The Raving Theist

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Not So Simple

October 4, 2006 | 64 Comments

Theologians frequently argue that the probability of life arising out of chance is as small as a Boeing 747 resulting from a hurricane sweeping through a scrapyard. The underlying reasoning, as Richard Dawkins points out in The God Delusion, is “that it takes a big smart fancy thing to make a lesser thing . . . [that] [y]ou’ll never see a spear making a spear-maker . . . [y]ou’ll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith.” Dawkins has a simple retort; “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable . . . [f]ar from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance.” God, he says, “is the Ultimate Boeing 747.”

Dawkins asserts that the improbability problem is remedied by an assumption that things progress from simple to complex rather than vice versa. “[N]atural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces . . . [e]ach of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.” He faults those who rely on design for focusing narrowly on the complex end products as if they were spontaneously created — which would be “very, very improbable” — and of failing to understand “the power of accumulation” of small improbabilities.

Putting aside the question of what “probability” does or could mean for either side of the debate, I fail to see why smaller-to-bigger is a more sustainable conclusion. Certainly no one accepts that proposition with respect the origin of the universe that ultimately gave rise to life. It did not start out as single marble in the middle of nowhere and adapt itself into something bigger. It did not start out as a single grain of sand, or a single hydrogen atom, and grow more complicated from that. Perhaps the universe was once infinitesimally small, but as a speck it was not a simple speck like a sand-grain or an atom. It was the most complex thing ever. It contained within it all the spring and coils and gears and laws necessary to bring things to where they are today. It contained the formula for consciousness and life and love and something about its composition made it inevitable that they would all come into being. And unless that speck arose spontaneously out of a vacuum (an improbability which I assume Dawkins rejects) it must have existed forever.

Comments

64 Responses to “Not So Simple”

  1. I gotta pee
    October 4th, 2006 @ 10:25 am

    I sense another Anthony Flew moment coming from RA.

  2. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    October 4th, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    No Anthony Flew moment necessary.

    As ardent an atheist/materialist as I am I have no problem with the idea that this all existed forever — in some altered form than we have now of course. Indeed – I suspect that it (and who knows what else) did all exist forever and will continue to do so in some form or other.

    Maybe universes come and go. Other universes probably exist now. Parts of this universe after sufficient expansion may become part of some other big bang some day.

    Who knows? One thing for sure is that not knowing is not sufficient reason to suddenly attribute it all to the
    ‘big guy in the sky’.

    This has dragged on for so long that when Raving Anti-abortionist makes his big announcement it will be ….
    just “ho-hum” — “oh well – life goes on”.

  3. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 11:31 am

    Maybe universes come and go. Other universes probably exist now. Parts of this universe after sufficient expansion may become part of some other big bang some day.

    Who knows? One thing for sure is that not knowing is not sufficient reason to suddenly attribute it all to the
    ‘big guy in the sky’.

    Just as probable: Maybe universes don’t come and go. Maybe other universes don’t exist. Maybe this universe may not contribute to some other big bang.

    One thing is for sure: not knowing this is not sufficient reason to suddenly attribute it all to the “many universes out there”.

  4. nkb
    October 4th, 2006 @ 11:43 am

    Bob,
    Apparently, you are one of those “God of the gaps” proponents.

    When you don’t know something, attributing it to “God” is no more logical than attributing it to my tabby cat (who is the feline incarnation of God).

  5. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 11:47 am

    What about JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE? He is one of those “universe of the gaps” proponents. Might as well attribute it to an army of pink unicorns.

  6. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    October 4th, 2006 @ 11:52 am

    BillyBob,

    Your excuse of a pathetic, narcissistic, tempermental so called ‘loving god’ who started it all by sanpping his fingers and creating a garden of eden and a naked couple and a snake is one sorry ass explanation for how “it all started”.

    HA – I can’t wait for the day that Raving Antiabortionist actually does announce that he has joined ‘your side’ ….

  7. Godthorn
    October 4th, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

    Bob, maybe you are full of shit. Whether or not there are now, or were before, other universes, is neither here nor there. The “big bang” was not the beginning of anything except the present configuration of the (or “this”) universe. No, I do not “know” this, but if you can grasp the notion of an utter absence of anything, then you will understand that nothing could have arisen “therefrom” and nothing vanish “into”– into what? As to this “God” thing, from whence did you derive a notion or any evidence thereof?

  8. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

    Who said I believe in god or not? Who said god snapped his fingers? Who said anything about the gibberish you are speaking of? I never said anything about this, yet you assume.

    On the other hand, you are one of the “universe of the gaps” proponents who believes in other universes.

    Call me an a-multiverse-ist. I simply believe in one less universe than you do.

  9. Andy Holland
    October 4th, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

    “Perhaps the universe was once infinitesimally small, but as a speck it was not a simple speck like a sand-grain or an atom. It was the most complex thing ever. It contained within it all the spring and coils and gears and laws necessary to bring things to where they are today. It contained the formula for consciousness and life and love and something about its composition made it inevitable that they would all come into being. And unless that speck arose spontaneously out of a vacuum (an improbability which I assume Dawkins rejects) it must have existed forever.”

    So why can’t God therefore be “I AM”, self aware eternally and the first cause of a finite universe?

    Like a small quiet voice that beckons humanity to become as He is; small, humble, compound and filled with love.

    And if God is self aware, real, humble and small (“handle me for I AM lowly and meek”), why would He force Himself on anyone? Instead He would interact with those who seek Him, and beckon them to abandon those qualities of empty conceipt that drive them far from Him.

    He would also come in a finite form, for a finite time, to teach people how to live eternally, and provide just enough evidence if they were of His nature to seek Him as He is.

    Christianity is not based on illogic nor does it disregard facts – it is based on facts and reality as it truly is.

    andy holland
    sinner

  10. Tim
    October 4th, 2006 @ 12:49 pm

    RA, if you think that the singularity had to be “the most complex thing ever” you have completely missed the point. Are you now going to dismiss evolution – because you think that something complex cannot grow out of something simpler?

  11. a different tim
    October 4th, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    What a bunch of crap. Does RA honestly not understand the most basic things about natural selection?

    The idea that the universe had to contain all teh “springs and coils and gears” necessary for our existence, and that it was “inevitable”, is precisely what NS shows to be untrue. To reiterate, the early universe does not have to be “the most complex thing ever” because simple things can evolve into complex things.

    RA’s proof by assertion that this isn’t the case is ludicrous. He’s basically saying : “Simple things don’t evolve into complex things, and to prove it a simple early universe didn’t evolve into a complex later one, because I say so”.

    Time, I think, for Choobus to intervene again. RA, do try to grasp the basics of physics and biology before drivelling like this.

    It’s sad really. What happened? RA didn’t used to be so fucking ignorant.

  12. Crackerus Dadderus
    October 4th, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

    “Instead He would interact with those who seek Him, and beckon them to abandon those qualities of empty conceipt that drive them far from Him.

    He would also come in a finite form, for a finite time, to teach people how to live eternally, and provide just enough evidence if they were of His nature to seek Him as He is.”

    No – only your version. Others haven’t followed this mold. Could a god ever do anything better than the one written about in the christian bible?

    Please say no – please.

  13. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    October 4th, 2006 @ 1:27 pm

    bob barker said:
    Who said I believe in god or not? Who said god snapped his fingers? Who said anything about the gibberish you are speaking of? I never said anything about this, yet you assume.

    ———————————————————————————
    Yes I checked your posts in other threads and you have indeed not indicated a belief in a particular god or religion. You seem to be exactly the alter-ego that I would expect of the Raving Antiabortionist if he were in the mood to play devil’s advocate or just in a mood to anonymously taunt the atheists.

    My statements in the first post were a bunch of “what ifs” …. mere speculations at myriad explanations that might be plausible. I didn’t flat out say that I believe that another universe exists. My point is — that we really don’t know how it all started do we?

  14. Andy Holland
    October 4th, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

    Dear Crackerus Dadderus,

    I suggest reading ancient Church Fathers with regard to Theosis and I believe in One God; we become like God by allowing Him in, not by replacing Him.

    Dear: a different tim said:
    “What a bunch of crap. Does RA honestly not understand the most basic things about natural selection? ”

    Precisely define natural selection, model it, and then have it do something. A genetic algorithm’s power is not in selection, its in the algorithm. In fact, one can construct a selection algorithm that itself changes through selection and genetic combination.

    The fact is natural selection is not well defined, if defined at all. It is always specified after the fact in order to fit with observations (no matter how flawed). That makes it convenient to establish a “scientific” religion. Just change natural selection to mean whatever survives after the fact, then call it “science” and simply degrade the intelligence of anyone who argues with it.

    So if the weak survive, obviously the weak are preferred and naturally selected. If the intelligent survive, obviously the intelligent are preferred – and so on. It means nothing, except that you will rigorously apply a methodology after the fact.

    Natural selection is supported by _assumptions_ about repeatability and observation, and bootstraps itself after the fact. But its proponents always have to resort to insults to keep it going – which speaks volumes. Also, it changes with time and with observation, so it is meaningless. You know it when you see it – or so you assume.

    andy holland
    sinner

  15. Andrew
    October 4th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    Interesting that RA didn’t seem to think much of this argument in this post:

    http://ravingatheist.com/archives/2006/02/god_squad_review_clxi_argument_from_design.php

  16. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 3:07 pm

    a different tim said:
    The idea that the universe had to contain all teh “springs and coils and gears” necessary for our existence, and that it was “inevitable”, is precisely what NS shows to be untrue. To reiterate, the early universe does not have to be “the most complex thing ever” because simple things can evolve into complex things.

    Are you saying the laws of physics and chemistry evolved in 10^-39 seconds? I may be off a little on that exponent but we know the laws we have today are the same back then. The laws either sponaneously “evolved” in that fraction of a second or they were built into the speck from the beginning.

  17. The Power of Greyskull
    October 4th, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

    So… Raving atheist? How would God fit in to all this?

    You use the argument that Dawkins formulated to explain evolution. He did not use it as an an explanation for the origin of the universe. Jeeze, you really don’t like Dawkins do you?

  18. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

    oops, typo. Should be: “a little off on that exponent”

    I’ll also add that I find little difference between the complete laws of physics “evolving” in 10^-39 seconds and an immaculate conception.

  19. Drusilla
    October 4th, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

    I’ll also add that I find little difference between the complete laws of physics “evolving” in 10^-39 seconds and an immaculate conception.

    Do you know what the Immaculate Conception is?

  20. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 4:46 pm

    I guess I used the wrong term. Sorry. I probably should have used “virgin birth” or maybe even “resurrecting the dead”. You get the point (I hope).

  21. Drusilla
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:29 pm

    But then virgins do get pregnant and give birth, even today. And people who have died do come back to life. Both are quite rare but I believe the rate of occurence for each is greater than 10^39.

  22. bob barker
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

    So what are you trying to say?

  23. Drusilla
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

    Sorry, make that greater than 1 in 10^39.

  24. "Q" the Enchanter
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    You seem to be presupposing that because an intelligence that sought to bring about the origin of our cosmos would have to have been complex, the origin itself has to be (equally) complex. But surely that’s a fallacy. E.g., a mathematical function can both require sophistication to formulate and give rise to extremely complex phenomenon while itself being very simple. Cf. the Mandelbrot set.

  25. "Q" the Enchanter
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    You seem to be presupposing that because an intelligence that sought to bring about the origin of our cosmos would have to have been complex, the origin itself has to be (equally) complex. But surely that’s a fallacy. E.g., a mathematical function can both require sophistication to formulate and give rise to extremely complex phenomenon while itself being very simple. Cf. the Mandelbrot set.

  26. "Q" the Enchanter
    October 4th, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    You seem to be presupposing that because an intelligence that sought to bring about the origin of our cosmos would have to have been complex, the origin itself has to be (equally) complex. But surely that’s a fallacy. E.g., a mathematical function can both require sophistication to formulate and give rise to extremely complex phenomenon while itself being very simple. Cf. the Mandelbrot set.

  27. Paul
    October 4th, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

    Andy Holland wrote: “Precisely define natural selection, model it, and then have it do something.”

    ‘K.

    From http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-intro-to-biology.html#natsel

    “Some types of organisms within a population leave more offspring than others. Over time, the frequency of the more prolific type will increase. The difference in reproductive capability is called natural selection. . . . Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation depending on how it acts.”

    You gave that challenge as if you thought it was going to be a problem.

  28. EclecticGuru
    October 4th, 2006 @ 7:40 pm

    I’m not sure why Dawkins felt it was appropriate to mix a discussioin about biogenesis and evolution. As evolution does NOT pretend to explain biogenesis.

    It is indeed an inappropriate and illogical argument to explain the origin of life, as there is no actual data to back up that theory.

    In fact, we don’t really have much data at all to back up any theories explaining the mechanism behind biogenesis, at least as far as I know.

    But evolution. Yeah. Evolution is a pretty solid theory.

    How did the first living cells arise? I don’t know. It strikes me as something that would have had to been like a wind storm sweeping up a 747 out of a pile of trash.

    I look at it like this (at least until a better explanation is offered). The chances of flipping a coin a billion billion times and getting any on particularly “apparently random” sequence is the same as flipping the coin the same number of times and getting heads to come up each time.

    Maybe the wind storm did put together a 747. If it hadn’t, there wouldn’t be anyone here to wonder about it. Just because it appears to us to be too convenient a series of random events doesn’t make it any less likely than any one particular set of “seemingly” random events.

    So you can believe that the wind was just wind, or that it was a magic wind.

    I don’t start to want to punch people until they start telling me that they have a personal relationship with the magic wind and that not believing in the magic wind is some sort of a crime that will end up with me punished in some manner.

  29. JJ
    October 4th, 2006 @ 8:45 pm

    Paul – “The difference in reproductive capability is called natural selection. . . . Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation depending on how it acts.”

    What is Natural Selection again? It appears in this definition that the cart is drawing the horse around, and not only that, it’s going in circles!

    Eclectic Guru
    If we see evidence of a Magic Wind, yet continue to believe in and glorify a fart like “Natural Selection” we will, like Professor Dawkins, start to lose our minds. We punish ourselves. :)

  30. Axolotl
    October 4th, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

    Well, with this latest teaser, it seems RA is REAL close to finally announcing his new “world view” … he’ll admit joining Andy Holland (et all) in the “faith-based reality”.

    I guess the days of the RA site are numbered, unless he’s going to turn it over to someone … choobus perhaps??

  31. allonym
    October 4th, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

    Some have written here that Dawkins makes no argument pertaining to origin, but only to evolution versus design. Perhaps true; I haven’t read enough of the source material to judge. In my mind, however, I do extend the argument to origin; at least to that of life on this planet. I recall reading somewhere that scientists have succeeded in synthesizing certain amino acids by firing lasers at precise mixtures of certain gases under controlled pressure. Amino acids are essentially the building blocks of proteins, which in turn are the building blocks of organisms. Take a handful of readily available elements in the right quantities, apply some existing forces and energies, and you go from something relatively simple to something relatively more complex. I’m no biochemist (far from it), but I’d bet that there are individuals well-studied enough in the field to provide at least a theoretical framework of how such simple amino acids might have been induced to bond together into proteins, etc. in the early environs of our planet. From relatively simple to relatively more complex, in small discrete steps from gases and energy, to amino acids, an onward to the complexity of organisms we know (and are) today: such may have been the march of life on Earth. Whether or not this describes a process that is “magical” comes down to one’s application of the word. Personally I find it “magical” in that it has resulted in such an awesome existence. I also find it imminently more plausible than the explanation of life’s origin provided in the Bible.

    Or maybe I’m just an evil sinner who’s going to Hell. Whatever.

  32. EclecticGuru
    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:20 am

    I’m not deluded enough to believe the magic fart controls my destiny or gets angry if I wear clothes of two fabrics or have sex with someone of my gender or deny its existence.

    Which is, of course, the real issue. Extremely improbabe winds, magic winds, or farts of any sort aside.

    Which of the following is more likely — 1) The magic wind talks to people or 2) its just something people have manufactured because we’re incapable of finding any other meaning in life, and that we’re afraid of dying.

    I guess that’s up to each of us to answer.

    But if you support the peer-pressuring of my kids to swear allegiance to your magic wind at school, I’ll punch the magic wind right out of you.

    If your magic wind has a problem with it, it can take it up with me directly. Thank you.

  33. Forrest Cavalier
    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:50 am

    I propose a sand-castle building contest.

    Instead of the normal way of using buckets and sculpting tools, we are going to stand back 100 feet and toss handfuls of sand towards where we want the castles.

    The winner is the first one that creates a sand castle that goes on to construct other sand castles for the joy of it. Time limit is 4 billion years. Earthquakes, fire, wind, and rain are forecast, so adjust strategy accordingly.

    Unfortunately, pesky atheist/determinists have set themselves up as the judges. In the most excellent castle they will observe mere lumps of sand obeying the laws of physics. “Mere lumps are surely not capable of joy, and they are not acting in their own power to create other sand castles,” they will declare smugly. “Move along, nothing to see here”, they will say to the large crowds of people who can plainly see for themselves that something amazing is happened.

  34. A Booger
    October 5th, 2006 @ 3:40 am

    How much idiocy. Read something more than wikipedia articles about evolution and abiogenesis, guys. It wasn´t cells that got “created” first, but self-replicating mollecules. And from there natural selection can account for all observed life diversity.

    Not a Boeing, but a little self replicating mollecule. Can you not see the big difference?

  35. SEM
    October 5th, 2006 @ 5:31 am

    Ever played the Game of Life?

    It has some very simple fundamental principles, but from the interactions of those principles very complex patterns emerge.

    It seems to be the same with the universe. There are only a few fundamental principles, possibly only one (which physicists are currently trying to find out) but from the interactions of those laws at the macro scale, new patterns emerge. The Ideal Gas Law, for example, is not written on the fabric of the universe, but is a consequence of simpler laws. It’s a description of a pattern on the macro scale that emerges from billions of smaller, simpler interactions.

    It’s the same with all the laws of physics, the “spring and coils and gears and laws” and “consciousness and life and love”. So yes, I think it is “so simple”. BTW, it’s interesting how you focus on “love”, claiming it to be inherent to the universe, but seem to ignore all the other emotions such as greed, fear, hate, etc. If love was planned, wouldn’t those other emotions have to have been planned as well? I suspect that you are looking for solace rather than truth.

    Of course, what’s left to explain is those fundamental principles, or principle. Perhaps it took an entity of some sort to set them in place, or perhaps, when we find out more about them, we’ll understand how they came to be. Maybe there is simply an organising process which could create itself, and subsequently the universe, but has no other properties or effects on reality. Maybe expecting humans to understand the origin of these principles is like expecting MS Paint to understand Windows XP.

    Either way, I can’t see how cosmological arguments like this are relevant to any of the world’s religions. Supposing that an intelligent entity created the universe, we could be as nothing to it. We could be just an evolutionary stepping stone to a species inconceivably more conscious and self-aware, and to ‘God’ we are no different from apes. Or perhaps God’s chosen race is a bunch of superaliens, and we are merely here as part of God’s plan, waiting to be eaten or enslaved by them. In the same way that God provides cows for us to eat, It could be providing humans for the aliens to eat.

    I for one am sincerely interested finding out where I’m going wrong, if, as many of you believe, I am. I will be grateful for a sensible, rational response. If anyone wants to continue using these sarcastic, condescending tones, I can only assume that they’re more interested in pleasing themselves than persuading me.

  36. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    October 5th, 2006 @ 7:17 am

    Forest’s silly SANDCASTLES analogy is a typical narrow-minded creationist argument.

    Like Booger said … it didn’t start out witha Boom Bam Shazam – we have a cell folks … come and see the first cell !!! Certain molecular structures have affinity for each other … combinations of those might have affinities for other molecules … and so it goes. From there — the most amazing feat in nature … self replication.

    Yah – it is quite a feat … but like Guru says … it seems more likely than the ‘might wind’ (Old Fart if you ask me).

  37. severalspeciesof
    October 5th, 2006 @ 8:35 am

    “Perhaps the universe was once infinitesimally small, but as a speck it was not a simple speck like a sand-grain or an atom. It was the most complex thing ever. It contained within it all the spring and coils and gears and laws necessary to bring things to where they are today.”

    RA , I beg you, before you continue with prattlings on like the above, read up on the subject. Virtually everything I’ve read on the subject (which is very little I’ll admit, but apparently volumnes more than you have) have pointed out that when the universe was at its’ smallest, (and scientists call it “singularity” not the “Most Complex”) , the springs, coils etc., along with the laws, DID NOT exist as the springs, coils etc. that we now know about today. Time didn’t even exist, so there would be no “BEFORE’ at the point of the Big Bang.

  38. Paul
    October 5th, 2006 @ 8:51 am

    JJ, can you explain why you think that definition of natural selection was going around in a circle? I don’t see that.

  39. bob barker
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:28 am

    JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE said:
    “Certain molecular structures have affinity for each other … combinations of those might have affinities for other molecules … and so it goes. From there — the most amazing feat in nature … self replication.”

    Those affinity laws, and all the other natural laws, developed in 10^-39 seconds. To me, that is the most amazing feat of all. Self replication is child’s play compared to this.

  40. SEM
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:58 am

    Those affinity laws, and all the other natural laws, developed in 10^-39 seconds.

    No, they did not “develop” at all. There are only a few fundamental principles, possibly only one. What we call natural “laws” are descriptions of the patterns that occur at the macroscopic scale, when these fundamental principles, acting on different particles in different ways, interact with each other. As I already said, things like the Ideal Gas Law are not inherent to the universe, but descriptions of the way large quantities of molecules behave, which in turn ultimately depends upon the fundamental principles.

  41. j mct
    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

    RA: You’re actually thinking rather than raving. Good for you!

    Dawkins’ claims for the ‘creative power of evolution’ are ridiculous, though I think you’d have a hard time explaining that to him, since an acquaintance with his thought will more or less tell one that one is obviously dealing with someone who’s ability with regard to reason is well below the human attainable maximum and not much else.

    Evolution, in abstract terms, is a hill climbing search algorithm, as Dawkins will say though he doesn’t really understand what that means. Darwinians talk about ‘fitness landscapes’ in which evolution finds maxima via a iterative hill climbing method, with mutations being the iteration or trial. One can do this in as many dimensions as one likes. In the simple to understand
    z = f(x,y) ‘scape’, z is a function of x and y, yielding a visualizable ‘scape’ of a sort. A very simple one would z= a constant c, where you get a plane, or a flat table top, where z is the same no matter what x and y are. f(x,y) can also be a function as it is normally thought of or it can just be a list.

    An iterative hillclimbing method will act as follows, one is at a point on the scape where x=a and y=b, yielding a z via f. The goal of the algorithm is to maximize z. What one does is first to define a small number i, then check out what z one gets for the four combinations (a+i,b+i),(a+i,b-i),(a-i,b+i), and (a-i,b-i), then see which pair yields the highest z. If one of the calculated z’s is more than the z for f(x=a,y=b), then one resets x and y to the new values and repeat. Sooner or later you’ll get to a point where all the z’s are lower than the one for the x and y where you are at and thus you’re at the ‘top of a hill’, which is where you stop. The ‘top of the hill’ that you are on might not be the highest possible z, since it obvious if you set x and y on the side of a little hill next to a big mountain, the algorithm will find the top of little hill, not the top of the big mountain, (this is called a local maxima), and where you end up depends on where you start.

    In evolutionairy theory f is constantly changing too, sometimes subtledly, and sometimes dramatically like when a meteor hits Earth like one did at the end of the Cretaceous period, though in a very high meta “for the whole universe” sense, f doesn’t change.

    Anyone who has ever written such an algorithm knows that prior to the algorithm or process coming into existence the ‘search space’ in the case above all possible values of x y and z, and the optimization criteria, in the above case z = f(x,y), must preexist the search algorithm itself, it is logically impossible for the algorithm to ‘make’ these. That is where your intuition about the complexity of I guess what might be called the ‘alpha particle that went boom’ comes in. The body of the blogger known as the Raving Atheist, is contained as a possiblity, is existent in the search space right at the moment of creation, and is certainly ‘there’ long before any search process ike evolution ‘finds’ it.

    Dawkins (and his wingman Daniel Dennett, most notably in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”) seem to want ta raise evolution into some sort of metaphysical principle, or creative power, that the horshoe can “create” the blacksmith, and thus substitute evolution for a first or uncaused cause. Since without a search space or without optimization criteria, no ‘search algorithm can ‘be’, this is logically impossible, therefore only an idiot, who ironically, doesn’t really understand evolution, can think like this.

    This is one of the many demonstrable ways that one can demonstrate the somebody who could say “The theory of evolution makes me an intellectually satisfied atheist” has just ssaid something nasty about his intellect, though he’s probably not “bright” enough to realize it.

  42. Forrest Cavalier
    October 5th, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

    Just_Another_Primate in #34 misses my point.

    Either way you look at it, something remarkable and extremely improbable has happened and is happening. Namely that Joy results from the laws of physics!

    But we totally can’t see it with electron microscopes. So no amount of arguing about reality that way is going to prove or disprove the joy.

  43. SEM
    October 5th, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

    something remarkable and extremely improbable has happened and is happening. Namely that Joy results from the laws of physics!

    How have you calculated the probability of joy resulting from the laws of physics? Emotions are a sensible evolutionary strategy, as they are the way the brain rewards us for various activities that aid survival and reproduction, such as eating, sex, making allies, etc. They make us want to repeat these activities, thus aiding the chances of our genes being passed on. Joy now gets tied up with all sort of social interactions in complex ways. It doesn’t seem improbable to me.

    And j mct, I don’t see where you got the idea that Dawkins wants to “substitute evolution for a first or uncaused cause.” As far as I can tell, you’re calling him “an idiot, who ironically, doesn’t really understand evolution” for something he never said. Let me know if I’ve missed something.

  44. Drusilla
    October 5th, 2006 @ 5:51 pm

    There are only a few fundamental principles, possibly only one (which physicists are currently trying to find out) but from the interactions of those laws at the macro scale, new patterns emerge. …BTW, it’s interesting how you focus on “love”, claiming it to be inherent to the universe, but seem to ignore all the other emotions such as greed, fear, hate, etc.

    Greed, fear and hate are love gone awry: distortions of love and/or the normal healthy responses to love. Christians believe love is the fundamental principle.

    I can’t see how cosmological arguments like this are relevant to any of the world’s religions. Supposing that an intelligent entity created the universe, we could be as nothing to it.

    C’est vrai. But then, we could also be unimaginably precious and valuable to that Entity, which is what Christians (including Catholic Christians) believe.

    REM, I don’t know what you’re missing. I can only tell you briefly what we (and that includes me) believe. The processes aren’t the central issue, at least not to Catholics and not to many other Christians. (Though they matter very much to others who are also Christians – but then, it’s earth, not heaven.) How God chooses to bring creation into existence is something to study and learn from and rejoice in. But ultimately, the how is supposed to be like everything else, a means through which we come to know and love God and each other better, an opportunity to be awed by how great and glorious creation (including each one of us) is, how great and glorious God is.

    I find it interesting that some believe it necessary to choose between that which is rational and God. Faith actually requires being rational. And by faith I don’t mean nice feelings that I can manufacture within myself – that’s not faith though for many it may be the beginnings of it. I mean the genuine, difficult, slog through life no matter what faith. I mean the kind of faith that isn’t dependent on how one feels at any given moment.

    It’s rational to believe that there is something that will assuage physical hunger, something to respond to intellectual hunger, something to respond to the physical distress of being exposed to the cold. In short, it’s rational to believe there are responses to our needs. And being human includes needing much that cannot be quantified or expressed in mathematical formulae: beauty, love, satisfaction, peace…

    If we are honest, we discover that nothing fully satisfies our deepest needs and then a question arises: Is there anything that will be enough? A possible answer is, No, this is all there is. Nothing more exists. Another answer is, Yes, there is something more, or rather Someone more. This hunger for more has a Response just as physical hunger has a response.

    That this Response is usually experienced, at least at first, with something other than the physical senses says more about the state of those senses than it does about the existence of God. We would be fools to decide that food didn’t exist even if it was tasteless, or if we couldn’t see it or feel it, though we might reasonably conclude there was something off with our senses. (And Christians do believe that there is something terribly off with our senses.) Suspicion about this odd stuff would be quite understandable. But if we are hungry enough, we eat because the real issue is our hunger. And in determining whether this stuff that some people insist on calling food is in fact food depends on what happens when we eat it. If hunger is slaked, then we can be pretty confident that we have eaten food. If we find ourselves growing, maintaining our health or becoming healthier, even just a little healthier, then we have additional evidence that we have, in fact, been eating food. And certainly, if we find ourselves beginning to taste and smell and see and feel this substance, we would be quite rational to join our voices with others who are insisting that this is the genuine article.

    That’s what Christians find. More and more, our hunger is fulfilled. At the same time, we also discover that we are far hungrier than we ever knew. In fact, we become increasingly hungry, ravenously hungry and always, we are filled. There is always an abundance to fill us, individually and corporately.

    At the same time, we find we are becoming something greater than the simple, limited beings we know ourselves to be. We know it’s not our own doing because we are also learning to see ourselves with increasing honesty. Life provokes us. It calls out of us responses we wouldn’t normally give. Who we are is growing and changing. Life becomes a miracle even though walking on water is just as infrequent now as it was 2000+ years ago.

    We begin to gain the ability to master ourselves (which is a far greater challenge than a Cecil B. DeMille stunt). We learn to seek and accept forgiveness, another thing we never knew we needed. And then there’s joy – in drips and drabs at first but with perseverance, it becomes consistent, even when times are terribly difficult. And though chances are, no one will ever “calculate[] the probability of joy resulting from the laws of physics,” we do discover that joy both comes as a result of fulfilled needs and fills needs. I said, life becomes a miracle, but it is just as true to say we discover that life has always been a miracle and we just didn’t notice. (And the discoveries continue day by day, sometimes moment by moment.)

    Of course the world looks at us and says, If God were real, you Christians would be better. And often, we are terribly poor evidence of His existence. Yet to find all the flaws that human beings have always had in the midst of any subset of humans shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The surprise is that we don’t give up. The surprise is that we don’t crawl away in shame over all the horrid things we have, can and, almost certainly, will do but instead keep begging for mercy and keep insisting that we must stick with it until we get it right while at the same time we insist that we can’t get it right without God. The surprise is that we are rational and still we stay; we know there is nothing else.

    That’s a very basic primer. Of course there’s much more. But this is the best beginning I can make at this time. As long as the question is, Will this meet my needs? Faith is extremely rational. Of course if the question is, What sort of empirical proof is there for the existence of God? Then it’s utterly irrational. Perhaps that’s a big part of the problem. Christians and atheists are asking very different questions. Which one we ask at the moment may be a matter of how we deal with hunger.

  45. Drusilla
    October 5th, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    Sorry – it’s SEM, not REM. Mea culpa.

  46. EclecticGuru
    October 5th, 2006 @ 6:36 pm

    Drusilla, have you ever thought that is possible to feel fulfilled without inventing magical invisible food to fill those needs? Perhaps, with just a little bit more work, you could find something that is neither magical nor invisible to do so.

  47. Godthorn
    October 5th, 2006 @ 9:12 pm

    Drusilla, that was a tour de force. I grade you A for Attempt. But one does not exactly “choose between that which is rational and God.” One merely credits that which is rational and discredits that which is not.

    I will comment on only one other thing: If you ever come to see the true origin of beauty, you will be appalled.

  48. Some Guy
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

    Didn’t people used to think an embryo was just a miniature person? It had exactly the same traits, but was smaller.

  49. Irreligious
    October 6th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    “As long as the question is, Will this meet my needs? Faith is extremely rational. Of course if the question is, What sort of empirical proof is there for the existence of God? Then it’s utterly irrational. Perhaps that’s a big part of the problem. Christians and atheists are asking very different questions. Which one we ask at the moment may be a matter of how we deal with hunger.”

    What sort of empirical proof do “you” need to see the invisible gods of others? Do you also advocate the rationality of, say, voodoo? It obviously makes sense to the practioners of this ancient religion. Are you at all interested in knowing how they negotiate reality? And were they constantly on your back in a fruitless attempt to persuade you that their way is the path to enlightenment and fulfillment, would you be flattered?

  50. SEM
    October 6th, 2006 @ 10:41 am

    Drusilla, thank you for your interesting and insightful response.

    Let me propose a scenario. Consider a group of intelligent apes. Being social creatures, the apes have empathy, a desire for the respect of others, a dislike for strife and conflict. They have a perpetual desire to avoid anxiety, loneliness, and seek to find peace and acceptance. All of these traits have evolved because they help them to survive, help them to form stable, protective social groups. They respect the alpha male because he protects them. Their tribes are small, and they all rely on one other. Everyone has an important role to play, and can be meaningful, or crucial to the survival of the tribe. Everyone knows each other and wants the best for them. They don’t have the brains to consider anything beyond their own tribe, their own patch of forest, so they feel like they’re the centre of everything.

    The evolution of the apes’ intelligence, propelled by the advantage of being able to outwit predators, prey and rivals, ultimately results in them being able to ponder their origins, their place in the universe. As their awareness of the world around them enlarges, they may begin to see how small, how insignificant they appear. Now that they have emerged from beneath the canopies, the empty skies and distant stars make them feel exposed and alone. They move into cities and the old social groups become confused. It becomes impossible to know and love all of the people around them. They now have the intelligence to doubt that the alpha males and wisewomen are always going to protect them. There are enemy cities and armies who threaten them, and each individual now seems awfully inconsequential. They know that if they were to die, a few of their ape friends might mourn them for a while, but the cities and the empires would press on, utterly oblivious.

    But their ancient desires for peace, for security, for importance, have never faded. Their desire for an important role, for the admiration of their fellows, remains. The swarm, the mob that is society has respect for few individuals. These strange apes, who once thought themselves the centre of the universe, are now confronted with the knowledge that they aren’t. So they feel the need for “something more, or rather Someone more.” Someone to protect them, love them, make them feel “unimaginably precious and valuable”. Someone to provide a purpose, or a meaning, for them. And perhaps most importantly, Someone who can never be hurt, who can never be separated from them, even in the most terrifying and miserable of situations.

    Thus they come to believe. Their relationship with this “Someone”, the only one who will love them no matter what, can even become more important to them than anything else. I’m sure that it is also an excellent meditative technique for calming the battlefield that is the mind. We are constantly besieged by our fears, loneliness, unhappy memories, shame. Knowing that an infinitely wise and powerful entity is willing to forgive you and help you overcome all this must be incredibly appealing.

    So that, I believe, is why we have this “hunger”, and why God can satisfy it. Or rather, belief in God is enough to satisfy it. It’s like the placebo effect in some ways. If only we believed that our condition will improve, that we will find health and happiness, then we will have enough hope and a positive enough outlook to actually find it. And once you rely on God, you become “increasingly hungry, ravenously hungry” as your expectations and hopes are raised.

    I have no doubt that faith can help people face the challenges of life. I have no doubt that it can inspire and provoke people. I greatly respect what faith can do for a person. In Britain, a disproportionately high number of politicians are religious, indicating that faith inspires people to take part in society to a greater degree than normal. But I don’t believe it takes God’s intervention to do this for someone. I think that faith is a technique that satisfies the desire for purpose and security, and thus it encourages people.

    But that’s not to say that faith in God is the only answer. I believe that by being honest with ourselves, analysing ourselves, and perhaps using meditative techniques (I believe that Sam Harris does something along these lines), we can come to terms with the torments besieging us. We can find the “food” that satisfies our needs without resorting to supernatural all-fathers. Take Buddhist monks, for example. They are supposed to be the most content and happy people in the world, yet many of them have no belief in God. If this “hunger” results from us not having a proper relationship with God, why is it that a godless philosophy is the best way of satisfying it?

    Also, the notion of “growing and changing” does not need faith to justify it. It brings new possibilities, new potential for joy and self-actualisation. It might take an act of will to grow and change without the aid of faith, but that is a responsibility that we must shoulder. We atheists face a society determined to persuade us that life without faith is “empty” (to quote the nitwit who conducted my brother’s wedding). I believe the truth is that life without a sense of purpose is empty, and though faith is one way to find purpose, it is an indirect way and is often associated with harmful dogmas and a misguided respect for “revealed knowledge”.

    One thing that you said disturbed me. “Is there anything that will be enough? A possible answer is, No, this is all there is.” This is all there is? The whole beautiful universe, a planet-load of people, infinite possibilities for joy and achievement and honour, isn’t that enough? I think you are being pessimistic about the world, and what humans, those peculiar apes, are capable of.

  51. Thorngod
    October 6th, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

    Outstanding, SEM. -And I’ll bet Drusilla isn’t buying a bit of it. For, in addition to the imagined limitless love and concern God has for his children, there is his other face, the terrible, wrathful side, which threatens an eternity of exquisite torture on those who do not obey.

  52. Drusilla
    October 6th, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

    SEM – It’s been a busy day and I’ve not had an opportunity to read your entire response. I shall and will respond as soon as possible. The first thing that does come to mind is that belief in God is never enough. The belief must be verifiable or it fizzles out. More later.

    Thorngod known often as Godtorn – Dear one, I parted company with Jung’s view of the dark side of God in the instant I first understood what he was saying and have found no other view of His supposed darkness anywhere near as interesting as Jung’s. More on that later too and it won’t include pretending that hell doesn’t exist. I promise.

  53. Drusilla
    October 6th, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

    Part one of my response to SEM (and a little something for Thorngod/Godthorn too):

    The psychological development you depict doesn’t really correspond to the what we can discover about early human beings, doesn’t even correspond to what we know of more modern human beings (for example, Native Americans had/have wise women, chiefs and warriors as well as an abiding belief in the Great Spirit). And in terms of consciousness and the development of individuality, the experience of early man is not the same as our experience today. It’s anachronistic to impose our sensibilities on people of an earlier period. The few facts we have, the few parallels we can draw from research simply don’t support this picture of human development.

    For example, as far as we can tell, the alpha-male was respected not only because he provided protection (much as the Mafia does) but also because he was bigger and stronger and had killed or, at the very least, driven away the previous alpha-male. Once established as the head of the tribe, he then proceeded to kill the nursing children so as to bring the females to estrus, impregnate them and propagate his genetic material. The halcyonic time you envision isn’t supported by the evidence. Too many early human fossils show evidence of what is almost certainly death at the hands of other early humans. Essentially, the human experience you posit isn’t actually human and, as far as we can tell, it’s neither anthropologically nor historically correct.

    We do know religion predates city-states. (Cities are relatively modern developments.) Religion began in the small tribes with the alpha-male. Though even relatively modern man did not believe in a transcendent, eternal God but conceived of many gods who can be killed (by man as well as by other gods), who are capricious (they release the deluge of the flood because humans make too much noise and the gods want to sleep), who essentially create man and then find he is either a pest or exceedingly comely and sexually appealing (cf. The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Enuma Elish and other ancient creation tales).

    The “Someone who can never be hurt, who can never be separated from them, even in the most terrifying and miserable of situations” is a much more modern development. He is transcendent and not only created us, but has a plan for us and then enters into history and gets His hands dirty with us in a radical departure from any previous idea of God. And He can only be known through His revelation of Himself – another radical departure. This is not Zeus transforming himself into a bull or a golden shower to impregnate a hot chick. This is something new, unimagined, scandalous. (In fact, much of early Genesis reads like a response to the Enuma Elish and the other ancient beliefs about God.) But God isn’t more important to the Israelites than anyone else. In fact, they keep straying off from Him, regardless of what He does to show Him that He is different. They treat God as if He is the same as the gods from the surrounding lands whom they know are false. They war against Him in their hearts and minds and calmness has little to do with the relationship between God and His people. But God is always there, ready to take them back.

    They do suffer the consequences of their actions and often the consequences are dire. (Thorngod, are you paying attention here?) And though, for the moment, I am trying to limit the theology, at this point I will say that God prioritizes and is ultimately concerned with something far greater than our physical well-being, our freedom. We are faced with choice and in order for choice to be real results must be real. It’s an excruciating experience but without choice, there can be no freedom. And, at the very same time, none of us is exempt from reality, including the reality of living in a very broken world (those halcyonic days just don’t come).

    Off to the Opera. Part two later, probably tomorrow.

  54. SEM
    October 6th, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

    I’m going back to university tomorrow and I have a load of studying and essay-writing to do in the first week, so it may be a while before I can reply. It depends on how hectic my situation becomes. I will read your response though.

  55. Irreligious
    October 6th, 2006 @ 11:29 pm

    It seems to me that the story in SEM’s post was meant to be a parable and not a literal, anthropological examination of how humans came to “find” religion.

    The main point, as I understood it, is that implicit in human nature is the need to have a purpose for being, to matter and to feel less vulnerable in an unsure world, hence the conceptualization of invisible gods to deal with those anxieties. Why would the humans of antiquity– or those currently living a more naturalistic human existence (so-called primitives)– be any less disposed to trying to make sense of their world? They were and are still human.

    Is your point that these primitives were/are too unenlightened? too barbaric? or lacking in some way? to have conceived of one all-purpose, all-knowing and all-powerful deity? Just trying to understand your point, Drusilla.

  56. SEM
    October 7th, 2006 @ 3:08 am

    Hmm, somehow I posted (52) before seeing your reply (51). I regrettably don’t have time to read everything right now, but I’d just like to point out a few things. That post was sloppy and I overindulged in metaphor. I don’t envision prehistoric life as halcyonic (and certainly don’t see alpha males as perfectly virtuous) though I can see how I came across that way. I don’t believe in the Garden of Eden! In fact, I rather wish I hadn’t even bothered with the apes and tribes and wisewomen business, it wasn’t relevant to the main point.

    Nor did I mean that every example of a god is due to urbanisation. The bickering, anthropomorphic gods and the animism of many cultures are not the kind of belief I was seeking to explain. It is the “hunger” you spoke of, the desire for spiritual fulfillment, that I was contemplating. As you say, the transcendent God who fulfills these needs is a modern development. Not only were there cities, but there was often imperial conquest when belief in this God was emerging (Babylonian, Roman, etc.). I think that this is in agreement with my argument that feelings of insignificance and helplessness in the face of vast, faceless social turmoil fuel a desire for supernatural purpose and protection.

    I probably won’t have much internet access for a while, so I expect to disappear for a few days. I’ll try to take more time with future posts and avoid the sloppiness and indulgence of the previous one. I forsee this conversation sparking off a great deal of learning on my part. I’ve recently started a campaign of reading more about religious history, theology, etc. (currently on Ninian Smart’s Religious Experience of Mankind). Hopefully I can fit it in with my other studies. I would appreciate any recommendations that you might make.

  57. Godthorn
    October 7th, 2006 @ 4:23 am

    Drusilla is a true believer, Irreligious, and must conform the world–ancient and modern–to God’s blueprint. By which I do not mean that she is totally off in her assessment. She is obviously no dummy. She is familiar with Sumerian mythology, so she knows the true origin of the material in the Hebrew book of Genesis. Besides that, anyone who can appreciate opera is no dummy. I confess that I deplore opera. I can appreciate the music, but the presentation is so pretentious and unreal.

    Chimpanzees and gorillas, as far as we can ascertain, are not religious. But they also do not, as far as we can ascertain, concoct fictions or produce art. Neither art nor religion (that may be a redundancy) sprang suddenly upon the human scene. Nor did the use of fire or the employment of projectiles, on the first instance, or the third or the tenth, start a revolution that then spread rapidly throughout the human world. Somewhere, at some time–and there were many such times and places–an exceptional apeman, in a tribe so happily blessed that it’s members had occasional hours of leisure, happened to exercise his brain on something other than immediate practical concerns and realized that he and his tribe might get more fish from the river if they gave the river something in return. Considering the limitations of his brain power, that was a hell of an insight, faulty though it was. Meanwhile, somewhere else, another bright fellow, who’s tribe had been all but eradicated by a sudden flood, had the brilliant revelation that the river was hungry, and he persuaded his tribe to sacrifice a few misfits to it on a regular basis. Both responses were equally valid, and both probably seemed to solve the tribes’ problem–at least most of the time.
    It wasn’t religion; it wasn’t superstition; both responses were sensible solutions in respect to the prevailing knowledge. But it was from such solutions, together with the interpretations of dreams (which were as real as any other expreiences to early man) that spirituality arose.
    And it was something like a million years before another human–one here, one there–happened to have the intelligence, again together with the leisure time, to question the validity of his tribe’s
    assumptions of the nature of things. And this would have been the first man (men) to have been burned at a stake.

    We humans are tender things, as are all life forms. We are compelled to strive, to survive, and we are pricked and burned and threatened constantly at every turn. We flinch at every novelty, and flee from even imaginary threats, and grasp desperately at any magic straw– because our ultimate goal is to survive–to live forever! Religion makes it possible.

  58. Irreligious
    October 7th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    It’s clear to me that Drusilla is quite intelligent and, no doubt, well-read. I am acquainted with enough theists (most of the people with whom I regularly interact are at least nominally so) to know that theism and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.

    I was just wondering why Drusilla was taking an obvious parable so literally and if she, in turn, disagreed with the general premise that invisible gods and their attendent magic satisfy an inner-longing to really, truly matter in the universe and to be somewhat invulnerable to life’s capriciousness. It didn’t seem from her post that she was, in principle, contradicting that premise. Instead, she resorted to quibbling over the minor details of SEM’s parable and whether or not so-called primitives would likely have had the thoughts and feelings necessary to appreciate a truly transcendent god.

    How could this even be a question when we already know that there are modern primitives who have adapted themselves quite nicely to this way of thinking when introduced to it by Christian missionaries? The evolution of this philosophy may not have started with primitive tribal folk, but the need that that the philosophy fulfills was always there. But, more importantly, SEM seemed to be asserting that the concept of a transcendent god is not the “only” means for fulfilling these basic human needs. And that would seem to be self-evident from the plethora of philosophies (religious and nonreligious) that exist out there. One size does not fit all; never has and never will.

    By the way, I like opera, too. The singing aspect of it is highly technical, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand and appreciate the application of the art. I’m living proof.

    And, Godthorn, the last paragraph of your post is, for me, one of the most concise and astutely observed rationalizations for why humans “believe” that I’ve ever read. I’m not much given over to superstition but, even as an atheist, I am not immune to self-delusion, so I at least have an empathy with the theist. However, as much as I can, I just try to take whatever comfort there is in cold, hard facts.

  59. Drusilla
    October 8th, 2006 @ 9:16 pm

    Part II – My purpose in part one was to address SEM’s simplistic depiction of the development of religion. (I have developed the habit of trying to respond to what is actually said rather than what is intended.) And in this instance, I thought it quite important to do so since on a number of occasions I have encountered here similar depictions of early man as a creature who did not believe in the existence of gods but developed such beliefs in response to the increasing anxiety of life. That is certainly possible. But as far as we can tell, man has the concept of some sort of deity at least 31,000 years BC*. How man comes to the decision is speculation though Godthorn’s suggestion is “equally valid, and …seem[s] to solve the problem.” There is no evidence that the most intelligent of the primates has any belief in any sort of god. And the most “primitive” people we know of today (though they are immensely more sophisticated than early man) do believe in gods. And, as Irreligious points out, it seems that “implicit in human nature is the need to have a purpose for being,” belief in the existence of some sort of deity seems to pre-date consciousness of that need.

    About 2700 BC, Gilgamesh desires to make a lasting name for himself. This cycle offers our earliest information about humans being conscious of the desire to have a purpose. We can be confident that the actual desire predates Gilgamesh and in fact was a motivating factor for humans to build cities. But still, our earliest information, which predates Gilgamesh by perhaps 28,000+/- years, gives evidence that early man had some sort of concept of deity but says nothing about Him desiring a sense of purpose.

    Certainly, I am not suggesting that early man was “too unenlightened,” “too barbaric,” “or lacking in some way to have conceived of one all-purpose, all-knowing and all-powerful deity.” (See Irreligious.) I am only saying they didn’t do so. But neither did modern man. And though, as SEM points out, there was a great deal of imperial conquest when belief in a transcendent God began, such wars predate Abraham by nearly two thousand years. The concept of God’s transcendence, and certainly of God who reveals himself to human beings not for His own benefit, not because He has a wager on with His peers, but because He decides to enter into relationship with these “peculiar apes“ is radical. It happens nowhere else, at no other time in history, to no one else but only in Sumer, in about 1900 to 1500 BC, to a man named Abraham. And similarly, Christianity occurs in the midst of a tiny nation among one insignificant group of people and it too is radical.

    Which leads me back to what I want to say in part II:

    The faith of the Israelites is not logical. Up to that time in that part of the world (and much of the rest of the world), deities are to be propitiated. They are essentially bigger, more powerful human beings, often embodiments of forces which are greater than man. But with Abraham, YHWH reveals himself in history. Even His name is unique: YHWH, the tetragrammaton, which is usually translated, I Am Who (or That) I AM, can also be translated, I Will Be Who I Will Be. There is a sense in both translations, but especially in the second, that it is necessary to get to know Him. His names resonates with the themes of following him, themes which continue to this day and that is a critical difference because this is a God who is offering to take us somewhere and accompany us on the journey.

    There seems to be a belief that faith in God makes Christians “feel less vulnerable in an unsure world,” that it “calm[s]the battlefield that is the mind.” Many people who come to faith in Christ begin with that expectation and to some extent do find their hearts and minds eased. (It’s sort of a honeymoon period.) But that’s an aenemic faith. God doesn’t make the scary, bad things go away neither does He make us not care about them.

    SEM proposes that “Buddhist monks …are supposed to be the most content and happy people in the world, yet many of them have no belief in God. If this “hunger” results from us not having a proper relationship with God, why is it that a godless philosophy is the best way of satisfying it?”

    Cloistered Carmelite nuns and Trappist monks are also, as a group, happy and even, in some ways, content. A simple, contemplative life tend to be much happier, more peaceful than lives lived in the hustle and bustle of the world. But Buddhists deal with discontent, with the difficulties of the world in a unique way. They’ve determine that it’s cause is desire and work not to desire anything. They don’t achieve contentment but instead reduce desire to the smallest amount of desiring possible. (Though of course, desiring not to desire is still desiring.) They choose the equivalent of being ravenously hungry and then ignoring that hunger for so long that consciousness of it becomes minimal. (I’ve done that many times – I’m a dancer.) And when one is no longer conscious of hunger, one is no longer bothered by its nagging discomfort. One can even experience a certain high by fasting, or eating a minimal amount of food for a period of time. But, as REM and Irreligious and Godthorn have all pointed out in their own fashion, we are still hard wired to hunger, to desire. So ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

    Christianity doesn’t deny hunger. Christianity, including those cloistered Carmelites and Trappists, deal with it in a different way. And writing about this here is very important because so many seem to have no idea what Christians, and certainly no idea of what Catholics, believe. It seems to me if one is going to denigrate another’s belief, at least one should know what that belief is.

    Christianity doesn’t, as SEM suggests, promise to make “our condition …improve, [or] that we will find health and happiness” no matter how much we “hope and [have] a positive enough outlook.” In fact, suffering is guaranteed. As far as we can tell, man has been turning to God to fix things, to give “more fish from the river” and to get what He wants, man has tried to pay God for it, has given “the river something in return,” has even “sacrifice[d] a few misfits [(and many not so misfit)] to it on a regular basis.” Then Christ comes along telling us to expect suffering and swords and wars and all sorts of absolutely painful and horrid experiences. And though we still might insist that God’s purpose is to make all that go away, that’s not what He offers. But, at the same time, we’re not called to enjoy suffering. We needn’t even want to suffer (though some do, but that’s between them and God). In fact, masochism is disordered, an emotional sickness that can become sin.

    The belief that we look to God for happiness and contentment is terribly amusing because it falls so far short of the truth. Of course we want happiness and contentment, just like anyone else, but what Christians get is very much what an athlete or a dancer gets – hard work. You see, ultimately, being happy and content doesn’t say much. It refers to feelings and, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. [They] may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Feelings are terribly fickle.

    But of course there is more than happiness and contentment. SEM writes that there is “[t]he whole beautiful universe, a planet-load of people, infinite possibilities for joy and achievement and honour…” Godthorn suggests that we “our ultimate goal is to survive–to live forever!”” And of course. we want to live forever, none of us wants to die. That too is part of the hunger and we believe there is eternal life which fulfills our hunger. But it’s still not enough.

    For goodness sakes does anyone honestly think happiness and contentment are enough? That this world is enough? That living forever is enough? Those things are certainly good and desirable and Christians hope for them but they’re just not enough. Because of course, as Godthorn points out, we are not willing to be an accident. And why should we be?

    I am absolutely convinced that on whatever corresponds to the “sixth day,” God lifted some of the clay from the ground and said, I am going to make you like Me.” And then He proceeded to create man in His image and likeness. (The process He used is the process He used – our concept of history is radically different from that of the ancients and they certainly never pretended to be scientists.) I am absolutely convinced that Christianity, that Catholicism in particular, offers the life-long process of learning to be like God. Of learning to love as He loves us. Of being conformed to His image. Of becoming like the One who took our “manhood into God” by learning to take God into our humanity. And I and all Christendom, even if some of us must think about it for a bit, are not willing to settle for less; we believe that is why we were created, that that is God’s purpose for creating us. We believe that we are the answer to God’s purpose.

    And though this already terribly long, I can’t end before saying something about the supposed “dark side of God” because it is germane. He hasn’t got one.

    My imagery is that God is like an immense, bright multi-faceted jewel and man has very limited vision. We can only focus on one facet at a time, and even that we can’t see very clearly; He is very bright. Sometimes, our experience of darkness is the experience of eyes encountering His brightness – we must trust that eventually our eyes will adjust. Sometimes our experience of darkness is our inability to see the facets round the other side or even those nearby. I believe the darkness is in us not in Him and that He, in fact, is very, very kind and patient with us. We offer ugliness and God uses it to make beauty.

    I know many voices can be raised in objection – What of the behaviour of the Israelites entering the promised land? What of the actions of the Church? What of the Crusades? It would be easy to ask, what of all those occasions when those who don’t believe in God waged war? Destroyed others? But that would be disingenuous. All I can do is repeat, wherever human beings are found we will also find the entire range of what it means to be human – the good and the bad – and we all know there is plenty of bad with or without belief in God.

    And yes, we Christians believe in the existence of hell. But God doesn’t take pleasure in consigning anyone there (though some take great pleasure in torturing others by telling them about it). We choose hell and if we insist on death, if we insist on the agony and torment of being separate from God, at what point does He give us what we demand? At what point does He say, “Thy will be done” to us? Are we really insisting that God should be held hostage to those who hate Him forever?

    That’s just silly – as if there will be a great party in Lisboa and some of us choose to go but others choose to stay in Fresno because there’s no empirical or mathematical evidence that Lisboa exists or that there is any party at all. At what point should we in Lisboa wait to begin the party? And if we think those hanging out in Fresno are silly, mightn’t we laugh at their silliness once it can no longer affect us? And when the ones who stay in Fresno become aware that the party is not only real but better than anyone imagined, and if they are tormented because there are no more flights and they can’t get there, and if they continue to hate the giver of the party, what are we to do? They refused every invitation because they knew Fresno was real but just weren’t convinced about Lisboa – are they to be denied their choice? Are they to be denied Fresno which is what they wanted all along?

    That’s my metaphor. And though Fresno isn’t hell (for some), it’s the best metaphor I have at the moment.
    It’s late, I’m tired and though there will undoubtedly be more from me in the future, it is time now to rest. La Boheme was glorious – and yesterday there was Schubert. Thank you Thorngod/Godthorn and Irreligious for the compliments. SEM, enjoy studying – it’s my favourite thing to do.

  60. Godthorn
    October 9th, 2006 @ 1:03 am

    That was a mouth- and belly-full, Drusilla. You won’t get so much from me–just a coupe of notes:

    1- I strongly suspect that the motivation behind the construction of cities was better defence and more efficient coordination of community affairs. I really can’t see why any higher purpose would be required.

    2- When the human was new, without wheel or fire, not yet favored by any urge to invent, or even to compute, where was his divinity? Where was his humanity? He was a mere physcal thing, conscious but dumb, serving the body–only the body–for the body was all. But were we not human when we were mere conscious brutes? If we were not yet human, whence came our humanness? Did some Sculptor, musing on his newest frivolity, perceive a glorious possibility and inject a soul into the brute? No. That is surely the most absurd of all fantasies. The brute, through millennia of chance mutations, gradual enculturation, and the ingenious responses of some rare few to the exigencies of an unforgiving world, clawed, ate dirt and carrion,and dragged his miserable self to a place of relative comfort across a million years of woe. The horrors of that long, savage odyssey cannot be encompassed by the mind. Nor can that story be embraced or amortized or rationalized by any religion.

    You will not be moved, of course. You must not be. Reality is an adventure for some and a yawning abyss for others. I have a few “believing” friends who become quite discomfitted at any challenge to their religion. They can’t face the possibility that they may actually cease to exist, or that their infinitely merciful God is demonstrably less merciful than they or I.

  61. Drusilla
    October 9th, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

    “Did some Sculptor, musing on his newest frivolity, perceive a glorious possibility and inject a soul into the brute? No.”

    I don’t know what process God uses though I study theology and have just embarked on a course of expanding my philosophical knowledge. (One of those necessary requirements for the kind of scholarship I’d like to do.) Chances are I shall never know. And though I use the imagery of God holding a lump of clay, I am very careful to point out that I don’t know the actual process – just as I don’t know whether Fresno is really hell (but I’ve heard dark rumblings).

    Is how the soul developed in human beings really the issue? It’s not mine. To me it’s like asking, How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?* Or is the glass half full or half empty?** Though many have spent, and do spend much time pondering such questions, and though such questions can be quite interesting, they have nothing to do with faith in God. They’re fun but the greatest saint with intense mystical experiences can’t even begin to grasp the mathematics (if it even is mathematics) of faith, of Divinity.

    “The brute, through millennia of chance mutations, gradual enculturation, and the ingenious responses of some rare few to the exigencies of an unforgiving world, clawed, ate dirt and carrion, and dragged his miserable self to a place of relative comfort across a million years of woe. The horrors of that long, savage odyssey cannot be encompassed by the mind. Nor can that story be embraced or amortized or rationalized by any religion.”

    Petit, originally, I come from a politically volatile region of South America. The “long, savage odyssey” continues today there and throughout much of what the west calls, the “developing world.” And there is little reason for it now. Human beings have been and are unspeakably brutal. Life on this planet has been and can be unspeakably brutal. And, at the same time, human beings can flourish in the midst of unspeakable brutality and horror. All of this is central to what it means to be human.

    But the purpose of religion is not to diminish or discount the horror – at least not the purpose of Christianity and certainly not of Catholicism. In fact, Catholicism doesn’t let us get away from the horror that is central to what it means to be human. Those that think the doctrine of the Fall is reductionism don’t get it. All the ugliness, both that which we have inflicted and that which we have suffered are there in the desire to be God without having to do the long, slow, uncomfortable work of becoming like Him. As I’ve said, faith doesn’t exempt us from the reality of living in a very dangerous and painful, very broken world. Christianity reveals the horror and suffering as the Cross – an inescapable Cross, yes – but not a victorious one, a doorway rather than annihilation.

    I don’t run from suffering, it’s part of life. And in some places and at some times life is far more horrid than at others. How fortunate I am to have been born at a time when relatively peaceful countries exist and serve as havens. How fortunate we all are to live in an age where we are comparatively safe. And how easily might our safety be swept away by war, by natural disaster, by the inhumanity we bestow on one another. And this too will be, and for many is, the Cross.

    So, if by moving me you mean you that I will not agree with you, you are absolutely right. But if you mean that I won’t engage my passions, you are very wrong. I am deeply moved by life and by this exchange – which is why I take it (and you) seriously and why I’m willing to spend time on it. Each day, I enter into the adventure of reality. Faith requires that I enter more and more deeply into it. And I am not at all discomfited (a great word) by your challenges. I’m grateful to share with you what I believe – and that’s all I can do. And still I believe that God is infinitely merciful and that not only will I not cease to exist, I will one day be like Him, able to love as He loves.

    This morning I was thinking about this exchange and it came to mind that if I were a piece of coal, the pressure and heat and horror of being made into a diamond would be unimaginable, unbearable. Yet in the end, I would be a diamond and that is a goal worth suffering for, worth bearing the unbearable for. That’s what’s offered. One is allowed to say no. I choose to say yes.

    But why are you so very angry?

    *Answer: as many as want, angels are incorporeal.

    **It just seems silly to me to waste time measuring the contents of a glass. If I’m thirsty and the glass holds something good to drink, I drink. If it doesn’t, I find a drinkable beverage. And if I’m not thirsty, why would I care?

  62. Godthorn
    October 9th, 2006 @ 10:26 pm

    Why would you think I’m angry, Drusilla–never mind “very” angry? People who know me would tell you I’m always convivial and moderately mischievous. I do get angry, at injustices, and even occasionally–a little–at irritations. But the quality you detect in my deprecations of religion is not anger, just frustration. I am certain there are no “truths” that contradict reason, and it has always irked me that most people persist in believing what reason and plainly observable facts deny.

  63. Drusilla
    October 10th, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

    You will not be moved, of course. You must not be. Reality is an adventure for some and a yawning abyss for others. I have a few “believing” friends who become quite discomfitted at any challenge to their religion. They can’t face the possibility that they may actually cease to exist, or that their infinitely merciful God is demonstrably less merciful than they or I.

    Stikes me as angry, even very angry but of course I may be wrong – it wouldn’t be the first time.

  64. Thorngod
    October 10th, 2006 @ 4:18 pm

    Odd, Drusilla, how different people can make opposite inferences of things. That was is not at all the section I would have guessed prompted your judgement. But in any case, the lines you quoted were sincere and matter-of-fact, and were composed with no emotion other than the pleasure of expression. Sorry.

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