believe and ask more questions. I will stop asking questions when I am in the ground.

          So let’s look at once huge question. If you take the Big Bang back to the beginning it leaves you with some uncomfortable paradoxes. Go with me for a second here. Rewind all the way back. Get rid of all the people, all the animals. Get rid of planet Earth and the sun and every other planet and sun. Get rid of gas and elements. Keep going. Press it all down into a tiny dot. Slam the whole freaking universe into that little dot. Now where does that little dot leave us?

          It leaves two possibilities that I can see.

          1) The dot at some point did not exist. In other words it had a beginning. Before that dot there was nothing, not even the concept of nothing. No thing. Nothing. That means, if we follow it logically, that something, for unknown reasons, came out of nothing. Someone said stick to the “how.” Ok, how does something come from nothing? Answer, it shouldn’t. Or if it did, what the fuckity fuck fuck? How and by what mechanism did that shit happen?

          2) The dot existed forever. OK, that is even worse. It brings us back to the how again. How the hell does something exist forever? It shouldn’t. We’ve don’t know anything that lasts forever. Nothing we’ve found or see in
          the known universe lasts forever. Could we not consider that thing that exists forever as God or God like? And yet, taken to it’s logical extreme that is what it means.

          These are the only two possibilities I can see. Maybe there are others. I can’t see them. If you can see a different one let me know.

          You may feel that its nor worth trying to come up with an answer to such questions. That’s fine. Feel free to live in your beautifully created belief bubble. Just be careful someone doesn’t pop it because that means, God forbid, you might have to reconsider some shit.

          As a last aside, I will no longer respond to e-cards, attacks ad hominess and/or attempts to limit the discussion to your own arbitrary parameters (unless of course they really make sense) or attempts to misconstrue my argument, such as conflating religion and spirtuality. Of course, you are still free to post whatever the hell you feel like, because whatever set this whole fucking shit show in motion, be it blind randomness or an omnipotent pantheistic deity or anything in between gave you the free choice to be obnoxious on the internet.

          Anyway, if you got this far, congrats. I’m sure most of you stopped reading after a few paragraphs after you found a few points of minutia to attack. But if you made it this far, maybe you’ll consider responding with a serious, considered response that teaches me something new. One can always hope that I am not shouting into the void. Then again, since there seems to be nothing but empty space under everything I probably am.

        • A few clarifications

          A few?? This time it’s three thousand words? Haiku, my friend.

          You’re on a diet, chubby Buddha. 500 words is your limit.

          First, there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. Please stop conflating the two.

          There’s a big similarity: they both embrace the supernatural.

          I think there is a reason great spiritual leaders like the Buddha/Jesus (if they actually existed as real historical personages) did not bother to write anything down. It’s because they knew those words would get twisted, warped, and codified into assine rules that hurt mankind more than they helped.

          Easy solution: use magic.

          You’re saying that just leaving others to write it down and interpret it is much more reliable?

          The people who create religion are like rust around the original message of spiritual leaders.

          I like the analogy, but they’d say that you’re the one who has it wrong.

          I am saying is that to consider atheism as the only possible viewpoint compatible with science is totally wrong.

          Consider all you want, but when you give us your conclusions, you need evidence. “The supernatural might exist!” doesn’t get us very far.

          The scientific method is only one way of understanding the universe.

          Are there other reliable ones?

          But it is a framework for understanding only one aspect of things. It is woefully silent on the why behind anything.

          So you’re uncomfortable with that vacuum so you’re going to fill it with make-believe?

          Science answers the Why questions as well. You may just not like the answers.

          (And here’s where I got tired of reading.)

        • Greg G.

          I read the whole thing but I’ll try not to reply to everything.

          First, there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. Please stop conflating the two.

          Religions tend to say that about other religions versus their own.

          Whoever said Einstein was probably wrong about quantum mechanics, I say, how the hell do you know? It’s barely been around a hundred years.

          That would be me. Einstein hasn’t been around in sixty years, either, and he wrote that some twenty years before he died. Stephen Hawking wrote an article on the subject:

          Scientists now have more data than Einstein did. They’ve done experiments that rule out any hidden variables.

          It may be true that there are connections between systems that have not been recognized. Even if there are, it doesn’t mean there is a plan or a planner.

          The repeating patterns you see can be explained by gravity and chemistry.

          Have you read Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing? He tells how the universe is expanding and the expansion is accelerating. The space that holds superclusters of galaxies is accelerating and the speed of light doesn’t apply as a limit for space itself. Eventually, each supercluster will be traveling faster than light and won’t be able to see any of the other superclusters. Krauss doesn’t get into bubble universes, though. It is thought that one can pop up at anytime but it is so rare that it is usually between superclusters that are above light speed.

          You don’t have enough information to be spiritual. You are engaging in wishful thinking.

        • Greg G.


          Cool! I did that accidentally.


        • I don’t think that Einstein’s quote about God and dice points to his theism/deism.

    • adam

      But everyone KNOWS that Brahma creates the Universe.

      • LOL. Precisely all you motherfuckers. We’re all just living is his dream and none of your really exist anyway. 🙂

    • Pofarmer

      “Christianity is a limited framework from which to approach the divine,”

      What if belief in the divine is just the result of faulty and overactive cognitive processes? Then the rest of you post is just so much Garbage.

      • As is yours. You are suggesting that our brains are fundamentally flawed. As such thinking there is no force behind anything is equally as likely to be totally fucking garbage since our brains are overactive and unable to perceive anything correctly.

        • Pofarmer

          And so we get into the brains in a Vat discussion. The thing is, we know we have difficulties with perception. The scientific method was developed to counteract these deficiencies before we even understood what many of them are/were. We know we have hypertive agency detection, and tend to assume things are there that aren’t. We know that we tend to assess cause when sometimes there is none. Sort of like your assessing a cause for the “algorithms of the universe.” Some things, in our experience, just “are”. If you are going to assume an uncaused creator, why is it less valid to assume an uncaused universe, created by the inability of space/time to hold a quantum vaccuum?

        • I am not assuming that an uncaused universe is not possible. It’s equally possible to a caused universe. What I am saying is that folks from both sides tend to assume that their view is correct when in fact there is no way to come to a final conclusion. We are broken/limited. The scientific method only takes us so far, but it never really answers the ultimate questions. It just says hey light seems to move in a wave, let’s test that. It gives no reason for the wave other then well it all just happened. As you said some things just “are” and that lines up with Buddist thinking about what is the nature of God? God just is and so is the universe. It needs no explanation. It is. Saying it just is, leads us equally to the possibility that nothing made all this shit as something made all this shit. 🙂

          If we keep following the questions of where did it all start and why far enough we get to some uncomfortable places which is why folks have been throwing up their hands, picking a belief system and killing each other over it for the whole history of the planet.

          Take your concept that a quantum vacuum can’t hold space/time so it makes a bunch of stuff, aka the big bang. That could easily be an uncaused process although the cause seems to be that “the vacuum can’t hold space/time” so goto create universe. The problem is why does the fucking vacuum or space/time even exist in the first place? It just did, right? Well that gets us to two possibilities, which are not resolvable.

          The first possibility is that space/time and vacuum existed forever, for no particularly reason other than they do and then at some point they changed. It could also imply that the vacuum existed forever and for some unknown reasons space/time decided to exist afterwards and that broke the vacuum so it expanded.

          The second possibility is that there was nothing, as in no vacuum because a vacuum is kind of something and no space/time because nothing means nothing, not even the concept of nothing and then suddenly there was something. That is the root of the problem. Why does something come from nothing? What process makes something come from nada? We have no idea. In other words we have nada and then we have a whole bunch of scientific processes and algorithms where none existed before.

        • Kodie

          Atheists encounter Christians who take a political stance based on a superstition, and would have us all live by their superstitions than leave it alone and believe to themselves. I did not grow up in a religious household. It’s not equally likely that the universe was caused by an intentional creator, and why should we act as though there might be? Where will that get us? Is it going to smite us?

          These are the important questions.

        • adam

          Why does something come from nothing?

          Why does it have to?
          Why cant Energy and Mass have always existed?
          And we are just in one of the myriad ‘bubbles’ in this ‘sea’ of energy and mass .

          The ROOT of the problem is when people start declaring that INTELLIGENCE has always existed, when we can readily see our own intelligence EVOLVING.

        • Eh, I already addressed this in other posts. See below:

          Either there was:

          – Nothing and then something


          Something (gas, cosmic whatever the hell, a tiny dot, doesn’t really matter) existed forever.

          Who the hells knows? But the answers seem to resolve to “because God
          wanted it so” or “because its just a blind natural process that existed
          forever just because” and both are inherently unsatisfactory.

          was pointing to the fact that we can’t really understand any of this
          and that we are so limited in our capacity to understand anything that
          we should be humble and not assume that our worldview is the correct
          one. I find both atheists and agnostics equally insufferable, which is
          why I vacillate between the concepts. Both are pretty sure they are
          right, just like all the atheists and agnostics who ever lived before
          and neither has ever proved a damn thing INCLUDING me.

        • MNb

          Yup – like I told another athiest on another page of this blog: “why” is the wrong question. It displays arrogance. The correct question is the humble “how” and regarding that question we already know quite a lot.
          Asking “why” is trying to imitate Einstein – to get you head in the clouds while staying with your feet on the ground. Asking “how” is humbly staying with ourfeet on the ground and not trying to reach for the clouds.

          “neither has ever proved a damn thing”
          Proof is for mathematicians and believers. Science doesn’t have any use for it. I don’t claim that it’s proven that you won’t fall downward when you jump off a bridge tomorrow. There is always doubt; the doubt is not reasonable though.
          It’s laudible that you don’t claim to have proven an intelligent designer. The problem remains though. There can’t be any empirical evidence for an intelligent designer by definition and you don’t have a reliable method to decide whether it’s correct or incorrect. The scientific method is reliable, so I prefer to stick to it. But I promise, as soon as some smart guy formulates another reliable method I’ll be one of the first to pay close attention.

        • adam

          “because its just a blind natural process that existed forever just because” and both are inherently unsatisfactory.”

          I dont find this inherently unsatisfactory, it just seems ‘natural’ to me.

        • MNb

          “we should be humble”
          Then stop quoting Einstein, pretending that a little guy like you can have his feet solidly on the ground and have his head in the clouds at the same time. I can’t.
          Stick to “how”, forget “why”.
          If you are serious about what you write, which I doubt.

        • MNb

          “folks from both sides tend to assume that their view is correct when in fact there is no way to come to a final conclusion.”
          I don’t need a final conclusion. I’m more humble than you – it’s arrogant to ask for one. For me a provisional conclusion is good enough. And that one is crystal clear: according to all currently investigated theories of physics regarding the origin of the Universe (or Multiverse) it is not caused. The Universe coming into existence was a probabilistic event. All known causal models have been refuted by empirical evidence. Until a genius (and I guarantee you – this stuff is Nobel Price worthy) formulates a causal model that explains all the known empirical data I bet on probabilism.

          “it never really answers the ultimate questions.”
          Asking the ultimate questions – no, postulating that your questions are the ultimate ones displays a serious lack of humility. Yup – you’re the arrogant one, not us.

        • You got me, man. Great stuff.

        • MNb

          It’s the philosophical consequence of scientism. As Hawking wrote in the first chapter of A History of Time (I paraphraze): “science always has a temporary character, is always open to improvement.”

        • Pofarmer

          Why would we assume a caused universe and an uncaused universe are equally possible?

        • adam

          For being unable to perceive anything correctly, modern technology works amazing well, a lot better than childish superstitions or philosophical musings.

        • MNb

          That’s why I embrace scientism.

          “Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

          Unlike most critics of scientism (especially religious ones) state this includes recognizing the limits of the scientific method.

        • adam

          It certainly makes sense to embrace that which demonstrates that it works and use skepticism when indemonstrable claims are made.

        • Unable to perceive anything correctly? Certainly not my view.

          We perceive things imperfectly. Not bad, but not perfect. And that’s where science comes in–it helps to keep us honest and follow the facts rather than our hopes.

    • (Late reply. Sorry for redundancies with responses that I haven’t yet read.)

      A few things to consider:

      A few things?? It’s a 2000-word essay. Maybe you could give us the haiku version next time.

      In other words can we prove Agnosticism is correct (God exists in some form that we may or may not comprehend correctly) or is Atheism right (God does not exist at all and we make him up)?

      I consider myself both an agnostic (I don’t know) as well as an atheist (I have no god belief).

      Anything truly omnipotent and powerful is likely to look/feel nothing like us and to transcend both human limitations and morals

      But we’re talking about the Christian god, in whose image we were created.

      The fact that DNA contains junk does no t disprove a designer.

      Never said it did. I said that the Design Argument fails. The Design Argument assumes the work of a Designer. When we consider the traits that a designed thing has, DNA doesn’t match up.

      As a fiction writer and programmer myself I can tell you that the creative process is always messy, but the result is quite beautiful if I am dedicated to it.

      There’s never junk in there on purpose. Might be there because you had competing priorities (not enough time, low standards for this job), but when you look at the junk, that isn’t an argument for a designer, in fact it’s the reverse.

      Also, onions are quiet excellent and tasty, in my opinion, despite some strands of stuff in there that don’t make sense.

      Tasty isn’t the point. “Don’t make sense” is the point. That is not a clue for a designer; again, it argues against one.

      Also you asked if it is likely that junk DNA would go to zero? I don’t believe you can say either way.

      Junk DNA for a design coming out of the workshop of an omniscient and omnipotent designer would be zero. If you say that we simply don’t know the mind of God, that’s fine, but that’s irrelevant. We look at the clues we have, and the evidence points us to No Designer.

      One that you miss/chose to ignore is the possibility that an onion has more DNA than us because it is more complex than us.

      Already raised; already laughed at. If you’re saying that we don’t know this isn’t the case, you’re right. Again, we go with what we’ve got, and we have no evidence that the onion needs all that DNA.

      If you’re saying that we can’t prove there was no designer, again I agree. That’s not the point. We’re asking ourselves if DNA looks like it was designed. It doesn’t.

  • David Hennessey

    Actually, the watchmaker argument is self-contradictory. I spoke to a bible-thumper on the street who majestically pointed to a nearby building and asked who I thought made it. I thought some folks made it , of course, I knew that because it didn’t appear all random like the trees and natural environment. I then wondered why the most competent architect in the universe didn’t make things that appeared to be designed by an intelligent builder, like that factory.

    The only reason we notice the watch in the forest and realize it doesn’t belong is that it is different from nature, how could our technology seem out of place if the natural surroundings also seemed designed by a watchmaker?

    We can tell the watch is not part of nature because it looks different, it looks designed.
    We can tell that nature IS designed because it looks the same as the watch?

    • Good observation. I’ve used that same reasoning to unravel the Paley watch argument.

    • MNb

      You don’t go far enough. When we find a watch we recognize it’s made with material means and that material procedures have been followed. An immaterial designer by definition can’t do that.
      The argument is incoherent.