TED Conversations

Bernard White


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Can we ever design an experiment which can determine whether God exists?

I just find it hard to believe when people say : "There is no evidence for God". Yes there isn't because we can't design an experiment to prove or disprove this hypothesis.
However a very important thing, Which I devoted a whole TED Debate to (Here is the link to that debate : http://www.ted.com/conversations/17001/can_god_be_defined_or_in_othe.html), is that to work out whether the hypothesis is true we must first define what we mean by "God" (and "existence" for that matter), which I have found doesn't prove to be very successful. Otherwise we can't advance into going to making experiment for this hypothesis.
In science (I believe) theories can only be disproved and never proved to be "certain", so in this sense everybody has to be an agnostic about God, unless some genius in the TED community can come up with an experiment.
While another problem remains that we base all data we have on experimental data we have gained from the past, and expect the future to be consistent.

So in this sense I am a strong agnostic / Ignostic because God hasn't really been defined (and only has subjective definitions) and that I can't genially think of an experiment to determine whether God exist of not. So yes in the literal sense there is no "evidence" but that's only because no experiment have been done.
(Also there remains the slight problem with the fact that there is a degree of uncertainness in everything, and that no matter how logical and rational a hypothesis may seem it can always be proved false, or untrue)

My final point would be I see no correlation with an absence of evidence, and an evidence of absence! (This is very important)

And of-course, I apologize for repeating myself (if I have done so!) and my awful spelling and grammar.
Just so I say now, so I get no confusion, this is just an honest enquiry as to whether it can be done! (Not trying to reduce "God" in any way!)


Closing Statement from Bernard White

I'm slightly worreid I won't do a good job of this summary but here I go :

I must first say this :
I implore everybody to look at my "new" God debate :
What does the theological implications do the "Psychology" and "Neuroscience" (and possibly biology) of religion/ "God(s)" have?
Link : http://www.ted.com/conversations/18226/what_does_the_theological_impl.html

This has been a wonderful debate with lots of interesting idea's. However I view, with the majority consensus, (and please correct me if I have got this wrong) that there isn't a experiment which can (dis)prove the existence of "God(s)".
I would just like to congratulate everybody for their amazing contributions to the conversation. It has given me a lot to ponder.
Kind regards (to all),

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    Apr 19 2013: Hi, Richard, OK, I am fixed on "God". So ask me "why" I am so fixed on this position. No one has asked.
    And that is usually the first question one would ask if they were curious about another position.
    No one has asked me yet, so thank you for asking.

    Here's my point. Unless there is God, or an Intelligent Designer, Universal Force, Mother Nature, Mathematical Algorithm, etc., call Him what you will. Some thing so "Supreme" in every sense of the word that created all this universe or maybe more universes, then you have to contend that all this is some sort of random accident.

    I have a hard time believing that particles of energy came together to form matter, then elements, then molecules, some of which came together in a biomass that ultimately formed homo sapiens and not to mention maybe other sentient beings in other parts of the universe.

    I just can not believe that it is all an accident or random chance. That is even a really big stretch for the chaos math guys.
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      Apr 19 2013: Your argument is basically the "Teleological argument".
      That the design, and probability of the universe is so low, that there must be a "God".

      Which has been criticized many a time, for why does complexity imply some form of "God"? Some would argue this is an argument from ignorance, and that the designer would have to be "far more complex" which becomes too complicated. I mean natural selection is mostly just random, why can't creation be? (Unless you believe natural selection is being "guided" by some creator!)

      I'm interested are you a "theist" or "deist", or do you not believe in an agency at all which created the universe.
      I am not sure I could accept a "Theist" God, for there are too many assumptions made, without much forethought.
      I mean you could possibly convince me of a Deist God, yet I don't see how I could ever know this, without an amazing piece of "deductive" reasoning. (Which I find very unlikely considering most of these arguments are false in my opinion!)

      However I do find your argument the most "convincing" along with the "cosmological" argument. (Yet I don't feel they imply a "creator" at all!)
      Kind regards,
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        Apr 20 2013: When I say God, I am not implying that some old guy was sitting around one day and decided to create a universe and on a minor planet around a minor sun on the outskirts of a minor galaxy, put some material that would turn into a bio mass of which one portion would become a rational creature that has inane conversations on PCs.
        What I am saying is that some "supreme being" for lack of a more descriptive term put into place all the components of that which became the universe and all that is in it... It made the little pile of compressed stuff that gave off the big bang. And in that stuff was all the plans, specs and drawings for all we are in the universe. Now, I believe that is a scientific fact that can be and has been demonstrated.
        Further, there are those who have a truth in faith that gives this God more substance and cause, they speak of heaven and spiritual life. I can not find fault in this. Truth in faith is a truth after all. It is not proved nor does it have to be. Another example, you may tell me you love your wife. I say, prove it scientifically. You'd say, "get stuffed"! How would you prove you loved your wife? I know of no methodology to prove "love". I know of no methodology that would prove "God". Does that mean He does not exist? Does it mean that Love does not exist? Do we have the argument that one exists and one doesn't? Not worth the effort and that was my original argument in this conversation.
        There is no experiment to set up because there is nothing to prove.

        PS... I agree.. a lot of questionable arguments and a great number of opinions... a surprising number.
        It must be that an opinion is an argument. I guess they are.
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          Apr 20 2013: Is your argument at all correlated with the "God of gaps" argument?
          Everything which we don't understand is "God"?
          "you may tell me you love your wife"
          Put me in an MRI scan show me pictures of my wife, and measure my dopamine levels or serotonin levels. Or even just do the "attachment" test.
          Yet I admit this isn't a "very good test".
          "Does it mean that Love does not exist?"
          Love does exist, I mean if I can prove "how" something happens does that diminish it any-more? I mean if I loved someone, and we knew "how" I loved them, does that diminish my love in anyway?
          Just like what Justin :. Barrett said in better words than I can ever describe :
          "Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?".
          "There is no experiment to set up because there is nothing to prove"
          For science to "verify" the God hypothesis, we would need some "experimental" or "observational" evidence to make the "God hypothesis" a "God theory".
          Kind regards,
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        Apr 21 2013: I like your explanation for Love and I am sure that we can find an individual that will light up a MRI when he is asked about "God".
        But, Bernie, you keep going around the the point. Faith in God as a religious concept is just that.
        One more time with clarity. As I said: God or however you may describe Him, set into motion the big bang and all it came to be. People of Faith have given Him a description, a purpose and meaning for their lives. So be it.
        Now the only alternative to my point is that all we know and are today is a result of random selection.
        Cosmologists tell us that the big bang came about 14 Billion years ago. Some will say that all that happened since was as result of universal random selection and not a planned series of events. Therefore there is no "God" as I describe. I say, it is possible that all that has happened could be a matter of random events, but, I find fault in the time line. There is no series of math that would bring together the universe as we know it in 14 Billion years using any random selection I am aware of. In fact, the number of years could be 10 to the 7th number of years. So, unless there is a serious underestimate of the big bang date, it had to be planned.
        Now, all these contributors to this conversation who address the illogic of prayer and miracles, and turning water into wine, etc., there are better qualified people then me to address issues of faith.
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          Apr 24 2013: Where are you at with Dinosaurs? Did they have a god or were they more of I am bigger then you "power"? If they had a god how would they express that or should we just assume the didn't have a god? And that "god" came into the picture when man became self reflective? We do have 2 reptilian brains right? One in the back and one in the front?
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        Apr 24 2013: Bernard and Mike,

        Here is your test?


        Also can either of you show me something that would be out side of mind?
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          Apr 24 2013: Nice to meet you Casey Christofaris, (:D)
          Now let me address your two points.

          "can either of you show me something that would be out side of mind?"
          Is the external physical world independent of your subjective perception (or you "self")?
          In other words, does the world continue to exist while you are asleep?
          If it does that (the external physical reality / the world) is something which exists independent of your mind.

          Or is this not good enough? :P (Hopefully it is! Unless your a solipsist. Then I can't really do anything... And yes everything is just within your mind if your a solipsist!)

          "Here is your test?"
          However with regards to that "Test", it just explains the psychology of "God / religion" not whether it's premise is true. (That question is more dealt with by philosophy and theology!)
          The two quotes I quite like by Justin L. Barrett, a psychologist who specialized in the cognitive science of religion (who's a Christian) : "Why wouldn't God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?" and "Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them."
          For instance it was found that children thought that objects exist even when they don't see them.
          Now is this true?
          I don't know... (I mean maybe they cease to exist when we don't perceive them!)

          Kind regards,
          EDIT : P.S I do find the "God helmet" very interesting though! :)
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        Apr 24 2013: Good day Bernard nice to meet you as well,

        I am not a Solipsist, at least not by the quick google search that I did, I still believe in "others" mind as well as the outside world I just can't get passed the idea of reality external to mind or observation. So let me see if I can explain it this way. Does a tree make a sound when it falls in the woods? For me if no mind was present that being a simple ants mind or my mind, we simply could not have the concept of tree or sound. So with an "absolute" no mind present for observation or reflection. Then even the idea of tree could not exist. Does this make sense? So therefore nothing can be outside of "mind"(think broad definition)
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          Apr 25 2013: So basically if everybody was asleep and many tree's fell. Did they fall?
          I would argue yes. For reality (in my opinion) exists independent of any mind witnessing the fall of the tree.
          However I can see your reason for believing what you do, and find it quite "reasonable".
          While from your logic many things do not "exist". For all the places still to be discovered by any mind then do not exist, and spring into existence once found? (Or am I misunderstanding you!?)
          So basically the world did not exist before the first self-aware human (or any creature) was born? Which becomes a bit too "problematic".
          Kind regards,
        • Apr 26 2013: God Is it what Dalai Lama meant "deep Mind is always there"

          Re : 'Mind on its most fundamental level has always existed, that level would be light..

          It may be true for photon has no antiparticle therefore eliminates the dualism that exists in the particles that are matter which is finite.

          Thanks, Casey !
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        Apr 25 2013: There would be no need to argue because it obviously did, even if we were all asleep. For we would all be "in" mind and would still have the concept of what a tree is even in our dream. The problem comes in is lets say trees do exist but there was no mind or sensory organ/device to interpret or even observe a the simplest idea of what a tree is. It would literally be nothing or no thing. For there would be no idea. This is why science says that existence was created from nothing. For nothing can be out side of mind, except for the very thing that created us/mind. So could a single star/atom the size of a seed, but truthfully it would be relative in size and shape. Could a single star case a shadow? i am implying that it would, So when the light travels back to its source how would that single star interpret it own light coming back to it's self?

        "Well I would trust that the Dean is educated enough to understand Einstein's point that any ray of light ( a straight line ) send out will eventually return to its origin and therefore he would understand that there are no "straight lines"" ~Ed Schulte

        I believe that it was a single star/atom that existed before the big bang, and that it wasn't until the bang that we created "patterns" which we are pattern thinkers and since there was no pattern there could not have been mind. I believe mind or god came about when man became the first thing that was self reflective. And since nothing can exist outside of mind that is why we say that the universe was created from nothing.

        Where are you at with Dinosaurs? Did they have a god or were they more of I am bigger then you "power"? If they had a god how would they express that or should we just assume the didn't have a god? And that "god" came into the picture when man became self reflective? We do have 2 reptilian brains right? One in the back and one in the front?
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        Apr 25 2013: So basically the world did not exist before the first self-aware human (or any creature) was born? Which becomes a bit too "problematic".

        Mind on its most fundamental level has always existed, that level would be light. Light is I believe the fast thing that carries information. Would carrying information be the same as brain? Many have worshiped the sun as a god or deity

        This really makes you have to question what is intelligence
    • Apr 19 2013: Nobody is saying that everything is random.

      Physics assumes that there are natural laws which describe the world we can observe. So how atoms/molecules move and how they react etc. etc. is described by mathematical equations. But those equations are found in nature. So nature dictates the laws we find in physics. (this has many implications)

      Now physics is the "logical search" for these equations and it has come a long way in describing how everything works. By that I mean that we can predict the outcome of almost all experiments within an extremely small error margin.

      Physics does not concern itself how these laws came into being.
      You could say that some God / Force / Whatever made those laws... but who/what made it is not a question which can be answered at this point. That these rules are in place is just an assumption of science.

      Therefor believing in a God also doesn't eliminate the scientific findings.... but many scientists can see that when the rules (of physics) hold then there is no real need for a God (at least not as described in any religious book).
      Also many scientists are frustrated that the church (notice that it's not religion / God) has done it's best to retain power by pressuring scientists not to reveal their findings as it is not corresponding to their interpretation of the bible (gallileo being the most famous example but there were many others).
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        Apr 20 2013: Never said that there is an incompatibility between science and God
        • Apr 20 2013: Good.

          Then I mainly disagree with the logic that "because we do not know everything -- there MUST be a God".

          I'll tell you a small story (which you probably don't really want to hear).
          In the ancient world (say old greece for example) there were many gods for phenomena we can now just explain. These gods were worshipped by organisations who therefor "gained a form of power" in the world.
          Then came along Jesus who was told by his mother (who was too scared to admit to adultry) that he was the child of a God. He believed that and lived his life in a certain way as a result of that.

          Then the people who wanted power put together a book (bible) of old stories which had remained to be true and added certain parts about the life of Jesus. This, in the long run, gained them so much influence that they could tell the people what was true and what was not true. So they said everything in their book is metaphorical and used the stories in it to broaden their influence even more (into the political realm and even daily life)... And we're now in the situation that we actually can explain most things without any need for a god but many people still believe that what the church tells them is true.

          Isn't that a more logical explanation? Also explains all of the crusades and much more "wrong doing" by the church in the past.
    • Apr 20 2013: That there's no gods does not automatically mean that the whole we see is due to "random chance." Random events have a lot to do with how stuff happens. Yet, we know that there are properties to stuff. Therefore, if such is the way of reality, random chance would be a silly way to describe it.

      I truly have never understood why creationists think in these false-dichotomy terms: either gods or random chance. Why can't it be no gods then figure out how the stuff works rather than assume that it should be pure random chance? Really. Where did creationist take than "random chance" idea from? Do we not have gravitation? Do we not have positive and negative charges? Do we not have inertia? Do we not have chemical properties? Do we not have atomic properties? None of these is a god, none of these is random chance. Random chance plays roles in some compound processes, like evolution, but even then evolution is not just random chance either. So where do creationist get the idea that either gods or random chance? Really, where from?
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        Apr 20 2013: Let's see... no God, no random chance... just gravity, and inertia, oh, and atomic properties and these came about how?
        • Apr 20 2013: They just are part and parcel with reality. Do you see any reason why not? I bet you are happy to say that your god has no origins, that it just is what it is. Then why would it be so hard to accept that maybe reality just is what it is? You still did not answer the question: why this false dichotomy? Why the absence of a god should mean utter random chance, rather than just what things are, just as they are?
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        Apr 24 2013: Entropy,

        Can you explain to me how us living on a flying/floating/falling rock in space makes logical rational sense? Because I sure can't I can make common sense of it but not logical? And then our science goes on to tell us that it our visible world is mostly not there.

        I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.

        The material world is much like this word trick (which I hope you can read). Our mind fills in the material world and makes it solid (or you could take the religious view and it was god that filled everything in for us). All while our science tells us that we have never touched anything and that nothing has ever touched
        • Apr 25 2013: Hi Casey,

          What does your comment have to do with mine? I see no connection. Can you explain what the purpose is? Does it relate to what I said here? To what I said somewhere else? What?
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        Apr 25 2013: Oh I just trust your opinion and Its something that has been puzzling me, and I guess it has to do with the idea of reality and what it means to be "real"

        Sorry I did not mean to come off as an attack by any means , as well as the "origins' of god and existence.

        Once again I am sorry if in any way it came off as I was attacking you Sorry
        • Apr 26 2013: Hi Casey,

          I did not take it as an attack, I just could not understand what point were you trying to make and how it related to what I said. I was more confused than anything else.

          As an attempt for an answer. Whatever scientists discover in quantum mechanics does not invalidate what we experience. In other words, it is not that we never really touch something. We do really touch something. Only touching does not mean the same thing at the quantum level as it does at our level(s) of perception. Also, there's lots of physics that explain how those "empty" things you were talking about, translate into the way we perceive things, only the populace goes viral on the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions, not so much in the solutions.

          I hope that helps. (I really don't know if that's what you were asking/commenting about.).
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          Apr 27 2013: I also found it a bit hard to understand. Spelling didnt help.
          Best guess is life the universe and everything doesnt make sense, or have a clear meaning if the universe and us was not created. Please correct me if this wrong casey.

          I suggest the universe and life and humans appear to have originated without any apparent agency. There is no reason a universe due to natural causes needs you to be comfortable with this for it to be the case.

          Secondly, how different is the brute fact that natural conditions existed that led to our universe as we see it today, without supernatural agency, to a god existing capable of making universes.

          Thirdly, a universe made by god seems just as arbitrary as one from natural processes. I dont see how a god deciding what it thinks the meaning of your life is any more meaningful than you deciding what gives your life meaning.

          Finally, i understand that humans are used to things on a human scale having causes. We evolved to assume agency. We also look for patterns and make intuitive models for reality, that may have helped us survive, but are often wrong. Scientific enquiry seems to be one of our best inventions, to address our tendency to jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Assuming invisible agency for many things where there is none is natural. The origins of the universe, the quantum and cosmic scales bewilder most of our brains. Our cognitive processes have evolved more to figure out how to find medium sized food and avoid medium sized predators, and applying these to the origins of the universe is not a natural fit.

          It amazes me how much humans have figured out in the last few hundred years once we stopped accepting unsubstantiated supernatural causes and followed and sought evidence for our models of the universe.

          So i get how counter intuitive it is for many, especially if programmed religiously.

          But logically, the uncaused cause is just so fallacious, i don't see how people can not see it.
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      Apr 21 2013: But you can believe a supernatural being can exist as a random accident and make the universe and life? Seems like you can accept one set of conditions for an unexplained god but not for a universe and life from natural causes. This is a fallacy- special pleading. Also, not knowing or not being able to accept life without supernatural agency is an argument from ignorance, another logical fallacy. Your not being able to accept or understand how life might originate without supernatural agency is not an argument for or proof that a god did it.

      What i find strange is you not being able to accept the possibility of natural processes, but can accept a magically, invisible, undetectable, unexplained being could somehow exist, and create life. You accept an even greater mystery with no evidence or understanding of how it created life, or even that it exists.

      Its like saying unexplained gods must be responsible for disease or lightening, or a particular snowflake pattern, which they can magically create, because you cant accept this could happen via natural processes. How did they do it. Dont know. Positing a god to fill a gap has no explanatory power.

      Fyi the positions of electrons are completely random as far as we know and can not be predicted. The time at which a particular atom radioactively decays is random. So any creator god created a universe with randomness.

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