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Devin Tarr

Master's Student, California State University Chico

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Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?

As I was watching Mr. Haidt's talk, I was struck with what he categorized as the "million dollar question". He says:

"Is the staircase a feature of our evolutionary design? Is it a product of natural selection like our hands? Or, is it a bug? A mistake in the system . . . religious stuff just happens when the wires cross in the brain?"

It seems, considering the testimony of those having such experiences, that we should at least consider whether they're caused by a super-natural explanation. It struck me as odd that Mr Haidt's logic went like this:

1) People have self-transcendent experiences, through religion or other means
2) What could be the cause of these experiences?
3) They must either be a natural feature of humanity, or a delusion producing bug in our biological system.

It seems to me there's an obvious third question as well. Is there something beyond us (super-natural) that we're connecting to, or is connecting to us.


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    Mar 15 2012: There is a obvious fourth question as well.

    4) Is religious experience caused by fairies?
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      Mar 15 2012: none of the people claim it was caused by fairies, and without any other evidence for fairies, I think we're justified in dismissing that question. The same is not true for what I asked.

      The question is how do you approach things? Are you open to evidence? Or do you close your mind to some possibilities before you even look at the evidence? The first option is truly scientific. The second is based on faith.
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        Mar 16 2012: I don't expect other people to understand my point. There is no evidence for fairies, it's just a matter of faith. I don't even have a valid explanation as to how fairies got involved, I just believe they did.
        You should respect my view. The fact that your religion has a billion followers does not make mine any less worthy of consideration. There used to be a dozen Christians, you know.
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          Mar 16 2012: amen brother!
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          Mar 16 2012: Come on gerald, a billion? more like on paper rather than in reality otherwise you wouldn't see many people on the streets on a sunday.The average so called religious follower is lip service when it suits them.

          It's the falling away
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          Mar 16 2012: Well, I'll likely post this above in response to Simon as well, but the fact is we do have good evidence that a supernatural Creator exists, specifically from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and objective moral values. We can stick with the first one for now, but consider this:

          1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause (something cannot come from nothing)
          2) The universe began to exist (Hawking-Penrose singularity Theorem/Big Bang Model)
          3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

          As the cause of all space, time, matter, and energy, the cause must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, and lastly personal--as that's the only way for a timeless cause to give rise to a temporal effect. Thus the origin of the universe provides strong evidence for a transcendent personal Creator. The same cannot be said about fairies.
        • Mar 16 2012: Gerald, I agree with your point about fairies. I disagree with your statement: " I don't expect other people to understand my point." Why not?
          Don't you write every post with the intention to be clear, to make a point that people do understand? Sure, some people might not understand, but the presumption must be that they will understand... otherwise, why not revise your text until it is presumed understandable? A nit pick, admittedly.
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          Mar 16 2012: Devin, the fine tuning issue of the universe is just one additional logical fallacy.
          There is no fine tuning. Think about it this way.
          You stay on top of a high tower with an apple, an egg, a glass sphere and an iron ball that weights 125 gram.
          Now you drop all of them from the tower. Then you go and check what happened to your artifacts. You find no traces of your glass sphere, apple nor of the egg (beside some stains on the ground), but you find your iron ball.
          Based on this observation you conclude that the universe is fine tuned to iron balls with a mass of 125 gram.
          Can you see what is wrong with your idea about the fine tuned universe ?
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Harald,

          You should read Oxford physicist Roger Penrose's book, "The Road to Reality" where he shows over 50 constants and quantities in nature that had to be just the way they are for the universe to sustain life. There's nothing in nature that determines they have to be the way they are, in fact string theory predicts there are 10x500power possible universe configurations. Moreover he's calculated the odds of our universe being the way it is to be roughly 10x10(123power) which is an essentially incomprehensible number.

          Penrose, Roger. "The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe." (2007).
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          Mar 19 2012: Devin, your conclusion as to what the cause must be is just completely illogical.
          There could be any number of causes that fit what we know. The likely cause is probably beyond our imagination.

          You say the cause must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, and lastly personal. Why must it be a person or consciousness etc etc etc. How do you know this is the only universe. etc etc.

          then you define the creating cause as somthing that doesn't need a cause. Its such a circular self serving argument.

          Regarding the constants, it is a similar argument to saying the earth must have been created to suit humans rather than humans evolved to survive and thrive on the earth.

          Perhaps there is an entity that created the universe just for us, billions of stars with billions of galaxies, just for us, waited outside time for 14 Billion years for us to evolve. Picked out a tribe of desert dwellers helped them conquer some lands, then have these lands be conquered by many other groups. Then have a guy, actually it was his disciples, change the rules so gentiles could hook up with the creator of the universe, then one view of the belief that started with the JC cult was picked up by the romans, then split between East and West, then the West split, etc etc until you have hundreds of variants of the theme. The first chosen people even say you have it wrong. Let alone all the other belief systems that evolved in the middle east, in Asia, in the Amercias, Africa, Oceania etc.

          Many Hindus believe all gods are aspects of the one god. Maybe JC is part of the Hindy super deity.
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        Mar 16 2012: 1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause (something cannot come from nothing)
        2) GOD began to exist
        3) Therefore, GOD has a cause.

        Not all fairies, but some are known to be transcendental creators. You're wondering about the origin of God. Well, I wouldn't be surprised if fairies had caused it to exist.

        As to where fairies come from, let's admit that some things, just a few though, just don't need a creator. Let's say that fairies began with themselves. Let's say there was no" before", because fairies created time as it came into being.
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          Mar 16 2012: Lets be a little serious please. There are several reasons why fairies almost certainly did not cause the universe to exist. 1) fairies are spacial beings. 2) fairies exist in time. 3) given that fairies are spacial and exist in time, but one has never been observed, we are rational to assume they don't exist. 4) fairies have limited power. On such grounds then, a fairy in all probability did not cause the universe.

          God on the other hand has enormously different properties. He perfectly fits the profile to be the cause of the universe.

          Moreover, on the "where did God come from" question, two points need to be considered:
          1) You don't need an explanation of an explanation in order for it to be best one. For example, if scientists found some crashed machinery on mars, unlike anything produced on earth, they would be reasonable to conclude that extra terrestrials likely caused it. With that said, they don't need to explain extra-terrestrials in order to explain the machinery. In fact, requiring such an explanation would lead to an infinite regress of explanations that wouldn't allow you to explain anything.
          2) Things either exist contingently or necessarily. God, if He exists, is a necessarily existing being, meaning His non-existence is impossible. He has always existed. Otherwise He wouldn't be God. Note: lest you think this is merely special pleading for God, it's exactly the same thing atheists have always said about the universe. The trouble for them is that both philosophy and modern cosmology have shown such an assertion to be untenable, rendering the Theist's claim much more probable.
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        Mar 16 2012: Dear Devin,
        You state in a previous comment (18 hours ago)..."the fact is we do have good evidence that a supernatural Creator exists..."

        Can you please expand on that statement, and offer the "evidence that a supernatural creator exists"?
        • Mar 17 2012: Hi Colleen,

          He did offer proof. One, a fallacy of beginning to exist requiring a cause, as if we had any experience with things "starting to exist" in the way the universe started to exist (equivocation fallacy). Then a series of fallacies about there being a need for an "external cause," that has to be "immaterial" as if any natural cause outside the universe would have to be "immaterial," just because it has to be something other than our known universe (how would that effect our universe into existence, who knows, but so goes the diatribe of the multiple fallacies called the Kalam argument, better known as the Kalam quackery in better circles, a non-sequitur), then personal, because only personal causes, so goes the next fallacy (non-sequitur), could have something time-bounded (or some wording for that effect), started (really? do we personal causes start things in a different time-binding way? How do you get there other than by wishful thinking?). Again, where from these fallacies? From a fallacy-quackery-snake-oil salesman, who has reworded and regurgitated these creationist faeces who shall remain unnamed. One who, when called for these fallacies claims that we not having a degree in philosophy disqualifies us for arguing against his obvious fallacies, while he not having a degree in science apparently does not matter if he is to refer to scientific knowledge such as big bangs and such, with a complete sense of security, in a most fallacious equivocation game.

          So there you have it. "God" exists (also it is "God," not some god or gods, but "God"), because some people are able to put a series of fallacies together and their public will not notice the problems in the slightest.

          Then denying fairies? The nerve!

          Best and good to see you after this long time. I know we don't agree on everything, but it is always nice to talk with you.
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Gabo,

          Your comment shocked me. It appears you have very strong feelings about this topic if you're going to resort to 'ad hominem'. What surprised me even more is the +3 helpfulness your comment has received.

          We can go through your claims one at a time...
          1) We have experience of things beginning to exist all the time. By "begin to exist", I mean a new state of affairs coming about. You and I for instance have not always existed. People begin to exist when their parents conceive them. If you don't believe life begins at conception, you might say they began to exist at birth. It's no matter. Moreover, you claim premise 1 is a fallacy of equivocation saying that what's true in the universe is not necessarily true of the universe, thus saying they're the same is equivocating unlike things. However premise 1 is not rooted in infering causality from the universe, but in the metaphysical principle that being does not come from non-being. To reject that is literally worse than magic, to say things can come into being from total non-being, uncaused, out of nothing.
          2) Considering that the universe (if you want to expand it to the idea of a multiverse that's fine) includes ALL material reality, then the cause of matter cannot be material. To say a material thing brought matter into being would be a logical contradiction. Thus saying the universe's cause is immaterial is not a fallacy, but eminently logical. It's the converse that's fallacious.
          3) You claim the inference to a personal cause is a non-sequitur (doesn't follow) because of issues with "time-bounded"ness. I'm not sure what your argument here is. Could you please clarify?
          4) You personally attack those who propose this argument. That's not showing the argument to be false. That's just bad taste I'm sorry to say.
          5) I gave logical reasons why I don't believe fairies exist. I haven't heard the same in regard to rebutting the kalam yet.

          Best regards,
      • Mar 17 2012: Gerarld is not speaking seriusly... He's trying to show how senseless your question sounds to an atheist. From an atheist's viewpoint, fairies and god are both the same - products of our imagination.

        Your question, though, is based on a fallacy: more people don't make an argument more true. If something is true, it doesn't matter how much people believe in it, it just stays true - the same for false statements. The amount of people that believes in god/fairies do not make them more real.

        Best regards, Marco.
        Sorry for my english, i'm not a native english speaker.
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          Mar 17 2012: Agreed on all accounts Marco. :)
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        Mar 17 2012: Ok so your argument is that my imaginary creatures lack the super powers to be responsible for the creation of a universe.

        But let's consider what you say about the machinery on mars. Let's imagine we find such artifacts. What will scientists do? I'll tell you.
        They'll look at it and make up hypotheses about its origin. If the spontaneous assembly of its pieces would violate the laws of physics, they might suppose that it had an intelligent designer.
        Very unlike what we understand about the universe.

        Lastly you define God as non-spacial and out of time. I say God doesn't exist. Aren't we saying the same thing?
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          Mar 17 2012: That last line is priceless!
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Gerald,

          I don't see the inference to design being any different between the machinery on mars and the fine-tuning of the universe. In fact, Oxford Physicist Roger Penrose (who collaborated with Stephen-Hawking to develop their famous singularity theorem which has become standard today), has shown that the odds of our solar system sponatenously coming into being through a random collision of particles is mere chicken feed compared to the odds of our universe being the way it is. In that sense then, if the machinery on mars legitimizes a reference to design, the fine-tuning of the universe does the same, except exponentially moreso.

          In regard to the last line, there are plenty of things that are non-spacial and timeless, for instance logic and numbers. Moreover, I'm not defining God merely in the negative. Indeed He has concrete properties. He's personal, all-powerful, morally perfect, and causally active. That's quite different from nothing.

          Best regards,
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        Mar 17 2012: Dear Gabo,
        I believe we agree on this topic, which has been discussed in great depth here on TED. I was curious to learn if Devin has any new information that we have not yet seen or heard. If not, his statement..."good evidence that a supernatural Creator exists..." appears to be simply blowing in the breeze, trying to prove something that cannot be proven.

        I respect the fact that some people choose to believe in a god, I do not respect it at all, when those individuals think/feel that everyone "should" believe the same as they do...I think you know that already:>)

        Best....Happy St. Patrick's Day, and I am going to mingle with leprechauns today...they are real you know....I have proof lad....I am one of them:>)
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        Mar 17 2012: Devin, how do you know that the same rules of physics (and by extension cause and effect) apply to the universe as opposed to within? The universe contains the laws of physics but it is not demonstrated that it is itself bound by the laws of physics or at least our brand of physics. There are many talks on TED that consider the universe in a variety of ways. Seek them out.

        I've never understood why some people find this prime mover argument convincing. Given that it takes about 13.7 billion years for the universe to come up with a human brain made entirely out of matter and energy, for there to have always existed an immesurable immaterial intelligence is a shockingly outrageous claim, no matter how you spin it. Whether true or not, the argument gives no credence to the idea. I especially don't get it when people are asked "if everything has a cause, what caused God?" why they think "he always existed" is a satisfying answer that solves the problem, that's got to be much more unlikely.
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          Mar 17 2012: Gods used to be about pushing the sun around and building animals out of clay...
          I love the fact that science has done so well that modern theists are left with "before" the damn universe. It's like they're admitting : "OK everything kind of makes sense, everything seems to hold, evolution, planetary motion, bla bla... But if you say there was nothing before your universe, is there room for my deity then? And if everything obeys the laws of physics, may I say that my God was responsible for the laws themself?"
          Could His powers get any weaker?
          This is how extremely f****g well science has been doing.
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        Mar 17 2012: Devin,
        I'm sure Gabo will pop in and reflect on your comment addressed to him, and I got the notice, so I will respond as well.

        You have been told by at least 3 Tedsters that I am aware of, that your preaching will not be well recieved on TED. At least one discussion you started was removed by TED for this same reason.

        On this thread, you now ask people to take you more seriously, you are "shocked" and "surprised" by responses. Either you are not listening, not hearing, or intentionally ignoring information you are getting, none of which are very conducive to good discussion.
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Colleen,

          I really am surprised. I'm not sure how you define "preaching", but if by it you mean pontificating on matters without listening to responses or engaging in interacting dialogue, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I have no desire to simply "preach at" people. If I've somehow given that impression, I sincerely apologize.

          My honest intent has been to discuss whether it's reasonable, or probable to believe that a supernatural creator exists. I view that as a philosophical question about ontology, not a religious faith claim.

          That's why I haven't been quoting the Bible or appealing to any special revelation. Rather I'm genuinely curious about how the universe came to be. I've reflected a lot on it, and to me there seem to be three alternatives:

          1) The universe has always existed
          2) The universe popped into being out, uncaused, out of nothing
          3) Something caused the universe to exist.

          All of the scientific and philosophical evidence is against the first option. And the second option seems absolutely absurd. So in examining the third option, what could that cause possibly be? This is an honest question.

          In regard to being "surprised" by people's responses, I haven't been surprised by the questions people have raised. I've rather been surprised at the level of hostility I've encountered in simply raising this discussion. It appears that most people on TED have already made up their mind that it's not possible for God to exist, and even if He did, that it's not relevant. Both claims, in the absence of any evidence for them, seem to me quite brazen.

          I've tried hard to respond intelligently and faithfully to every question. But I can stop. I suppose my final question truly is, given that we know the universe began to exist, if you don't think a Creator is responsible, where did it come from?

          Best regards,
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          Mar 18 2012: Devin, why have you ruled out option 1? As I said in a comment before, nothing can be said about the universe before the Planck instant. Is our universe in fact cycling through different phases of expansion and the Big Bang is just another one? That is what Cambridge Professor Roger Penrose seemed to suggest in a guest lecture I attended. Could it be that the pre-Planck instant infinitely stretches into the past like an asymptotic curve seems to infinitely tend towars 0 without ever getting there? That has also been suggested.

          Also, why is it so absurd to imagine a fully-formed universe coming out of the void but perfectly acceptable for a much more sophisticated supreme being to have always been present (surely if it can create the universe, it would have to be more complicated than the universe)?

          With regards to the third option. Why God? Aren't there other options? A master universe that itself is infinite in time and space? Some simpler force that, like evolution brought about complexity through stages of simplicity? Myriads of things our minds couldn't hope to imagine, something nothing like a man (and let's be honest, God is just like an all-powerful man)?
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        Mar 17 2012: Yes...that's it Devin..."pontificating on matters without listening to responses or engaging in interacting dialogue"...see...you know what you're doing.

        Your statements like... "but the fact is we do have good evidence that a supernatural Creator exists" does NOT demonstrate an "honest intent... to discuss whether it's reasonable, or probable".

        That statement and many more of your statements demonstrate the fact that YOU have already made up YOUR mind...an accusation you make against others! There are MANY people participating on TED who believe in a god, and practice a religion. Apparently, they do not find it necessary to convince all of us to believe the same things...as you apparently do. You say you are simply asking questions, and that is not true. Do you think we are all foolish?

        It seems quite "brazen" (to use your word) for you to come onto TED and comment in a way that suggests that you have all the answers regarding god/no god.
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        Mar 17 2012: God sure is awesome at making it all look like an accident!

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