Devin Tarr

Master's Student, California State University Chico

This conversation is closed.

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.

  • Mar 16 2012: Devin Tarr, you said

    "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."

    You have crafted your argument with the appearance of scientific process, but some portions of your argument reveal that you reasoned backwards from conclusion to evidence, rather than using the scientific process of reasoning from evidence to conclusion. "spaceless", "timeless", "immaterial", and "powerful" relate to "space", "time", "matter", and "energy", but you have tacked on "personal" for no apparent reason, other than it relates to your preferred conclusion, the existence of a "transcendent personal Creator".

    By the way, does it really make sense to speak of a "timeless cause"? Our notion of "causality" is inextricably bound up with our conception of time. For event A to be considered the cause of event B, not only must event B be a consequence of event A, but event A must precede event B in time.
    • Mar 16 2012: He's giving the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The idea behind it is that an 'uncaused causer' must have agency and must transcend the realm of causality itself, ergo personal and timeless. You can find some good comprehensive refutations of it on google.
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        Mar 16 2012: I would love to truly engage in this argument. I currently believe it's sound, but if it's unsound, I don't want to continue using it.

        To clarify then, I'm not claiming that God "transcends the realm of causality itself". Far from it. In fact, our understanding of causality is deeper than being physical. It's rooted in the premise that "something can't come from nothing". Things don't just "pop" into being. Causality is the concept that refers to something bringing something else about. Hence, it's not rooted in our conception of time. But further Carlin, temporal causality does not require that events precede others in time. There can be simultaneous causation as well. Imagine a bowling ball that's been eternally resting on a pillow. The cause of the depression in the pillow is simultaneous with the bowling ball being there.

        In regard to the universe then, the time at which God caused the universe is when time began. God's causing the universe is simultaneous with it coming into being. In fact, that's the most common sense understanding of how that would happen.

        Finally, in regard to the cause being personal, there are two reasons here:
        1) What kind of thing could fit the following properties? Spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and unchanging? Well, two things: an abstract object, or an unembodied mind. Seeing that abstract objects can't "cause" anything then, the cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind.
        2) A timeless cause, if it were impersonal, would produce a timeless effect. The fact that we see that the effect began though, when the cause must be timeless, means the cause must have the ability to bring the effect about or not--making it personal.

        For those two reasons then, we can be confident the cause of the universe must be personal.
        • Mar 16 2012: So let me address some of the points you've raised.

          '[T]he cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind.'

          The problem here is with the notion of an 'unembodied mind'. As far as I have been able to tell, the best explorations of what a 'mind' is absolutely require embodiment. They specify that the mind is something that either comprises or is made possible by the function of the brain, and the processes therein. As such they lie within the domain of the philosophy of consciousness, cognitive science, psychology, and neurology. I recognise that we can often identify properties of a mind - an appearance of reflection, intentionality, and agency - but I have no idea how those properties could exist outside of the substrate and process - the meat and motion of the brain - which appear to produce them.

          I recognise that you could now introduce an argument that the mind is a product of the soul or some other form of mind-body dualism, but such an argument is so unsupportable from a scientific standpoint that the honest thing to do would be to renounce all appeals to science in other premises of your arguments. I also think there is a tautology lurking here, in which you claim that disembodied minds are possible because of the existence of disembodied minds.

          '2) A timeless cause, if it were impersonal, would produce a timeless effect. The fact that we see that the effect began though, when the cause must be timeless, means the cause must have the ability to bring the effect about or not--making it personal. '

          Since as I have already stated, the idea of a mind outside of a cognitive processing unit such as a brain makes no sense to me, nor I would wager to most expert thinkers on minds, by positing a personal causer you are offering no escape from the problem of causal regress. There is no way in which a mind can escape the need for a cause, nor have agency beyond the physical conditions that produce it.
        • Mar 16 2012: A further point: the origin of the universe seems to be one of those incredibly difficult problems into which physicists have been able to gain some possible insight only through the use of a scientific method which is predicated upon hard materialism. If you are able to show through logic that certain cosmological theories suggest that there must be a non-material part of reality, you have shown that those theories are incompatible with the methods that produced them. Rather than revealing some important aspect of reality, you've simply revealed an error in the science.

          Of course, I haven't encountered many logicians or philosophers of physics who think that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is valid.
        • Mar 17 2012: Devin,

          You said "In regard to the universe then, the time at which God caused the universe is when time began."

          Of course it has not been established that God caused the universe, and although that seems perilously close to begging the question, I'll set that aside for the moment.

          Note that it has not even been established that time began when our universe was created. If time is viewed as one of the four dimensions that we commonly perceive, then how do we know that the time dimension did not exist prior to the three spatial dimensions? And if time is viewed as simply our perception of the sequential ordering of events, how do we know that events did not occur within other universes prior to the creation of our own?

          Until those questions are resolved I don't see how any argument for the existence of a supernatural being can be based on the abstract notion of "timelessness".
        • Mar 19 2012: Devin, you said "I would love to truly engage in this argument." [the Kalam Cosmological Argument] "I currently believe it's sound, but if it's unsound, I don't want to continue using it."

          Did you mean that if you become convinced that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is unsound you would then question the existence of God? Or did you mean that you would then switch to some other argument for the existence of God? The former implies that you are presenting the argument because it led you to your belief in God. The latter implies that something else led you to believe in God, and you are searching for the best logical rationalization for your pre-existing belief.

          I can't be certain which is the case, but I have my suspicions. Many individuals come to a belief in God early in childhood, and I doubt that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is the reason.

          Children are told that God, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy exist, and they believe the adults who told them these things. As the child grows older it becomes apparent that the adults don't really believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but they do believe in the existence of God (or at least claim that they do). Why? I think it is simply because the existence of God, unlike Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, is not easily disproved, and provides a handy catch-all (albeit simplistic) explanation for many more of the mysteries of life. Why is there life on Earth? God wanted it that way. Why does the universe exist? God wanted it that way. Explaining away such important questions as the whim of a magical being is certainly easier than examining the evidence, formulating a theory, making predictions based on the theory, testing those predictions, and abandoning or revising the theory if the predictions are in error.

          This argument has been refuted many times, here in this conversation and elsewhere.
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          Mar 19 2012: I agree with Carlin and would like to add another point. People in general don't like uncertainty, but, as it stands, there are still many unexplained mysteries in the universe, hence the God concept helps to get rid of uncertainties (since everything that cannot be explained through science will be explained through God0.
          This was already so in the past when even thunder and lightening was considered the work of God.
          So hopefully, the more we understand the universe and everything in it, the less need for a God should we have.
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          Mar 19 2012: A natural process could have caused it.

          Just like evolution leading to the diversity of life doesn't need a personality although some people see god behind evolution
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        Mar 17 2012: Those are some great points! I think this will probably be one of my last responses. I must say, this conversation has started to become somewhat exhausting. It's like debating 12 people at once, with everyone putting forward different points, lol.

        On unembodied minds, I an indeed a substance-dualist. Unfortunately I haven't spent as much time investigating the philosophy behind it. I recall reading some persuasive works in the past that noted that intentionality, the awareness of ourselves, our personal identity existing through physical change in our brain, and free will are all reasons to believe the mind is an entity that uses the brain, but is its own entity nonetheless. If in fact the mind does have those properties, and is its own entity, that not all beings would require the physical substrata of a brain. But again, this is an area that I have not investigated in depth. I'm thankful you've brought this point up though as it's shown me an area I need to look into to see if the Kalam is in fact sound.

        Regarding the time issue, that is also an excellent point. I'm going to have to look into that one as well. The possibility of personhood in a timeless state does seem troubling to me. I'll look into those things, and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know.

        To Carlin,
        I admit that science has not closed the door that our universe may be one of many. Though there's no evidence for the multi-verse, it's possible. What's important to note though is that in 2003, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem showed that even the mutliverse must have had an absolute beginning, which would show that a timeless cause produced a temporal effect.

        Finally, to both of you, thank you for your kindness and respect. Simon, in particular I see I need to look further into whether an unembodied and timeless mind is a coherent concept.

        Warmly and sincerely,
        • Mar 17 2012: I'm very gratified to hear that what I said has been of some interest to you. One of my favourite books discussing consciousness, personhood, and the mind is 'I am a Strange Loop'.

          Once a friend asked me what I think it means to be conscious, to be a person, and to have a mind. I answered that I think that we tell a story about ourselves to ourselves. It's a story about what has happened to us, what we've done, and what we want. A narrative has a necessary temporal component: it requires a sequence of events. I later discovered 'higher order theory' and felt really good about myself ;)
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    Mar 16 2012: Hi Devin.
    When I was a new Christian in the 80's the church was buzzing with the news that the Lord was going to allow the Jewish people in Russia to return to Israel. I was shown the bible prophecies etc. & could see where the idea came from, although the exact timing was unknown. God had told some folks that it was imminent , therefore the buzz.
    Within a couple of years the Berlin Wall came down unexpectedly & the Jews were free to return to Israel, just as prophecied thousands of years previously.
    This & many other events are proof to me at least of the existence of God. They are where the rubber hits the road spiritually speaking. The fact that such happenings are acknowledged by some, but others are totally oblivious leads me to believe that refusal to accept the very existence of the spiritual blinds them to the whole dimension.

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    Mar 15 2012: We should not assume the supernatural realm is myth or delusion. There are aspects of life which defy natural explanation. For example Faith, Hope and Love elude scientific explanation. I think more than two or three questions must be answered before classifying the supernatural as ecstatic fiction. I suggest seven questions. Since secular science has introduced the theory of multiple universes it is necessary to specify which possible world is intended, thus I use the nomenclature " W1" to designate the universe (world) in which the writer, and readers, share conscious, simultaneous existence.
    1.Does it appear that W1 is designed, created and controlled?
    2.Are there any candidates suggested to be W1’s designer/creator/controller?
    3.Do any of the candidates claim to possess the necessary qualifying attributes of infinite, eternal and immutable?
    4.Has any candidate provided an understandable, written explanation of the past, present and future of W1 which confirms man’s body of non-theoretical knowledge, i.e. archaeology; astronomy; biology; cosmogony; cosmology; geology; history; psychology; sociology; etc.?
    5.Does any candidate provide and explain a way for humans in W1 to attain to everlasting, perfect existence?
    6.Does any candidate actively participate in conscious, real-time, two-way, super natural communication with humans of W1?
    7.Does any candidate communicate naturally and supernaturally to humans of W1 about
    what behavior is expected; the consequences of disobedience; and the reward for obedience?
    It seems to me that one affirmative answer constitutes sufficient doubt to demand additional discussion, research and observation.
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      Mar 15 2012: Edward,

      I fail to see how "Faith, Hope and Love elude scientific explanation." Why do you think so?
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        Mar 16 2012: I guess the discipline that would take it upon itself to explain faith, hope and love would not be one of the natural sciences, which are governed by Natural Laws, but perhaps philosophy or psychology. I am unaware of any experiments conducted in accordance with the Scientific Method which explain why someone believes in God; or clings tenaciously to hope for a better tomorrow; or is driven by such unconditional affection that their own safety and comfort is sacrificed for the benefit of the object of that affection. I think that explanation will always be the "elusive butterfly of love." Do you have some suggested reading for me? Thanks Mr. Margiotis. Best wishes.
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    Mar 18 2012: On the first cause argument, the flaws in this argument are fairly obvious in the discussion below and others. This is an old and tired argument. There are probably infinite explanations that could explain the universe around us. And the truth may be something beyond our imagination. Its very presumptuous to jump to a theistic view, and virtually ridiculous to assume any one particular religious belief system is the correct one.

    I think atheists get frustrated because the flaws in this type of argument are so obvious. So obviously trying to understand the universe from a human perspective, with our limited senses and intellectual and tools.
    We have a consciousness so we invent gods or creators in our image. We think the whole universe of billions or galaxies each with billions of stars revolves around homo sapiens.

    Sometime we even believe this universe creator picked a desert tribe as its chosen people 14 billion years after whatever.

    We simply don't know what came before, or what is beyond what we see beyond hubble's view of the universe we are in. There could be other universes outside our view.

    We don't know why the physical constants are the way they are.

    In the end you explain all this with a feat of intellectual gymnastics by inventing a creator that sits outside reality as we know it. Saying this entity is outside space and time, and is immaterial, but can create matter and energy still doesn't explain where the matter came from or where it came from. You just make the whole question more difficult and ridiculous by imprinting inadequate human made religious beliefs on what we may never understand.
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    Mar 17 2012: I would say there is an obvious sixth question:
    5) Are we pleading a special case for the cause of religious experience to be natural?

    Even if there is "something beyond us" argument is taken to be true, one does not get a case for a prayer answering, intervening controlling super natural being. Actually it would actually refute that such a being exists.
  • Mar 17 2012: Devin,

    You said "1) What kind of thing could fit the following properties? Spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and unchanging? Well, two things: an abstract object, or an unembodied mind. Seeing that abstract objects can't "cause" anything then, the cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind."

    I am tempted to reply "Seeing that an unembodied mind can't "cause" anything, then the cause of the universe must be an abstract thing."

    But of course an unembodied mind and an "abstract thing" (in context I assume you mean this to be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and unchanging) are both abstract concepts that have no physical reality. We might as well suppose that our universe was created by the irrational number pi, which is also an abstract concept, but a darn sight more useful one than an "unembodied mind".
  • Mar 16 2012: I think that the question 'is it possible that religious experience is a manifestation of God's existence' is perfectly legitimate, and consistent with a scientific approach. So far, there are no objective experiments that can be used to test the hypothesis of existence of the supernatural, so we are left with simply admitting we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. At that point, science backs away, and asserts that it has nothing to say in matters of faith.

    Science can, however, perform experiments with drugs or brain injury that seem to produce experiences that are indistinguishable (to a given individual) from 'religious' experiences. One is then led to conclude (scientifically) that available evidence points to a very fallible brain, that is, one that can be completely fooled into believing in God through biochemical manipulation. God, and fairies for that matter, can be made perceivable, and completely convincing, by artifice. This rather strongly suggests (to many unencumbered by prior faith) that belief in God may well be a natural and very human process. This evidence is not proof, but is a very compelling argument for an alternative explanation for religious conviction, and indeed, obviates the need for the existence of God to explain man's religious fervor. Deus ex machina, all over again.

    Unfortunately, and I mean that sincerely, there is still no evidence for the existence of a supernatural God-like entity, though many, MANY questions about the universe remain unanswered.
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      Mar 16 2012: I agree with your first paragraph whole heartedly, though the third should be edited to say there's still no demonstrable PROOF for the existence of God. Indeed, the origin of the universe does provide at least good evidence for His existence.

      In regard to the second paragraph though, the responses of most individuals whose brains are stimulated report feeling like they are part of "the one", or that all reality is interconnected. This kind of expereince, brought on by artificial stimulation, is very different from teh response of the Christian believer--leading me to think it's more likely the new agey spiritual experiences are less veridical than the Christians.
      • Mar 16 2012: Actually, people who smoke crack have a religious experiance every time, because it stimulates the exact same portion of the brain as a deeply profound religious experiance.
        Science also can disprove the existance of a god, if, and only if you adhere strictly to the Scientific Method, and Process. It goes like this: (1)Question: Does God Exist?, (2)Back Ground Research: Read Bible, Go to church, pray, follow dogma, etcetera...., (3)Construct Hypothesis: There is a God., (4) Test with an experiment. Here is where you have to strictly follow the process. Pray for god to give you something that you could not have gotten any other way. or chose any experiment that is objective, that you can measure, you should see the contradiction by now. (5) Analyze RESULTS, Draw a conclusion based on those RESULTS. (6) Record your RESULTS and (7) Try again. "Contradictions do not exist. If you believe you are facing a contradiction check your premises, you will find that one of them is wrong."- Ayn Rand
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          Mar 16 2012: Yeah like this mad business called The Multiverse,have they found any yet?
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          Mar 16 2012: "[P]eople who smoke crack have a religious experiance every time...."

          A religious experience isn't necessarily a God experience.

          "Science also can disprove the existance of a god...."

          And God can disprove the existence of science.
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          Mar 16 2012: Your test would only work if that being you're praying to must always say yes to your prayers. If it's possible for that being to say no, then unanswered prayer is not a proof that such a being doesn't exist.

          Thus we should look at other possible evidence for, or against, the existence of God. I've been dialoguing extensively on this above.

          Cheers! :)
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    Mar 15 2012: OK I am going to completely disagree with Mr. Haidt and his social science take on transcendence.

    In my experience self-transcendence is a solitary journey. It is something only the self can do.

    We do not transcend self INTO collective. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

    The whole perspective is skewed. What those collective people were doing was following a CHARISMATIC leader. He did not touch on that at all. He did not explore how that 'moth to a flame' attraction works and can mobilize a collective for good or for bad. MLK and Hitler were not that far apart in leveraging this ability. I did not see any pictures of Hitler up there. Now that might have been something to explore. The evolutionary role of the charismatic leader. But no. It was some waka pac-man game.

    Those collective movements were as selfishly motivated as the greedy corporate dude with the money. They wanted to be 'in' and a part of what everybody else was doing. Herd mentality.

    That type of behavior IS NOT SPIRITUALITY!

    OMG! and the audience ate it up like it was food! Biggest manure eating fest I have seen in a while. The herd continues. (am so angry I copy/pasted to the video blog)
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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" 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 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 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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      Mar 15 2012: Sorry I should clarify. I'm using "natural" in the sense of "explainable through material causes." Most of the people who have religious experiences would say they are connecting with, or experiencing, something that transcends physical realm.

      Mr. Haidt seeks to explain such claims through physical means, saying they're due to either a feature of homo sapiens as a homo duplex creature, or a bug of our biology.

      My question is why should we be so quick to dismiss the claims of those who have such experiences? Maybe they are indeed connecting to a supernatural reality, such as the Creator of the universe.
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        Mar 15 2012: Devin,

        I don't think Haidt is dismissing the idea that religious experiences are supernaturally caused on a whim; I believe that he has good evidence to reject a supernatural explanation. After all, religious claims are made time and time again, and science eventually debunks them; that is, science shows that said claims have some *natural* cause rather than a supernatural one. Isn't it logical, then, to assume that religious experiences can *also* be explained naturally? Moreover, David Hume's criticism of miracles is applicable here, I believe. What's more probable? That religious experiences are supernatural in nature, which entails a domain of existence that no one has *objectively* confirmed (and we can't assume that it exists in the case of religious experience), or that religious experience, like all of our other experiences, have a natural explanation? There are other problems, too. For instance, person A has revelation X and person B has revelation Y, and X and Y are contradictory. Again, what is the *best explanation* for this phenomenon? That a "cosmic revealer" discloses contradictory messages to some people, or that there is no such revealer and their revelations are the result of natural causes?
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          R H

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          Mar 16 2012: Evidence Shmevidence.When did we get so grand that we thought our little selves on this pathetically tiny microdot of a dust ball in an oscure postiion in the universe can see its totality (might I add 'the known universe')? We've just begun to have confidence in scientific method within the last few hundred years. Yet we're 'there'? We 'get it' now? We can discount intuition, experience, sensitivity which we have yet to fully explore. We can do this because we've figured how to find organic cells and throw them together and watch what happens. We found energy in sub-microscopic life- again, only on this pathetically insignificant dustball - and we now understand the immensity of possibility in infinity. We discount through our self-importance and mutually agreed upon groupthink and prove we are correct to each other. And what is the result? Nothing but division. No harmony of effort. We like to be 'right' so we can destroy our 'opponent' rather than take in humility that which we can offer to each other for the betterment of all. There is no evidence therefore it doesn't exist. I'll remember that when I clean a dust-mite from my floor. I'll have comfort knowing it thinks I don't exist.
        • Mar 16 2012: RH,

          If I understand you correctly, you're arguing in favour of epistemic humility. That is, you're arguing that we shouldn't be quick to dismiss claims about the world because we have only a tiny, flimsy, and very recent ability to detect anything beyond our own eyes, or explain those things we do see before our faces, for that matter.

          This is an important thing to remember, for sure. But at the same time, I still think we can speak with a sort of provisional certainty about many of our recent discoveries in physics or biology. We have developed, in the short time that something recognisable as the scientific method has been around, the ability to so perfectly predict the behaviour of subatomic particles that our maths couldn't really get that much more precise. We've developed the ability to selectively activate and deactivate specific genes. In short, while we should remember our limitations, I think we can still have some justified confidence in the rigours and strengths of the scientific method, and thus we can - provisionally, with the door always open to have our minds changed - reject claims which seem contrary to our most-sound seeming understandings of people and minds. And as Paul stated earlier, some claims appear internally self-contradictory, and if there is one thing of which we can all be certain, it is the basic rules of logic: it is impossible for P and not-P to both be the case.
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          Mar 16 2012: Dear Paul, thank you for your engagement!

          First, there is in fact good evidence for a transcendent personal Creator. Consider the question regarding the Universe's origins:

          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.

          In regard to Hume, you should read John Earman's book, "Hume's Abject Failure" (2000). In it he notes how Hume's argument rests on a key oversight of probability theory; namely, that extraordinarily improbable events happen ALL the time, but we believe them because of the evidence for them. Put another way, one must not only consider the probability of an events occurance, but also the probability that we should have the evidence we do if that event did not occur. We believe the winning lottery number is accurate (even though its enormously improbable) because its even more improbable that the news should read the number as correct if it weren't true. Hume only considered the intrinsic improbability of miracles without also addressing the probability that we would have the evidence we do if it did not occur.

          On contradictory religious experiences, just because there are counterfeits of something, doesn't mean the real thing is also false.


          I just found it odd that Mr. Haidt would assume every religious experience only has a natural explanation (which he couldn't identify), instead of being open to maybe there being something more. That's all.

      • Mar 16 2012: Scientific theories should be plausible. There exist plausible explanations for the feeling of 'self-transcendence' that many people describe as part of their religious experiences which rely on existing understandings of human psychology, neurology, and physiology. They are plausible precisely because they are broadly and deeply supported by our current understandings of what sort of things comprise reality and what sort of interactions between those things are possible.

        On the other hand, the notion of a 'realm beyond the physical' seems to make no sense given our current understandings of physics and metaphysics. I haven't even seen a methodical and comprehensive definition of what such a realm would look like, let alone a plausible explanation for how and when that realm connects to ours. Therefore I think I'm justified in quickly dismissing claims that a supernatural reality exists, at least provisionally.
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          Mar 16 2012: Nicely put, Simon.
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          Mar 16 2012: R H,

          Your response attacks a misrepresentation of my position(s), and it is therefore irrelevant.

          "When did we get so grand that we thought our little selves on this pathetically tiny microdot of a dust ball in an oscure postiion in the universe can see its totality (might I add 'the known universe')?"—Where do I say that we can?

          "We've just begun to have confidence in scientific method within the last few hundred years. Yet we're 'there'? We 'get it' now?"—Where do I say that we do?

          "We can discount intuition, experience, sensitivity which we have yet to fully explore."—Where do I say that "we can discount intuition, experience, sensitivity"?

          "We discount through our self-importance and mutually agreed upon groupthink and prove we are correct to each other."—Argument ad hominem.

          "We like to be 'right' so we can destroy our 'opponent' rather than take in humility that which we can offer to each other for the betterment of all."—Argument ad hominem.

          "There is no evidence therefore it doesn't exist."—Where did I make this argument?
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        Mar 16 2012: Devin,

        For some odd reason it won't let me reply to your response to me (where you lay down the Kalam cosmological argument). What's up with that?

        There are lots of issues with the KCA. First, I reject premise 2. There may be "other universes" (I question the semantics when physicists speak of "multiverses") beyond what we call our universe; that which came into existence after the Big Bang. What is beyond "our universe" is unknowable to us, and we don't know if it came into existence or if it has always been here. Second, why is the belief in a creator more plausible than, say, an infinite regress? Third, I'm not certain how you infer from a timeless cause producing a temporal effect that that which did the causing is therefore personal. Fourth, if this creator is timeless, then doesn't that mean it is unchanging (assuming that time is change)? And if it's unchanging, how can it produce a temporal effect? Producing something, after all, implies change. Fifth, I'm not sure I understand your criticism of Hume's view of miracles. Could you rephrase? Lastly, regarding your remark of Haidt excluding a supernatural explanation, let me see if I can provide an example. Recently I watched a video of James Randi about how he exposed Uri Geller. Geller claimed that he could bend spoons and Randi was able to replicate the act himself without paranormal means; e.g., he could produce the same results naturally. Now, as Randi himself stated, this doesn't prove definitively that Geller isn't bending spoons via paranormal means, but since we have no evidence for the paranormal and all of the evidence points towards a natural explanation, is it not more rational to accept the natural justification over the paranormal one? If there was compelling evidence of a supernatural realm and its influence on the natural (would it still be supernatural?), I'm sure Haidt would take such an explanation into account, but as things stand there is no such evidence.
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          Mar 16 2012: Dear Paul, thank you! Just going over your list then...

          1) There has not been a single cosmological theory that has been able to successfully restore an infinite past. In 2003, three physicists Alan Guth, Arvin Borde, and Alexander Vilenkin, showed that ANY universe that has been on average expanding cannot be eternal in the past, but must have had an absolute beginning. This holds true even when General Relativity breaks down in the early split second of the universe.

          2) Philosophers have closed the door on the possibility of an infinite regress. They're impossible for two reasons. First, the existence of an actually infinite amount of things leads to absurdities, showing that it's nothing more than an idea in our minds, not something that accords with reality. Second, you can't get to an actual infinite through a regress, because before you can even get started, you need an event before it, and then one before it, and so and so forth. This is known as the impossibility of traversing the infinite.

          3) Please see my comments above.

          4) That's a good point. I'll have to think about that. :)

          5) Hume argued we can't rationally believe a miracle occurred, because to say you think an event occurred is to say that's the most probable event, but since miracles are (on his definition) the most intrinsically improbable event, you can't affirm them as the most probable. Thus you can never identify a miracle as what probably occurred. The problem in that reasoning is that it only considers the intrinsic improbability of a miracle occuring without considering the probability you would have the evidence for it, if it did not occur (which may be even MORE improbable).

          6) I do think we should prefer a natural explanation before moving to a supernatural one. It's only when all natural explanations fail that we should consider if there might be a supernatural one. But given the subject of Haidt's inquiry, he might consider if the people DID experience the supernatural.
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    Mar 15 2012: I think we should ask, whether being able to have religious experiences provides us with any evolutionary benefit. Or in other words: assuming religious experience suddenly disappears, would that alter in any way how our race evolves and adapts ? Would it in any way change our chance of survival as a race ?
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      Mar 15 2012: Yeah that makes sense. My trouble with that perspective though is it puts the primary subject of inquiry on "what will help us best survive?" My question is a fundamentally different one, "what is life truly about?" If there's something more to life than just what our senses tell us, that truth is going to be deeper than we've ever imagined. And if such a reality exists, there's no way I want to focus on the earthly question at the expense of the spiritual one. Just my thoughts though. :)
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        Mar 15 2012: Well, one thing is sure, reality is much more complex than what we can detect with our 5 senses, even without invoking the concept of "spiritual".
        Now to the question of "What is life truly about ?": Did you ever consider that there doesn't really have to be a purpose to life's existence ? If we ask the question about life's purpose, we could as well ask about the purpose of the whole universe. Why does the universe exist ?
        By the way, what do you consider "spiritual questions" and why do you think they could be important in your day to day life ?
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          Mar 16 2012: Certainly it could be that there's no purpose to life, but it's at least worth investigating. In my experience I've found life makes the most sense when lived in communion with the Lord.

          Moreover, my relationship with God impacts my day-to-day life in every way. Indeed, with Him, no circumstances in life can take away my joy, and the blessing of a clean conscience, knowing I'm forgiven of all everything I've done wrong, is worth more than I could pay.
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          Mar 19 2012: Fair enough Devin, but plenty of people do or have found meaning in life with other gods, or buddhism, or no gods or supernatural constructs.

          Up until 1700 years ago Judaism or Christianity was only known to a very small part of the worlds population. People elsewhere have managed to find or invent meaning since we had the brain to contemplate the question.
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        Mar 16 2012: You see Devin, I'm perfectly happy with my life without any reliance on the supernatural. I can't even imagine where faith in a God could add any value.
        I always think that religion is like crutches for some people. It's just a tool to confront and deal better with life's challenges. Some people seem to need this tool and others do not, but at the end, as long as someone's faith doesn't hurt anybody, I don't really care what he believes.
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          Mar 16 2012: Right. I'm of the opinion that the universe didn't just pop into being out of nowhere, but that there must be a cause behind it. Moreover, when I look at the properties that this cause must have, I'm led to the traditional understanding of a Theistic God.

          Then I reflect on something. I believe that morality is real. Some things are really right and really wrong. But where do right and wrong come from? If they're merely social constructs, then what's "right" and "wrong" can drastically change. Perhaps one day the holocaust would be right (if everyone alive in the world believed so). But if in fact the holocaust was wrong, independent of what everyone thinks, then how is that? Indeed, it would need to be grounded in a transcendent Person who IS good.

          Then I go one step further. Will people ultimately be held accountable for their actions? I believe so. The evidence for a transcendent and morally perfect Creator leads me to believe that our lives DO have significance and value, and that we all will give an account of our lives once we die. That's what Jesus taught. And the evidence for Jesus' resurrection is actually quite good. So I put my faith in Jesus, in reason, and empirical experience. The conclusion of those three is what makes me, unashamedly, a sincere Christian. :)
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          Mar 16 2012: "You see Devin, I'm perfectly happy with my life without any reliance on the supernatural."

          I'm glad that you're "perfectly happy" with your life, as you should be, but to say that you live your life "without reliance on the supernatural," if you mean by the "supernatural" God, then you don't understand who God is.

          Among other things, God is Life, God is Mind, and God is Consciousness. As such, you cannot not rely on God, and you most certainly believe in Him.

          True, religion is a "tool' of a sort, establishing a direct, conscious, and deliberate way with which to engage God and to use God.

          Because God is Life, Mind, and Consciousness, we all use Her as "a tool to confront and deal better with life's challenges," it's just that some of us are doing it indirectly, unconsciously, and unwittingly, while some are doing it deliberately.

          Further, life has a purpose, as God has a purpose for Life. To think otherwise is to say that God is a purposeless God, which, even for non-believers, would seem out of line with the notion of a God.

          Not only is it impossible not to use God, it's just as impossible not to believe in Her. If we believe in us, we believe in God.

          Just as we cannot not use God, cannot not believe in God, we cannot not be about God's business, as that too would seem out of line with the notion we have of God as almighty, and all-knowing.

          Our God Purpose: We're here on planet earth to experience. Think about it, what do we live and die to do (literally at times), whether vicariously or by active participation? If you say to experience, then you have answered the 64 thousand dollar question, whether adjusted for inflation or not.

          We humans came from the absolute (where all things are One Thing) to the realm of the relative (where most things are measured by their opposites) for the purpose of knowing ourselves through our experiences. We can know ourselves as good, but until we do something good, and experience that, we are merely speculating
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          Mar 19 2012: Devin, you are of the opinion that the universe didn't just pop into being out of nowhere, but that there must be a cause behind it.

          Then you jump on the tired old theistic view around the cause not needing a cause through the usual mental gymnastics. Something out side and space, time, matter and energy yet able to manipulate these.

          "the cause must be ...." this is such a nonsense argument, with no basis. You jump on one of an infinite number of causes, more than we can imagine.

          The argument seems so obviously about justifying a belief rather than explaining what we don't understand.

          If you allow for your view of god outside time and space etc then there are millions of other arguments or explanations possible. Multiple universes etc. And also infinite variants of what a first cause might be.

          And then the jump to your cultural god being the first cause, not any other is almost ridiculous.
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        Mar 16 2012: Devin, I think that's faulty reasoning.
        1) There probably is some cause that brought the universe into existence, but there is no reason to associate it with some supernatural entity.
        2) I'm not sure what particular properties of the universe lead you to the deduction that it must be the work of a God.
        3) "traditional understanding": applies only to the faithful.
        4) Yes, morality is real, but again, morality does not depend on religion or any faith in the supernatural. Otherwise, by definition, only religious people could be moral while others are amoral. This obviously is not the case.
        5) What is right and what is wrong depends on the particular community. There are no absolutes. For example, killing and eating your dog is something that seems to be pretty common in some parts of Asia. On the other hand, if you do that in the US, you have a good chance to land in jail. Or, another example, in some cultures kids are forced into marriage and sex and in those cultures it seems pretty much normal and legal. In our western societies you would quickly get into legal troubles. There are even tribes for which cannibalism is something normal and legal, while in most societies it would be murder and lead to obvious consequences.
        As you see, right and wrong are relatives, made up by a given societies, but they are not universal truths.
        What also plays a role, I think, is that humans are social animals, which by definition have to create a system that allows them to get along with each other. Certain behaviors just don't go together with a functioning social community (e.g. killing, stealing,....).
        6) What makes you believe that people might be held accountable (presumably in some afterlife) for their earthly deeds ? There is no evidence for that. Even in our earthly realm we more often than not see, that bad people are actually doing pretty fine, while good people often suffer. So, there doesn't seem to be any correlation.
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          Mar 16 2012: "There probably is some cause that brought the universe into existence, but there is no reason to associate it with some supernatural entity."

          A cause without a cause. A definition of God wouldn't you say, self-existent. Whether you believe that the "cause" was natural or "supernatural," that which set in motion all that is, is, by definition God, the First Cause.

          This argument dates back to Plato and Aristotle, and we're still debating it today, with each side marshaling its defenses.

          "I'm not sure what particular properties of the universe lead you to the deduction that it must be the work of a God."

          Frankly, there aren't any. The material universe has no "properties" that support the notion of God. It could be argued successfully that the physical universe is proof that God doesn't exist.

          Notwithstanding the argument, we're told that God isn't material but spiritual. I would go further and say that God exists outside of the material universe, although He's the cause of it. I would go even further and say that the material universe doesn't exist at all, that all is Spirit and Mind.

          But then, that's me. I've had some rather interesting experiences, the result of a propitious birth.

          "What is right and what is wrong depends on the particular community."

          True, and time, and place, among them.

          "What makes you believe that people might be held accountable (presumably in some afterlife) for their earthly deeds."

          "As you sow, you reap." This statement has two sides. If you sow good, then good will be returned to you. If you sow anger, hatred, envy, and jealousy, these things will be returned as well. If you take that which is not yours, that which is yours will be taken from you.

          In this life, reparation is received, but, depending on the nature of the offense, it may take several lifetimes to balance the scales.

          "There is no evidence for that...." Because you can't see the law in action doesn't mean it's not. bin Laden died as he lived, with more coming.
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Harald, thank you. Those are good questions.
          1) 2) 3) I should be clearer in noting that reflecting on the origin of the universe I don't think requires one to believe in God. But seeing that the cause of the universe (which is all space, time, matter, and energy) requires the cause to spaceless, timeless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, and personal, I believe we can at least be confident that a transcendent personal supernatural Creator exists.

          On morality, you note (I think correctly), that if there is no God, then morality is relative. The problem with that is I think we all know it's not true. I think all people have a moral intuition in our being that informs us that murder (killing innocents people) is wrong. Cultures may disagree about who is "innocent", but that principle remains constant.

          Though, I see no more reason why we should deny our moral sense is true than that we should deny our physical sense of the world is true. But please know, I'm not saying that one must believe in God, or be religious, to be moral. That is not what I'm saying. Rather, the claim is that if God exists, objective moral values exist (for everyone), but if there is no transcendent moral law, then there is no objective morality for anyone--believer or non-believer.

          On the point about people being held accountable once they die, I think the best evidence for that is to investigate the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. If God really raised Him from the dead, I think we can trust what He said. But if not, then we can dismiss it.

          I get the feeling though that people aren't enjoying this discussion very much anymore. If you still are, I'd love to talk more, but if not, I don't want to frustrate anyone. I'm just passionate about truth and big questions.

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        Mar 16 2012: Wilbert, your definition of God is one that not all faithful would agree with. Besides, if you say God is life, minds, consciousness, etc, then you are simply giving those terms a different names, hence playing with words. Mind, Life, consciousness are terms that can be and are approached by science, while God is something that lies outside of science.
        "Further, life has a purpose, as God has a purpose for Life. To think otherwise is to say that God is a purposeless God, which, even for non-believers, would seem out of line with the notion of a God."
        This paragraph only makes sense to a faithful but is totally meaningless to anybody else.
        All you see around you is a wonder of nature, but there is nothing mystical, supernatural or otherwise "strange" to it. It is simply the result of billions of years of nature's trial and error. You don't need to invoke a God for that.
        About life's ultimate purpose, to be honest, I don't think there is one and I really don't care if there is one. My objective is to live this life as if it were the only one I have (and most probably that's the case anyway) in the best possible way.
        It's actually pretty simple and becomes only convoluted once people start to involve products of their imagination (e.g. Gods).
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          Mar 17 2012: "Wilbert, your definition of God is one that not all faithful would agree with."

          Of course you're right, but a few "faithful" would agree. Nevertheless, until we understand God, we'll never understand ourselves.

          I realize that on this and many contiguous topics we won't see eye to eye, and that's why I'm reticent to offer my own experiences as support for my positions.

          "[Y]ou are simply giving those terms a different names,...playing with words. Mind, Life, consciousness are terms that can be and are approached by science."

          What we've done, essentially, is apply to ourselves attributes that belong to God. Now, let me challenge you: You say that these "terms...can be and are approached by science." True, they can, but tell me this, as science looks to the physical body for the source of life, why has it come up empty handed?

          As it looks to the brain for mind, and consciousness, why has it failed utterly? Surely, this material science can find a material source for that which gives meaning to life, and allows us to interact with it.

          If it can't--and it never will--then something is missing and that something is a Life, a Mind, and a Consciousness, residing outside of the physical realm, and material perception, and that something is what we call God.

          For me, this isn't an exercise in speculation or semantics, but a part of my stone-hard reality, my ongoing experiences.

          I can tell you this: Your body is not alive, but is kept alive by another. The body doesn't think, nor is it conscious, but obtains these abilities from another--one far more excellent than the one you see.

          Because, in this realm, these things are expressed through a brain, and a body, any damage to that body can result in less than optimum expression of life and mind.

          How do I know? I'm a rarity. One who has the ability to leave his body at will. Another who had this ability, Robert Monroe, studied this phenomenon with as much scientific adherence as possible.
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          Mar 17 2012: "This paragraph only makes sense to a faithful but is totally meaningless to anybody else."

          I'd agree to this extent: For some, this statement is "meaningless," but not necessarily "meaningless to anybody else." There are many communities of thought where this statement would not only resonate, but find easy and familiar acceptance.

          "All you see around you is a wonder of nature, but there is nothing mystical, supernatural or otherwise "strange" to it."

          You're right, there's nothing "strange" about it, and from my vast and uncommon perspective, what is termed "supernatural and mystical" is for me, natural and commonplace. See the accompanying post.

          "About life's ultimate purpose, to be honest, I don't think there is one and I really don't care if there is one."

          And you're right not to "care." It doesn't matter that you care or don't care. Life will allow you to live it any way you choose, and won't berate, or judge you for the choice.

          "My objective is to live this life as if it were the only one I have (and most probably that's the case anyway)."

          Keep it in the probability realm. Many who have died thinking that life ended with their death, are now asleep in that belief, and won't awaken for an interminable time. You don't want to do that, you have too much living to do, as you have lived many times, and will, if you're careful, live many more.

          "It's actually pretty simple and becomes only convoluted once people start to involve products of their imagination (e.g. Gods)."

          How ironic, you're using God (Imagination) to dismiss God. Haven't you noticed: God doesn't have a preference one way or the other? Do as you choose, but with a caveat: All paths lead to God, although some paths that look like paths aren't paths at all. Know too: You can choose a path back to God that's joyous and peaceful, or arduous and painful.

          That's where I come in--to urge you to spare yourself that agony. It's not necessary,.
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        Mar 16 2012: Wilbert, as to your 2 post: If you start talking about God as the cause for everything there is you are quickly ending up on a very slippery path, because you inevitably will get the question who created God and who created God's creator and so forth, which as you can see quickly doesn't lead anywhere.
        You say God is spiritual or outside the material world. That sounds nice, but what does that mean ? What does "spiritual" mean ? What or where is "outside the material world" ? These are simply imaginations. There is no evidence at all to support such ideas. You could as well claim that purple unicorns roam the surface of Alfa Centauris.
        "As you sow, you reap.": sometimes, and only in our material life (at least based on the evidence available)
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          Mar 17 2012: "[Y]ou inevitably will get the question who created God and who created God's creator and so forth, which as you can see quickly doesn't lead anywhere."

          it leads where it leads. God is an Existence, rather than a being. She's that which has always been, and always will be. He's the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, existing in a time, no-time, for eternity, as do you.

          "You say God is spiritual or outside the material world."

          She's more than that. He is Spirit. If you doubt me, ask Her yourself! God communicates with us all the time, but few listens. Ask Sherry Sword:

          "There is no evidence at all to support such ideas."

          You're right, there is no evidence that your physical, material senses will acknowledge. That's why you'll have to develop your spiritual senses to see what you've been missing.

          "'As you sow, you reap.': sometimes, and only in our material life (at least based on the evidence available)."

          Evidence is available, but only for those with eyes to see, as we humans see only an infinitesimal amount of the vista before us. Sometime the reaping is quick, as in my case, or slowly, over many lifetimes--also, as in my case.

          "What does 'spiritual' mean ? What or where is 'outside the material world?'"

          Actually, you know what it means, for you reside there in the always. When you sleep, your soul rests: it returns to it natural habitat so to speak. That dream world that we often dismiss as inconsequential to our existence is the realm that's called spirit, and when you transition, you'll know that, and that world will be as familiar to you as your dreamscape is to you now.
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        Mar 17 2012: Wilbert you say: "True, they can, but tell me this, as science looks to the physical body for the source of life, why has it come up empty handed? "
        That's one of the arguments I often here from religious people. However, this shows a lack of understanding what science is. Science has not all the answers to our questions. It's a work in progress. But look back in time. Once upon a time, people believed in fire, lightening etc. as something magical. Why ? Because they lacked the understanding of the underlying scientific principles. People at some time also believed that the earth was flat. The list of examples is endless.
        Just because there are things we can't explain yet, doesn't mean we have to explain them with God.
        Whether you admit it or not, your faith is not (by definition) based on facts. That being so, any belief in anything is on equal footing as a belief in God. Whether one believes in the 9/11 conspiracy, the tooth fairy, Santa or God, in principle makes no difference. Fact is, their is neither proof nor even evidence to support any of those beliefs.
        I'm a biochemist and I can tell you that as amazing as our body (and any life form for that purpose) is, it is not more than an incredible carbon based machine. Everything there is to a living being are electrochemical reactions. Once these reactions stop we are dead. I understand that this is not a very romantic view about us, but that's how it is. Bye the way, I'm familiar with the Monroe Institute and with all due respect I consider them a bunch of charlatans.
        But as I said in an earlier post, it doesn1 really matter to me what a person believes as long as his belief doesn't cause any damage to others.
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          Mar 17 2012: "However, this shows a lack of understanding what science is."

          Not, really. I believe that I have a very good grasp of science as well as its limitations. That's why I know that the riddle of life will forever elude it. It can't see what it can't see. Spirit is above the physical world; that's why it's called metaphysical.

          Now, I'm not trying to convince anyone, or convert anyone.I merely wish to share my own experiences in the spirit world and offer another point of view. You're free to believe or not. In that, I have no preference, just as God has no preference.

          "Just because there are things we can't explain yet, doesn't mean we have to explain them with God."

          I couldn't agree more. Explain them anyway you choose. Life is all about choice. You're free to choose whatever you wish. You have free will because God has free will. And since you're part of God, and God a part of you, She has willed certain things for you, which is saying substantially, You have willed certain things for you.

          One of those things is to return Home, to the Godhead. And you can do that now, or in a millennium.

          Regardless of what you may feel about the Monore Institute, Robert Monroe pioneered the out of body phenomenon, as he was one of the first, but not the only one, to write about his experiences in this other realm, often referred to as the astral realm.

          "Everything there is to a living being are electrochemical reactions. Once these reactions stop we are dead."

          You're describing the physical body, and not YOU. You didn't have a beginning and you will not have an end. I have lived thousands of times, and know of many of these incarnations, tracing my existence to the very beginning of time, before history was chronicled.

          As I warned: You'll want to keep the possibility open as to whether you'll survive death, as you will sleep for an awful long time, before you awaken yourself, or is awaken by others.

          And frankly, that would be a waste. As you believe, it's done unto you.
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          Mar 17 2012: Dear Harold, I didn't know you were a biochemist! I wish I had that kind of knowledge, though not badly enough to do the work that you've done on that area.

          I do have an honest question for you though. You said, "Everything there is to a living being are electrochemical reactions." Do you see no difference between the Mind and Brain then?

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        Mar 17 2012: Wilbert, I'm not sure you actually believe what you write, but then, who knows.
        As for me, I prefer to base my life on something a bit more tangible than fairy tales.
        But good luck to you anyway !
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          Mar 17 2012: "Wilbert, I'm not sure you actually believe what you write, but then, who knows."

          No, I don't "believe" it; I know it. Just as I don't "believe in God," nor do I recommend that others do, but that they should find proof of their own, so that belief becomes knowledge.

          If I have told you this, and you haven't believed me, what if I told you all the things that I'm able to do, and by extension, all the things that you can do, simply by developing a sense that has grown fallow from disuse--our spiritual sense.

          "As for me, I prefer to base my life on something a bit more tangible than fairy tales.
          But good luck to you anyway !"

          To each his own. If you find your physical, material existence a tangible source of comfort for your life, so be it. As I've said, in such I have no preference.

          Yet, if you think that our conversation was a chance occurrence, think again. The time will come when you will think back on it, and remember that I said that you would.

          I send you more than "luck." In your wake, may nothing but blessings become your lot.
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        Mar 17 2012: Hello Devin,
        1) Yes, I do see a difference between brain and mind. The brain is the hardware, and the mind is the product produced by this hardware. So, although these are 2 different things, one cannot be without the other.
        2) as to you other post, no, we can't be confident that the creator you describe exists. Nothing that constitutes our universe points to a supernatural creator.
        3) Morality is relative in my view, although I think we are hardwired to find certain behavior amoral. Killing, in most societies, is considered amoral, but as I pointed out, some indigenous tribes still practice cannibalism is something normal. Looking back in time, cannibalism was even more common.
        Or look at corruption. While some societies have very high standards when it comes to corruption, others practice it on a daily basis.
        We also might often get a wrong view of morality, because most of the time, people are constrained by laws. Imagine a society where killing isn't punished. Although I can't proof it, I'm pretty sure that the rate of homicides would increase significantly.
        4) You cite Jesus' resurrection. Again, you need to be a believer to go with that idea, because for a non believer the notion of resurrection from the death is nonsensical.
        Discussing religion is usually pretty futile because one is dealing with something that's outside of the laws of nature, science and logic but only based on faith. When it comes to faith, there are no limits. You can believe in anything regardless if it is a God or little green men from Mars. There really is no difference between the 2.
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          Mar 18 2012: "The brain is the hardware, and the mind is the product produced by this hardware. So, although these are 2 different things, one cannot be without the other."

          Allow me to make a point or two. The sun as hardware doesn't produce a product totally unlike itself, as does the brain. The mind-body dilemma or problem has perplexed thinkers for a millennium or more.

          Modern science has theorized a reconciliation of the problem but not to the satisfaction of all. Some say, either all is mind, or all is matter. Of course, there are those who're trying to have it both ways.

          Robert Lanza, M.D. is a proponent of biocentrism, which says substantially,

          "Until the mind sets the scaffolding of things in place, they can't be thought of as having any real existence -- neither duration nor position in space. As the great physicist John Wheeler said, 'No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.' That's why in real experiments, not just the properties of matter -- but space and time themselves -- depend on the observer. Your consciousness isn't just part of the equation − the equation is you."

          Dr. Lanza has several more articles like this one over at HuffPost.

          Thinking this over, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the mind was required to give the brain "any real existence," although we're taught that brain precedes mind and is the cause of it.

          You know my position: Mind precedes the human body, and is separate and apart from it,which, along with another body, often referred to as the "astral body," gives life, mind, and sentience to the physical body--a non-sentient form, much like Jake Sully's avatar in the movie by the same name, Avatar.

          In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12, using the symbolism of the time, we're told exactly how the physical and the non-physical body (the astral body) interacts. We're told that the spiritual body gives the physical life.
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        Mar 18 2012: Wilbert, you are confusing a lot of things here.
        1) as for the hardware example, just take a computer as the hardware and the output you get from it as the "product" I was referring to. The output obviously is completely different than the hardware.
        2) you don't need an observer for something to be real. The moon is where it is regardless of an observer or not. The same is true for the universe.
        3) What the mind does is converting our sensory inputs into images that we then identify as a tree, rock, car or whatever else. Other organisms might perceive the same object completely different from us (e.g. insect that can see UV light and identify patterns on flowers that are invisible to us).
        As for R. Lanza pls. read here:
        P.S. pls don't cite Huffington Post as the source of wisdom, but refer to peer reviewed scientific works.
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          Mar 18 2012: "[A]s for the hardware example, just take a computer as the hardware and the output you get from it as the "product" I was referring to. The output obviously is completely different than the hardware."

          Okay, but your analogy is inconsistent. I chose something from the natural realm, in keeping with the physical body which is from the same realm. A computer is manmade, and is a product of humans and not nature.

          But I'll follow along. A computer would do nothing, and be nothing, without the software that drives it, using an electrical source of some kind (one that's identifiable). Note: it, too, was manmade. Similarly, our human brain would do, and be nothing, without the unseen mind that drives it. Not only did it create the brain, but the body that houses it.

          The computer/software combination doesn't create a product that's at variance with its design, but actually provides a definable path from product to the source of that product, deducible and comprehensible, even if a series of reverse engineering are required.

          Not so with the brain/mind combination, not only is the product (thoughts, imagination, ideas) at variance with the physical brain, the source of its energy (life) can't be determined or located, and neither can the software (the intelligence) that drives it.

          Yet, science is compelled to say that the "hardware," our brain, is the source of our mind, thoughts, and intelligence, rather than posit a source outside of the body. For that reason I aver: Science will never solve the riddle of the mind, or the life that drives it, and the body.

          And, unlike a computer and its software, no one from the scientific community has found a way to reverse engineer the source of our intelligence, the mind, nor the source of its energy, life itself.

          As for Dr. Lanza, I'm not surprised that his conclusions don't receive wide acceptance. When you're dealing with "flat earth" thinking, a spherical earth theory is bound to offend the sensibilities of flat thinkers.
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          Mar 18 2012: "[Y]ou don't need an observer for something to be real. The moon is where it is regardless of an observer or not. The same is true for the universe."

          Only one comment at the blog you referenced. The blogger doesn't seem to have much of a following, if that one post is any indication.

          Without an "observer" you have nothing, not reality, not illusion--nothing that can be defined, as it's the observer that makes those determinations, provides the properties of that which is observed.

          That which is observed is mute regarding its own properties, its own characteristics, and requires an observer to give meaning to that which is observed. Meaning is the exclusive reserve of the observer, and not of that which is observed.

          Ergo, a thing can only exist under the observation of the observer, and not otherwise. Not only does the observer creates that which is observed, but the observer can change the properties of that which is seen. Indeed, the observer's consciousness, in the act of observing, does this automatically, providing what is expected in the seeing.

          Take the weather, for example. I can take a hot day and make it hotter or cooler, with just my thoughts alone. I can stop the wind in its tracks. I can take a dry day, and cause the rain to pour, or turn it off for months, creating a dry spell, or a drought.

          Our collective consciousness impacts everything in our environment--indeed the whole planet--the weather, our predisposition for war, and the general health of societies.

          Dr. Lanza, in all likelihood, won't go this far, even if he believed it, for fear that his colleagues, his peers in the scientific community, will ridicule, ostracize, and otherwise expel him from that community,.

          That's the tragedy, not that the doctor promotes ideas and theories that haven't stood up to the scrutiny of peer review, but that he doesn't dare take that next step beyond the boundaries that have already been established as sacrosanct.

          This intransigence serves no one.
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          Mar 18 2012: "What the mind does is converting our sensory inputs into images that we then identify as a tree, rock, car or whatever else. Other organisms might perceive the same object completely different from us."

          As you say, the mind "converts." We "identify." Again you say, we convert and identify what we sense, leaving out what we can't, which "other organism might "perceive...completely different from us."

          Perfectly logical.

          But consider this for a moment--what if we're merely perceiving what we believe is there, rather than what's actually there? What if, instead, we decided that what's there is spiritual (eternal and indestructible) rather than material (ephemeral and impermanent)?

          What then?

          Would that be our reality, and in keeping with the concept of biocentrism as postulated by Dr. Lanza?

          I'll go so far as to say this: Our material senses--collaborating with a material consciousness--actually get out ahead of our "sensory input," essentially declaring in advance what a thing is, subjecting it to a material prism, before we're able to convert and identify.

          I say, change the definition of those things which are seen, and see them through the prism of spiritual sense--which anyone can develop over time--and that which was material to the material senses, will now be spiritual to the spiritual senses, with all the attendant attributes of permanence, and perfection.

          Instead of objects, we now have ideas. Instead of illusions, reality.

          This must be so much nonsense to one grounded in the scientific method, and well-schooled in the scientific modes of today.

          Therefore, I speak to those who may see what I've written at some later time, and for whom it may resonate.
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        Mar 19 2012: Wilbert, what you say is just plain wrong. There is a lot of stuff out there in the universe we can't observe, yet it's there, whether we observe it or not. So, the question is not whether or not something is there, but whether or not it really is what it seems to our senses. But even that is a mute point. A car, to all humans looks like a car, although an ant or bacterium might have a completely different perception of the car.
        The term "spiritual" is meaningless to me. There is one reality out there. Do we have the complete picture of what this reality is ? Probably not yet, but we constantly discover more and more stuff that helps us form our picture of reality. None of it requires the belief in anything supernatural The term supernatural doesn't even make sense, because anything there is, is automatically part of nature.
        Biocentrism is nonsense. Unless a hypothesis or theory can be supported by evidence, experiments reproduced under controlled conditions and is thoroughly peer reviewed with peers confirming the theory, it's not worth much.
        What I often wonder is why do some people choose to get hooked on weird ideas instead of applying scientific principles when it comes to explain our reality ?
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          Mar 19 2012: "[T]he question is not whether or not something is there, but whether or not it really is what it seems to our senses. But even that is a mute point."

          By your own admission, our corporeal senses are unreliable perceivers of reality, as they leave out certain information, while including other.

          "None of it requires the belief in anything supernatural The term supernatural doesn't even make sense, because anything there is, is automatically part of nature."

          I agree, to a point. All that we label natural phenomena is in reality supernatural. And everything that we label supernatural is in reality natural.

          "There is one reality out there."

          I agree, again. And, too, I agree that we don't "have the complete picture of what this reality is," but very little of what we term "reality" will be discovered in petri dishes, or by gazing down microscopes, or peering into space with the use of Hubble.

          Science has its limits. Consciousness doesn't.

          "What I often wonder is why do some people choose to get hooked on weird ideas instead of applying scientific principles when it comes to explain our reality ?"

          The answer is simple: Science cannot account for our "weird" reality. Instead, it tells us to dismiss it, because it, science, hasn't given its blessings to it, hasn't validated it with its scientific method, concluding that we're "just plain wrong," or even insane, that our experiences don't coincide with its more acceptable version of reality, where guarded experiments, and peer review win the day over anecdotal evidence.

          When your science can explain, to my satisfaction, NDE's, and Dannion Brinkley's experiences; can explain why I can read the thoughts of others when their guard is down; why I can control the weather with my thoughts alone; why I can leave my body at will and travel to places never before seen; why, on occasion, I can see the future of the planet, and mine; then I'll acquiesce to your scientific method, and your sciences' preeminence.

          Until then!
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        Mar 19 2012: Ok, at least there are some points we agree, which we can summarize as follows:
        1) Our 5 senses give us an incomplete picture of reality
        2) No need for the supernatural since all there is, is part of nature.

        Now, science gives us a pretty good representation and explanation about nature, it's just not complete, but then, we are not at the end of the road yet and science still has a lot of puzzles to solve. So, let's be patient ;-)

        As to consciousness, you'll need to define what consciousness is, since there are different definitions for it. In any case, regardless of the definition, consciousness is a feature of humans and (most likely) other living creatures, hence an element of nature itself and with that accessible to a scientific approach.
        "Science has its limits. Consciousness doesn't. ": I would reformulate that to something better fitting: "Our knowledge has limits, but our imagination has not".
        Again, just because science has no explanation (yet) for certain phenomena doesn't mean we have to look for something beyond science, but put our efforts in developing and refining our scientific methods and tools until we can get to the bottom of things.

        As to your last paragraph, I prefer to refrain from commenting.
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          Mar 20 2012: Harald, you've been a good host, and I thank you for that. You didn't dismiss my claims out of hand (as many might have, given the extraordinary nature of them), and neither did you embrace them--a position I never expected you to take, since our two approaches to reality are in diametrical opposition.

          "[S]cience still has a lot of puzzles to solve. So, let's be patient."

          Some things science will solve to its satisfaction, but as I've previously stated: The riddle of life and the mind will always elude science, since life and the mind don't exist in the physical realm, but in a realm beyond its reach.

          More years ago than I care to count, I read a book that's still in print, titled, The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler, once an editor for Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, which has now suspend the print version of its flagship encyclopedia.

          In it, Adler spends some time discussing the mind/body dilemma, and whether we differ in degree or in kind from non-human life. He approaches this discussion as a philosopher, but
          not without giving science its due.

          It's my belief that in some instances, science and philosophy will always clash, just as religion and science will--in some circles--always clash regarding evolution, and creationism, and the role of intelligent design in all of it.

          "As to consciousness, you'll need to define what consciousness is, since there are different definitions for it."

          Consciousness is that which you and I use to navigate our daily lives, and interact with our environment, including other humans, "the state or condition of being conscious," or aware. Actually, in the nonphysical realm all things are aware, and are aware that they're aware (and can be communicated with), but in the physical realm that awareness undergoes a diminution, depending on the structure of the life form.

          Be blessed!
    • Mar 16 2012: Harald,

      Mi amigo! Compadre! Camarada!

      I don't think that everything in our nature has to have an evolutionary advantage. Some stuff can be secondary effects. For example, it would not make sense that our brains evolved because it was advantageous to be able to build spaceships. That we are able to do that comes from an original adaptation whose advantage was the possibility to put thoughts together in order to find food quicker than other hominids (oversimplification, but you might get the idea). In other words, this adaptation helped our species arise and survive. But that does not mean that it is here so that we could build spaceships. So, religions could also be a side-effect. With the power to imagine outcomes, weight risks, and such, we gained time for further imagining. So, we started trying to make sense of other stuff. What's those lights up there at night? Maybe those are campfires? Maybe those are the duelling of another, or many other tribes? What's with the fire coming out of that mountain? Could it contain a huge and angry animal who wants to kill us all, or who we should keep happy so that ti won't kill us all?

      So, the processes towards religion might be processes that were useful for reasons other than producing religion.

      Of course, I might be wrong. There might be an evolutionary advantage to being religious-inclined. But it might as well be a side-effect. Who knows?
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        Mar 16 2012: Hola amigo ! como estas ?
        No, you are right and that's not was I meant. Religion even might have had some evolutionary benefit in the past in the way that it helped people to make some sense of their surrounding or even to establish moral and ethical norms.
        However, today I think religion is only an artifact without much purpose to the development of the human race.
        I think the best way to tackle the issue is to think how would a world without religion look like ? Could be as a race prosper without religion ?
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    Mar 19 2012: The answer is, because it is a biological process that happens in the brain- specifically the limbic system and frontal lobe. The question others have presented is... what came first (chicken / egg) the experience and thusly humans created god to explain it / god created the process in the brain.
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    Mar 19 2012: I think you're right in all your statements. (I do think there's some evidence that the Asian Homo Erectus continued to hang around and didn't become extinct until after the sort of off-shoot Africans had already evolved into Homo sapiens. So there might have been a little overlap, perhaps.)

    We are indeed such a young species. With the ever-increasing increased speed of innovation, even if we do survive, it's hard to know what we might be like in a few hundred years, let alone a few million.

    Here's something worth thinking about: Let's say we go back and meet our direct ancestors who lived, say 150,000 years ago, who were anatomically modern, but who didn't show the ability to do art, music, etc. They made hand-axes, sure, but they didn't do much else in the way of art. Jonathan Haidt seems to say that we had not quite evolved that ultra-sociality until the very end. So what would these, our ancestors, be like? Would they be like Spock? Probably not. But if you assume that they could talk (a big assumption), then it's possible that they could tell us that they are not interested in any serving any god or gods. Then the final touches of human evolution may have been a willingness to supplant our rational abilities, and our self-interest, basically "on queue", when we are engaged in any group-activity like a war or a religious ritual. Is it like a selective "dumbing-down" adaptation in order to allow our individualism to disappear and a ultra-cooperative group to emerge at will? Was this final "cherry on top" portion of our evolution a selective "dumbing down" when in groups, which enabled us to out-last our less religious hominid counterparts? (I know I've over-simplified this, but I'm wondering whether ultra-sociality is indeed a kind of "anti-rational" adaptation, and yet it appears to have become one of the final adaptation we received by natural selection.)
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    Mar 18 2012: Your argument that god is required or all moral viewpoints are equal is also tired and flawed.

    Humans can work out for themselves what behaviours improve the human experience better than any old religion. Modern enlightenment humanist values of equality and the pursuit of happiness are better than Abrahamic laws.

    Our ancestors have been living in groups longer than we have been human. Other animals have acceptable and unacceptable group dynamic and social norms. Yes there is competition within and especially between groups - much like humans.

    That a mammal like us would develop behaviours related to group dynamics is no surprise.
    There is a tension between cooperation and competition. The golden rule is not rocket science. The drive to conform, to be part of the group. The fear of the other. Battling with our intellect.
    The selfish with the selfless is totally consistent with a naturalistic view.

    What we see is entirely consistent with human developed ethical systems across different cultures.
    Every culture has to deal with resources, death, sex, babies, social harmony or discord etc.
    We have similar minds and drives. So there are similarities in ethical systems.

    If you believe in one religion, and that other gods do not exist, then all other ethical systems are man made, unless you go through some convoluted argument.

    On the bible - There are 2 sets of different 10 commandments. You mention the bible speaks against killing. As do most humanist ethical systems based on maximising positive human experience.
    Yet the bible outlines killing those who work on the Sabbath, homosexuals, witches, disrespectful children etc. Your god killed nearly everyone in a flood, destroyed cities, took sides in wars. Your god supported slavery. Entirely consistent with the social norms of the time. This god is a savage tribal god with a bronze age morality.

    Jesus was a bit more PC. If he is god also then even your trinity has a changing morality.
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    Mar 18 2012: Responding to your opening statement. There could be supernatural stuff actually going on during religious experiences.
    We don't know.

    I note everything from meditation and any number of religions or practices present similar experiences.
    It is not specific to one religion. I guess they all push the same or similar buttons. This certainly doesn't support one religion or non religious practice as having a monopoly on transcendent experience.

    Our mind is amazing. Maybe when we pray or meditate something science doesn't yet understand is happening.
    Even gravity is amazing. Every bit or matter exerting a force on every other bit in the universe.
    We can only see small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

    So agree when people pray, there may be a Jesus/god listening, or Allah, or Yawah, or Athena, or Maduk, or our ancestors etc. We cant prove gods exist or not, or if the so called spiritual realm is just a fantasy.. For similar reasons we can probably never prove or disprove if religious experience is something close to the religious claims.

    It certainly does not indicate any particular religious view in history correctly explains it.

    I suggest the connections, the truth of matter and energy are far beyond most of our current understandings. If something beyond current science is going on, I would not be surprised, but suggest it is probably completely different to traditional human understandings.

    So, yes you can't discount something supernatural, but probably not.
    It probably something related to the neuroscience/psychological explanations
    The natural mind and universe is amazing enough and not fully understood.
    If there is then at most one religious view comes close.
    More likely it is something beyond current science and most religious explanations.
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      Mar 18 2012: We out-witted, out-smarted, and out-lasted the other hominid species that co-existed with us: Neanderthals, home-erectus, and homo floresiensis, and maybe a few others. The belief that Haidt and others has is that natural selection endowed us with the ability to form ultra-cooperate groups and tribes, giving us the strength of group synergy, while at the same time managing the infamous free-rider problem.

      What's left for us to deal with is the propensity that we have to be religious, to find joy and ecstasy when united in a cause that is larger than one's self. This is very much part of who we are today (even though we have embraced--for the most part--epistemologies that are much more sophisticated and eliminate supernaturalism.) So is this propensity a bug or an adaptation? Answer: it's both!

      Music, language, art and story-telling are also both bugs and adaptations. Modern memes exploit this neuro-machinery, and cause us lots of problems, but they are the source of our success and humanity. We would do well to differentiate between harmful memes and helpful memes (and we use memes, of course, to do this!).

      Now to what degree does our propensity for religious belief stand as evidence for the existence of some kind of external god or supernatural entity? I don't think alone it can. Not really.

      On a related note, I think one could conclude that our own consciousness and self-awareness constitutes at least a pattern or a model of how super-intelligent life, other than our own, can emerge in the universe. An evolved life form a few million years further advanced than we are could be considered a god, by many standards even today. But this god probably wouldn't give us Haidt's description of human religiosity.
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        Mar 19 2012: Good points David. I'm trying to remember Anthropology 101, I think Homo Erectus is considered a direct ancestor to homo sapien. The others were certainly evolutionary dead ends, although we may carry Neanderthal genes from interbreeding.

        Agree that our tendency for religion and religious practices and experiences is not proof of a god or gods.

        I also wonder what humans might be like in a few million years, 10 times long than homo sapien has been around.
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    Mar 17 2012: How can anything be possibly be supernatural. Nature is all there is, both the part we can experience as the rest that we aren't yet conscious of.
    Creation is something done within nature by modification of some stuff it contains through intelligence brought forth as a result of the interaction between energized particles of nature.
    Being has two sides: the objective or material side and the subjective or experiencing side which latter is the intelligent modification of that primordial stuff.
    To be is the first quality of existence that requires both energy and intelligence that fix or modulate energy into material form that transcends into ever more complexity.

    Human language defined all sensory experience into some personal world to identify with and to separate the personal story from the totality of being. By defining and separating the personal experience the human mind acquired the possibility to choose behavior and to act on its own accord for self support that often conflicted with nature. To live a sustainable life in some balance with nature they personified nature which through time became known as God. As civilizations rose as a collective mean to sustain communities independent of the natural limits they domesticated all they needed from nature and transformed the authority of God to be represented by their chiefs and leaders.

    God became the political mean for any leader to divide and rule, to enrich themselves and to legitimize their conduct. As long as people will believe on authority outside their own inner guide they will be deluded and used to serve the greedy or fearful ego (personal world) at the expense of nature.
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    Mar 17 2012: Dear Devin,
    Whether or not there is something beyond this earth life experience, why do you want to focus on it so much, rather than being fully engaged in HERE and NOW?

    On another thread, you write...."Aim at heaven and you'll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you'll get neither." -C.S. Lewis.

    I ask you the same question I asked you on that thread, which was not answered. "Do you think/feel that if there is a god, he/she/it may have put us on the earth for a reason? We are HERE, NOW! To aim for another place simply takes us out of the moment of the here and now, thereby denying ourselves the opportunity to "be" fully engaged in the earth life experience. You're saying that a god created us, created this earth, put us here, and we are supposed to be aiming for heaven the whole time we are here? Seems like a silly idea to me! If there IS a god, I sincerely hope he/she/it is much smarter than that:>)"

    It feels like you created this question simply to provide yourself with a platform to try to promote your beliefs.
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      Mar 17 2012: Dear Colleen, I'm sorry I didn't get to your question earlier.

      I agree we should live in the here and now. I think existentialists have it right in that regard. What I don't see though, is that living for eternity is mutually exclusive to being fully engaged in the here and now. Indeed, it's because of the possibility that what we do in this life echoes for eternity, that what we do, and how we live, is more important than we can ever imagine. Hence I would never advocate someone retreat from life, but rather that people fully engage it.

      In regard to your question as to my purposes for this discussion, I actually wasn't trying to 'slip in the back door' as it were with a discussion on the existence of God. Rather, having watched Mr. Haidt's talk, it seemed odd that he would approach an inquiry on religious experiences from a standpoint of methodological naturalism. Considering his inquiry, it seemed logical to consider if perhaps there was any veridicality to people's claims.

      Please know I'm not trying to "preach" or "teach my beliefs." I just think we should reflect on our ontological and epistimological pre-suppositions. We may miss out on many truths about the world if, before we even start, we say some things are not possible.
      • Mar 17 2012: Hi Devin,

        1. We "begin to exist" in a very different way as the universe. Thus, you can't apply the same "principles" to the universe beginning to exist as to ourselves. Look at it carefully. Worse. You want to change its meaning into "change of affairs." Why? Why and with what justification you want to redefine our limited experiences about causes, and beginnings to exist to something so far from our comprehension as the beginning of the universe? That's 100% pure and unadultered equivocation, now also non-sequitur and hasty generalization.
        2. You cannot know if our universe comprehends all of material reality. The most you can say is that it contains all the material reality that we can ... grasp perhaps. If you want to redefine our universe into the whole material reality, then you commit yet another fallacy of equivocation. How can you apply what we know about the beginning of this universe to whatever the whole material reality might be? How would you know that there is no "material" reality other than our universe?
        3. The personal cause does not follow because there is no reason whatsoever to think that whatever might have caused the universe, if it was caused proper, has to be personal. You are the one who said something about "temporal effect," as if whatever that meant (I thought different time-rules of sorts, but maybe not), is something we do all the time as "personal causes," and no "impersonal causes" do. Thus, non-sequitur.
        4. Ad hominem is something like "this argument is false because the proposer is an idiot." I answered the fallacies first, and, because of the obvious snake-oil-salesman tactics of the argument (Kalam and other arguments), I concluded about this person's profession.
        6. Let's leave Fairies out of this. They might get angry, and believe me, you don't want them to get angry.

        Note that you added fallacies as a defence of the Kalam quackery. Try better understanding from the beginning before continuing.
      • Mar 17 2012: (Have you considered that I might have gotten "this is helpful" from a few people because they understood something that might have eluded you?)
  • Mar 16 2012: Religion is a matter of faith and trust. For me its about conducting some rituals and discipline according to the civilization and part of the world you have been born and living as a part. A philosophy to lead and guide you in the time of dilemmas.

    Self transcendent is natural but depends on the events of the life. How hard and deep it struck your thought process. Like this question from you is in itself an example of the same. When people think and discuss about money, success and other things you are interested in trans. Is it not natural with you? if not than what?

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      Mar 16 2012: I believe religion is a matter of truth and knowledge. If God exists, we should seek to know Him truly. Indeed, I do not believe He has left Himself without evidence. :)