Felipe Rocha

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Are we too quick to write God off of our lives?

I had this thought recently and I would like to share it with the community to see you guy's opinion on the matter. Granted, the topic is a contentious one, but I think the people at TED are mature enough to keep a civilized debate going.

My question is, are we too quick to write God off of our lives?
It seems as though as there is a bias in the scientific community against debating the possibility of a higher creator. Some avoid debating the subject; something that goes head first against the most basic principle of scientific debate. Some go as far as declare atheism is the only logical way to live our lives. The argument is usually based in that:
- God cannot be logically proven
- Evidence that proves evolution has steadily grown over the past century.

Problem is(in my view, and this is where I want to get you guy's opinions)...
- Just because something, in this case God, cannot be proven, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
- Evolution does not automatically deny the existence of God, as that could have easily be the method God used to create us.
(Also, it is worth mentioning that when I say God I do not mean the christian God, but any higher authority that has the power to create us.)

So, are we too quick to write God off of our lives?

Because of Moore's law, we can say with some certainty one day computers will be as fast as a human brain. Let's imagine that somewhere in the future a computer programmer was to program a intelligent being with self awareness capability. For the sake of the discussion, for some reason, the program had no way to probe into our world. What kind of relationship would the program and the programmer have? If one day the programmer wanted to speak to the program, how would they interact under those circumstances? And most importantly, if we are certain that one day we will be able to write such program, what stops a higher being from being able to program us?

Let's keep from quoting religious texts to keep the discussion neutral.

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    Feb 23 2011: "Just because something, in this case God, cannot be proven, doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
    Also, it doesn't mean it exists.

    The thing about the deity concept is that it is an extraordinary claim. The idea of a god changes everything we know. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The evidence that is out there in favour of a god is shallow and easily falsifiable ( a good number of religions are present with different contradicting views for that matter ). We need more conclusive evidence to match up with the claim of a god.

    Overall, it is safe to say after reviewing the evidence for god that he is a cultural construct that is specific to any culture. That is what the present evidence points to. The god concept was very useful for primitive people to explain what they didn't know. Now god is an ever receding pocket of ignorance that keeps getting smaller and smaller as time goes by.
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    Feb 22 2011: Felipe, several things come to mind here.
    1) how do you define God ? What do you mean with "higher authority" ?
    2) In science you weight evidence. In this case you would compare evidence pro God to evidence against God. What is a more likely scenario ?
    3) Just because one cannot prove the existence of God, doesn't mean the idea of God must be entertained. I cannot prove the existence of unicorns. So, do they exist or not ?
    4) evolution is different from creation. Evolution only began after life already existed. So, in this case evolution and a belief in God wouldn't be contradictions. The conflict arises when the appearance of life is attributed to some deity, because that is simply not in line with current scientific knowledge.

    Question is: does your belief in God add any value to your life ? If yes, then continue to believe and if no, then you probably should rethink your faith.
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    Feb 22 2011: Specific institutions fulfill specific roles. The scientific enterprise is a means by which we derive knowlege from the natural world by formulating hypotheses that are demonstrable (that is, makes falsifiable and repeatably testable claims) and thus elevating them to the rank of scientific theories from which more knowledge can be derived. There isn't so much of a place for supernatural instances in science except where science can provide a purely natural explanation to previously mysterious phenomena.

    If the question of the existence of God was explored as a scientific hypothesis it would have to fit into a naturalistic frame where all claims made around it could be falsifiable and testable. Most will agree that is not the case and in fact the idea completely removes itself from religion which insists on faith in the absence of evidence or, to say it in more neutral terms, "evidence" through "relevalation" or "divine inspiration". So yes, it's true that just because something can't be proven, doesn't mean it doesn't exists, but it does mean we aren't dealing with a scientific idea. I don't mean by that that science can't provide insights into it, but I am saying that we can't treat God as a scientific hypothesis as long as the claims made around him/her/it/them is/are wishy-washy. You can ask yourself however if, given the total lack of evidence for a higher authority, this is a serious possibility to consider or if this is one of an infinity of unfounded possibilities, all of which which have a probability of being true that is next to nothing.

    Are we too quick to write God out of our lives? I certainly took my time, but now that I'm where I am, I think I'll stick to it.
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    Feb 23 2011: Felipe: I really have a problem with the concept of God. I'm not sure what it means.

    On the one hand, it may mean everything. People often say that God is everywhere and God is all powerful. Wouldn't that make God everything? Not much to dispute with that definition of God. If anything exists, then God exists.

    The other extreme is the guy with the long beard sitting on a throne up in the clouds. Most people would dispute the existence of that God.

    But I suppose most people who believe in God think somewhere between these extremes.

    So, what God are we talking about?
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      Feb 25 2011: Hi Tim

      My approach was as follows. We are here, we are wonderful & intricate. Two possibilities as to how that occurred ; Creation or Evolution.

      Step 1. Examine evidence for both theories. (I chose Creation)

      Step 2. Examine evidence for possible Creators. (I chose Jesus)

      Step 3. Make contact.

      Takes an open mind & a bit of digging, but isn't the truth worthwhile. (Even if you reach a different conclusion.)

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        Feb 25 2011: That's a false dichotomy. That one is wrong doesn't make the other right by default. You could have Lamarckism instead of either two for example. But do you know what Lamarckism and Creationism have in common? Both have been debunked. The evidence sits overwhelmingly with evolution. That's why it's called a theory, as opposed to a hypothesis.

        You talk about choice. There's no room for choice in fact. Just because it pleases you doesn't make it true.

        I've talked to you before, so I know which arguments we've already been through. If you use any of these arguments again, you'll only be showing stubborness and close-mindedness. Your move.
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          Feb 26 2011: I assume your talking to me Matthieu. I am only explaining to Tim how I arrived at my conclusions. Feel welcome to explain your route to understanding.
          Lamarckism is just another evolution side track.
          I don't claim to be the font of all knowledge, I know what works for me. I have seen no real evidence of soup to man evolution, but I accept the bible as true. That's my position; you disagree, that's cool. Bye

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    Feb 23 2011: Some great responses to the question already, so I don't have that much left to add.

    I'd like to expand Harald's question on the definition of God a little bit in order to give an answer.
    If by "God" you mean the God of the Bible or any other deity described by any other of the world's religions then I do not think that people wrote off and are writing off these gods too quickly.
    Arguments for why this is the case have already been mentioned, all in all it's stuff we made up to explain things that we otherwise could not understand, and I include here all types of religious belief.

    If you however use the word to describe some entity with vastly more knowledge and power, to the level that we simply cannot comprehend how it exists and what it is able to do then yes, I would agree that some people, including for example Richard Dawkins, are writing off this possibility too quickly.
    If asked whether or not somewhere in the universe such an entity exists many atheists would answer "no" and often bring up Russell's teapot as an argument.
    However, I don't think you can so lightly equal a teapot orbiting the sun, a flying spaghetti monster or an invisible pink unicorn to something actually quite plausable - since solar system in the galaxy appear to be on average a billion years older than ours it's quite possible that some race evolved to the point that their technology becomes indistinguishable from magic, but I'm getting a bit off-topic here.
    My point is that "gods" in this sense could exist.

    However I would like to conclude in a similar way to Harald. Even if God does exist, whether exactly as some religion thinks of him or as some advanced alien, why should we care?
    It does not appear as if he is interested in what we are doing, so why the other way round?
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    Feb 22 2011: Matthieu explained it very well, but still there is something i would ask you for the sake of clarity: What you mean by quick?
    When you say "We" you mean we as "individuals" or we as "society" (since there are some big atheistic communities around the globe at this point)?

    Also, some people in the scientific area just avoid to debate about it because they have done it several times and yet people just ignore their answers and keep saying the same thing over and over, you just need to look some debates to find out the why though (check some people like Ray comfort, William Craig, John Lennox vs Thunderf00t, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. and you will get it)

    Also, with the occam's razor in the mind, why would you add a creator in the theory of evolution if it doesnt need ones to work out? Also, btw, evolution has nothing to do with the creation or with the appaerance of life, it has to do with the diversity of life.
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    Feb 25 2011: Tim's asking the right question I think. In some eastern philosophies like Hinduism, God (Brahman) is sort-of defined as the totality of all reality. In that case, the question of God becomes a question of whether "all that is is one".

    I think fundamentally scientists like to write off "belief", but they forget what scientific founders like Plato and Aristotle recognized: that science is limited to the observable world. Once you cross that line and suggest that scientific findings are absolutely, objectively true, you're simply stating a belief.

    I think many argumentative religious practitioners tend to push an absolutist view, ignoring the value in exploring our observable world.

    In both cases, you have a large population of reasonable compassionate people, and a few "extremists" who consistently try to draw lines and start wars. Religious extremists are well known, but I would argue that firestarters like Dawkins are walking the line toward scientific extremism. Both of these groups are dangerous.

    We all need to acknowledge our lack of knowledge, and acknowledge our beliefs as equally valid when it comes to objective absolutes. Only then can discussions within the realm of day-to-day life and our observable world can proceed productively.

    My .02
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      Feb 26 2011: You make a very good point. Some scientists have taken their beliefs to such an extreme that they are starting to sound like religious extremists, mainly because evolution is such a good attack on creationism. But that's all that it is: a good attack on creationism. Like many pointed out in here, evolutionism isn't creation. God hasn't been written off, just one theory about him has been written off.

      As far as we know, whatever God is, he could have started evolution and used that as his mechanism to create the world.
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    Feb 24 2011: To address some of the questions brought up, although when one brings up the word God in western culture one usually refer to the monotheistic God of judeo-christian culture, I do not attempt to single out a specific God. By God I mean "one or more intelligent being that possibly created us", and I believe that that definition is sufficient for our discussion.

    By we, I mean the scientific, higher education and the TED communities, as it is obvious that the people that are involved in these communities are much more likely to not believe in God. These days, it is common to hear phrases such as, "Oh! You are involved in the scientific field and you believe in God?" And that is a problem. It is a problem because as mentioned here, the scientific enterprise is supposed to take on questions of falsifiable nature. Since one cannot prove or disprove God, science should remain neutral about it until proven otherwise.

    Lately, many renowned scientists, most notably Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, have stood up to say do not need God. But, again, at best what science can say is that God cannot be proven. The only logical statement that can be made from this is that God may or may not exist. To say anything more than that requires faith, which can be defined as the belief in something without proof or evidence. Religious people might use it to believe in God, but thats just one side of the coin. Believing God doesn't exist is equally proof-less, therefore it requires the same amount of faith as believing in God does. Moreover, the analogy that I brought up in my original post, the analogy of the program and programmer, shows that, at the very least, God could be a real possibility.

    Granted, I say possibility because this still does not prove that God does exist. To say that God does not exist purely because God can not be proven, or because it does not add anything to one's life though is equally not a good explanation because it might not be the right explanation.
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      Feb 25 2011: There are an infinity of possibilities for the genesis of our universe and to put one as more likely (that of God's existence) than the others without any proof is essentially the problem. Let's be honest, there are possibilities that most of us don't even consider because of the sheer improbability of actually getting it right (simple maths, an infinity of possibilities means that a single possibility has a probability of near zero). In all honesty, the existence of God should be put among these. Some possibilities will be made more likely because of evidence, as we've all established the existence of God is not one of these. So why believe in that particular scenario and run with it? You can entertain the idea of a God but from the moment that it pushes you to act in certain ways (praying, following the book, wasting your Sunday mornings) then that raises the question of why you'd take action on an idea that basically has little chance of actually turning out right.

      The problem is that people assume that it's a 50/50 chance. Also I find that Occam's razor is a good tool for cutting out the unnecessary. If everything can be explained naturally, why call on a totally unecessary God? Evolution is the greatest example of that. Nature can through natural selection and random variation produce the living forms it does over billions of years, a slow, undeterministic process that leads to 99% of species ever having existed dying in an amazing waste. Not particularly intelligence-driven.

      Just because God falls out of the scope of science, doesn't mean you can't reason about his existence or otherwise. Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Stephen Hawking are, as individuals, allowed to do this and I certainly encourage it.

      Given all this, I think we could do with writing God out of our lives faster.

      "it is obvious that the people that are involved in these communities are much more likely to not believe in God."

      And why might that be do you think?
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        Feb 25 2011: Quite honestly, I do not know why those communities have a higher rate of disbelief in God, but it is a problem. Not only it puts pressure on aspiring scientists to conform to the dogma, but it keeps people from exploring the alternative at the risk of being shunned from the community.

        Dawkins and Hawking can think whatever they want about God. I never claimed they couldn't. My problem is that they tried to frame their belief in the lights of science and that kind of statement bridges the divide between religion and science. Alternatively, if a young-earth creationist were to do the same (I am not trying to say young-earth creationism is correct; I don't believe in it myself. I am just trying to illustrate my point), how would the community react to them?

        Occam's razor has been proven a good scientific rule of thumb, but it is certainly not a strict rule that determines good ideas from bad ones. Again, not trying to imply Occam's razor is without value, but since it is based in philosophical principles rather than scientific principles (which are more strict than the former).

        Fact is there are no amounts of evidence that will prove or disprove God, therefore all we can do is make probabilistic statement about his existence. You did bring out a good point though, most people assume there is a 50/50 percent chance, which is most probably not true, but I suspect a 99/1 percent chance is probably not the true answer either. Why should the existence of God be put among the improbable possibilities? As far as I can tell both of those percentages were derived using rather arbitrary methods. If we relax those assumptions, what do you think the actual percentage look like?

        You mentioned an amounting evidence against God. In light of my previous definition of God, "one or more intelligent being that possibly created us," what are some of those?
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      Feb 25 2011: Felipe:

      I'm still hung up on the definition of god.

      Given your definition "one or more intelligent being that possibly created us".

      Then if god is a metaphor for the totality of the universe, and intelligent creation is a metaphor for evolution, then maybe we could say that god exists.

      But if your leaning towards some dude who extracts ribs from men to form woman, I would have my doubts.
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        Feb 26 2011: I am purposively avoiding a more specific definition of God. The reason for that is that there is no way to get to such a definition without making a theological statement to what is the nature of God. I don't know if God is a metaphor, or if God is similar to us, for this discussion that doesn't matter.

        Since we are on the the topic, we also don't know if God is really omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and/or omniscient. All we can say about God is that, whatever he(and I am also using he in this phrase for convenience, because we also cannot make statements about his/he gender) is that he possibly created us.

        I take it that by extracting ribs from men to form woman you are referring to the judeo-christian God, and no, that's not what I mean. Although I don't see what's wrong with the possibility of God having formed us so that we would look similar to him, or that he would extract a men's rib to form a woman. What I am trying to avoid is exactly that, make a statement about what I think God is or isn't. That kind of statement is beyond what science can answer.
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          Feb 26 2011: Well. I guess I'm limited to merely accepting that god exists in your mind. Not more.
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        Feb 27 2011: "Well. I guess I'm limited to merely accepting that god exists in your mind. Not more."

        I don't know what you mean by that...
  • Feb 23 2011: I would agree that many people are too quick to judge... The existence of God is no more definite than the sciences. All scientific laws and theories are based on educated assumptions. These assumptions could change at any given time. The primary aspects that set religion and science apart are: the transience of the nature of the Universe and faith. A religious person tends to believe the nature of the Universe is transient and finite, while an atheist tends to trust the nature of the Universe to be in-transient and infinite. A religious person will usually tend to have faith in what is possible, while an atheist will tend to trust what they can prove.

    In my current opinion, the cosmological argument as presented by St. Thomas Aquinas sufficiently logically argues for the existence of God.
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      Feb 23 2011: "All scientific laws and theories are based on educated assumptions"

      That's not quite true. They're based on things (perhaps "assumptions") that are TESTABLE.

      In the case of "laws", it's about having a formula that when given certain inputs would always produce the expected output. If you were to doubth a law, say, S=V.t, you can try to travel at a constant speed V for time "t" and see if the distance is equal to S.

      If you can make tests that show otherwise, congratulations - you've just debunked a law. Now if only you can make a forumla that fits with both the previous tests and takes your new test into account, you'll be seen as the author of the "true" law ("true" until someone else debunks your forumla).

      In the case of theories, it's about having something that *appears* to be true based on what's happening upon testing and/or observing a phenomenon, without having an exact way to predict the output from certain inputs. The theory of evolution is based on the fact that flu mutates as we make cures for it, and that we have changed over history (from black people to the diversity you see today; see Spencer Wells' talk). Yet, we can't yet predict how flu mutates, which is why we don't have a universal flu vaccine. We also can't predict how many generations must pass with a certain envrionmental condition before we can adapt to it. But the theory exists, because that's what appears to have happened based on actual evidence (nowadays DNA, fossils in the age of Darwin).

      If you ever see a unicorn anywhere on earth, you can make up a theory as to why no one else has seen unicorns before and why they appear to only be there. The unicorn you see is a proof, and because you're the first to see it, your theory will automatically be plausible and applicable until someone uncovers new evidence that disproves your theory. In the case of existing theories, if you can find, say, a flu that has devolved from a late state to an early one, you'll have proof against evolution.
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      Feb 23 2011: Oh, and about the St. Thomas Aquinas bit... can you give a link about that? Something about it that can be read online?

      (I always love a good laugh... I'll be sure to see if he makes sence. Who knows, maybe he does.)
      • Feb 23 2011: I understand and agree with what you are saying, but all I was attempting to imply by discussing the scientific laws and nature of the Universe is that they could arguably change or cease to exist at any time. There is no law that states the other laws will certainly last forever.

        Here is the Wiki-link to Aquinas' theory... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument
        I hope it's a good laugh... =[
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    Feb 22 2011: When you say "we" do you mean the scientific community at large or humans in general?

    If you were to somehow average the religiosity of all humans, you would find the balanced tipped very much closer to devout than moderate, with secularism very much on the fringe. So, no. People have not been very quick to drop God at all. In fact, unless we undergo some unforeseen biological mass modification, I would wager that most people on the planet will continue to believe in a higher power right up until extinction. A sharp susceptibility to superstition is human nature, and the economic and social conditions to overcome this are, and will likely remain, scarce.

    If you meant the scientific community, or the TED crowd, I believe the answer is still no. A religious scientist is very much bizarre, but a scientist that believes in "God"- and not Hawking `s universe/God- is not too uncommon, doubly so in the United States. Now, this is changing to complete secularity, but at a rate much slower than one might expect from those who understand better than the rest the physical and logical problems with the stereotypical creator.