Arguing with atheists about Einstein

22 Comments
Posted November 12th, 2008 in Philosophy. Tags: , , , , .

I once noticed a (presumed) atheist make the following statement during an unrelated discussion about Buckminster Fuller:

Fuller did contribute some interesting stuff but some of his ideas were unworkable. That’s pretty common for most contributors/geniuses. Look at Einstein: some cool research, but he was highly disruptive in other areas (eg. quantum mechanics or putting religious beliefs before science).

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Einstein was one of my childhood heroes so I wasn’t about to let that go unchallenged:

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Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory ranged from groundbreaking (e.g. the photoelectric effect) to unintentionally insightful (e.g. entanglement in the EPR paper) to playing a vital role as devil’s advocate (e.g. Bohr-Einstein debates). Disruptive? I can’t say I agree.

Putting religious beliefs before science? That’s a claim I really don’t understand. If there’s anything I’ve learned by reading about Einstein’s views on religion, it’s that he was the quintessential scientist even in this respect. He didn’t subscribe to any known organized religion, but vehemently refused to rule out the possibility of the existence of God- and found atheists arrogant for doing so. His religious views seemed to lie somewhere between pantheistic and agnostic, and I see no evidence that they affected his scientific work.

Perhaps you’re referring to the famous quote “God does not play dice”. I don’t think this quote expresses a religious belief as much as it articulates a “gut instinct” about the way the universe worked: that it’s fundamentally deterministic. Of course, being Einstein, he had to word it in a deliberately provocative fashion. I think gut instincts have a real place in science- they can often be useful starting points for hypotheses, or used to guide an investigation in a direction that you only grasp subconsciously at first. The only real restriction is that you need to be able to recognize when experimental evidence has proven your gut instincts wrong. I don’t think he lived to see this point– local hidden variable theories hadn’t been experimentally ruled out by Bell inequality experiments before he died.

And– in bit of a technical detour– I’m not even sure he really was wrong to insist that the universe is deterministic. Even though the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics contains an element of randomness (the very randomness that Einstein railed against), the Everett-Wheeler interpretation says otherwise. The “many worlds interpretation”, as it is often called, asserts that random collapses merely look random from within our own “branch” of a larger wave function that encompasses many universes. If you were somehow able to view the entire wave function, it would look completely deterministic. The only reason we see randomness in quantum “collapse” is because our macroscopic detectors (such as our eyeballs) induce decoherence in quantum states that cause environmentally-induced superselection.

(Explaining that paragraph in English would take many pages, so if you’re curious I suggest you use those words– plus the abbreviation einselection– to do some googling.)

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I soon received a reply, but not from the same person. Anonymity plus controversy sometimes equals incivility:

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B O L L O C K S !

Bucky Bollocks, even.

but [Einstein] vehemently refused to rule out the existence of God- and found atheists arrogant for doing so.

Wrong. Either you’re ignorant or you’re altering the facts to support your own worldview.

If I wasn’t an athiest before, reading the bullshit shovelled by people like you make Athiesm seem to be the only sensible option for the sane and intelligent.

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At first I was irritated, but I slowly realized that this was probably a kid. Sniping back suddenly seemed kind of like kicking a puppy, so I tried to craft the most constructive response I could:

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At the risk of responding to a troll, I was referring to quotes like the following:

In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views. [Albert Einstein]

So now I’ve shared the sources for my statement. Care to share yours?

By the way, what makes you think I have a worldview bias? I regard myself as a “teapot atheist” (in the sense that Dawkins uses the term) but I think I’m leaning towards agnosticism simply because I’m committed to following the scientific method in every aspect of my life. In a theological context, that means I simply can’t come to any specific conclusion about God without sufficient evidence. From what I can tell, Einstein and I are pretty much in agreement on this point. (Not that it matters- appeals to authority are very weak forms of evidence.)

On a more personal level, I humbly recommend that you change the tone you use to debate. While it’s certainly true that some people do alter facts to support their worldview (geocentrists, young-earth creationists and scientologists are glaring examples, IMHO), it’s seldom productive to explicitly point that out. Furthermore, if you fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and hurl that accusation around, people will regard you as “the boy who cried wolf.” It’s usually more effective to politely ask the person to provide the sources for their statements.

And, quite frankly, accusing people of “shoveling bullshit” is simply insulting. If I weren’t already a non-theist, your condescending attitude would’ve simply convinced me that atheists are arrogant, loudmouthed jerks. When you act this way, you make all non-theists look bad. I’m actually considering the possibility that people like you are, in fact, fundamentalists posing as atheists to reinforce the “obnoxious atheist” stereotype.

Oh, and it’s “atheist.” Spelled just like it sounds. The more you know…

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I later found these quotes which I think are relevant as well:

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“The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” [Albert Einstein]

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“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” [Albert Einstein]

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Anyway, I now identify as a weak agnostic to distance myself from these rabid anti-evangelists. I probably should have been agnostic all along for purely philosophical reasons. My earlier strong atheist position was– in hindsight– arrogant and naive. It’s taken me nearly 30 years to become comfortable with the fact that I simply don’t know.

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Update: Many of the comments are referring to the following ad:

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This was my first attempt at advertising, so obviously I made some mistakes.

For instance, if I had to do it over… I’d have spelled it “Athiests” instead. That way in addition to angry atheists, I’d also have angry grammar nazis clicking it.

Ah, well.

Last modified March 19th, 2013
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22 Responses to “Arguing with atheists about Einstein”

  1. An Atheist posted on 2008-11-15 at 10:05

    Project Wonderful advertising ban – Go! :D

    Just as I would ban someone advertising any other intolerant site.

    • Well, that’s kind of disappointing– I don’t want to be just any other intolerant site. I want to be so intolerant that all other wanna-be intolerant sites quiver in fear and shame.

      You need to have goals of some sort, after all…

    • I’m an atheist too, actually — one who’s written about my own atheism, so you can see where I’m potentially coming from. And, I saw the “Athiests Suck” ad on my site, and clicked through. Before I read the article, I was expecting it to be something quite different than it was (admittedly, the name “Dumb Scientist” didn’t bode well, either) — and considering whether or not I thought it ethical to reject the ad on the basis of what it said and linked to. But, of course, I went to read the article to form my own opinion.

      And, well, y’know what? It’s a GOOD ARTICLE, and one where I seem to pretty much agree with the Dumb Scientist. I flirted with “Strong” or “Hard” atheism in my youth, and, well, I came around to figuring that it’s kind of silly and annoying, much as evangelicals of all stripes can be. (Note the use of the word “can”, there, and likewise the small “e” — I’m not talking about Evangelicals, but those who evangelize for whatever topic, be it Christianity, Atheism, Macs, PCs[1], whatever. And particularly those of the stripe who instead of thoughtful debate opt instead to shout “YOU ARE WRONG” at the top of their lungs until they’ve either cowed their subject into agreeing to get them to shut up, or annoyed them so much the subject leaves, letting the evangelist win by default.)

      For me, I identify as an atheist, even though I’m upfront about not knowing as well. The main reason why I choose the term “atheist” rather than “agnostic” is, to me, an agnostic refuses to take a stand either way (which is understandable as well) — where I am PRETTY sure I’m right. (Though, of course, if I get strong evidence one way or the other, I’ll be glad to revise my views, which I think is what science is all about.) It’s silly, if God Himself/Herself/Itself comes down to you and says point blank “YES I EXIST” to look Him/Her/It in the Eye and go “Nuh-uh!!”. But, on the other hand, I’ve just never been able to take it on blind faith, either. And those that can? Cool for them — they might just end up being right, and won’t they have a great big laugh on me in the end? But it just doesn’t make sense to me, so, there you go.

      So yeah — it’s pretty clear that the PW ad was just an attempt to get people to read the article, and, well, good show — and good article. (Also, thanks for the advertising moneys..8)

      [1] MACS RULE OK

      • Well, shucks, thanks.

        I know the ad was provocative– even offensive– but it seems to be working. And, the text that appears when your cursor hovers over it says “Okay, maybe a bit too much…” But I doubt most people noticed that.

        Anyway, I share your frustration with the superficial and combative nature of most religious debates. Which is why I only engage in them online now.

        You’re right that most people assume agnostics “don’t take a stand.” I happen to disagree with them. An agnostic isn’t “sitting on the fence”– he’s actually demonstrating true scientific rigor by refusing to jump to conclusions. This position is harder to take than atheism or theism because we humans seem to be allergic to admitting we don’t know things. We like to think that we have it all figured out– whether we’re atheists or theists, and myself in particular. So an agnostic’s stand is psychologically more difficult– it’d be much more comforting to think I have it figured out one way or the other!

        Incidentally, you mention that you’d be convinced that God exists if He came down and spoke to you in a booming voice. I’m not sure if that would be enough to convince me because I don’t see how I could be sure that I was really talking to God when a stranger could have just spiked my lemonade with LSD. Or maybe I’d just developed a brain lesion that was causing visual and auditory hallucinations (any doctors or biologists out there want to say if this type of sudden effect is plausible?).

        Or– and I think this is actually an important point– I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t merely an alien or a human from the future using “sufficiently advanced technology” to fool me into thinking I’d seen something supernatural.

        Silly, yes… but I’ve already seen evidence that life has evolved on one planet, so it doesn’t seem like a big leap to assume that life may have evolved elsewhere in the universe. I’ve already seen technology attain dizzying heights, and I’ve glimpsed (through equations) the amazing marvels that our descendants may one day take for granted. (To be clear, I’ve never seen good evidence of the existence of aliens– I’m just saying it wouldn’t surprise me.)

        Also, despite repeatedly trying to prove that time travel is impossible, I’ve failed every time. This is probably just evidence that I chose an accurate pseudonym, but I have to consider this possibility seriously until someone can show me time travel is impossible.

        On the other hand… an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator of the Universe? A Being who created hundreds of thousands of millions of galaxies, each with hundreds of thousands of millions of stars… just to watch our little human morality play? A Being who’s at least 13,600,000,000 years old and transcends our reality… but cares if we do “naughty things” with our genitals, eat certain types of meat, or pray at certain times of the day?

        I don’t know about that.

        Then, I think about the things I really desire, like quick answers to questions such as the meaning of life and where the universe came from. I desperately want death to be something more than an end– and to see my departed loved ones when I cross that threshold. I want to believe that evil people are punished– in this life or the next. I’m often in situations beyond my control, and I could probably cope with that feeling of helplessness better if I knew that saying a quick prayer would fix things. I’d also really like to know that my life amounts to more than an irrelevant footnote in an oppressively vast, uncaring universe…

        The problem here is that I’ve come to believe that the easiest person for me to fool is myself. That’s because I want to believe the fibs that I tell myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct my reasoning because I’d ignored a piece of evidence that I simply didn’t want to see. So I’m much more cautious than usual when I’m evaluating a situation in which I know that I have an intrinsic bias.

        You see, I’m worried that if a booming voice ever speaks to me, I’d want to believe it was God’s so badly that I wouldn’t examine the situation closely enough. I’m simply too biased- I want God to exist so much that I don’t think I trust my own judgment in the matter.

        Thus I’m stuck in the uncomfortable position of saying that I have no idea what God would have to do to convince me that He exists. This seems to me like a form of ignorance far greater than my agnosticism.

        And far more troubling…

      • After additional thought, I identified three possible ways that God’s existence could be established to my satisfaction.

    • What’s your PW username, “An Atheist”?

  2. Thomas Paine posted on 2008-11-15 at 15:48

    God does not make sense of so many levels. He makes the least sense to me on a moral level.

    1) If God was omnipotent, why did he decide killing his son was the only means to save mankind? He could not come up with an other way? So he frowns upon abortion yet lets his own son live to his thirties and kills him to save mankind. If I did that, I would be locked up for insanity and murdered. Is God insane? Or is it a cruel, uncaring God that I want nothing to do with at all.

    2) Why does God allow men like Hitler and Stalin to kill millions? Is that the Devil’s work? Isn’t God superior to the Devil, why didn’t he stop him? Oh, he is just randomly let people die and choose their fates that is truly benevolent.

    Morally to me God is unacceptable.

    Look at all the random discoveries of science that were purely accident. Couldn’t the molecules have aligned just right for the accident of life to work? I find that more feasible than we are the toys of an uncaring all powerful being.

    • The problem of evil– the argument that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God can’t exist because He shouldn’t allow for the existence of evil– never seemed very compelling to me.

      First of all, God’s morality may be quite different than our own. He is, after all, a supernatural Being who exists “outside” of our own reality (whatever that means). It’s true that the Bible describes God acting cruel in many instances. But– at best– this only shows that omnibenevolence is in the eye of the beholder, or that the most egregious stories are false.

      Secondly, the extent of God’s omnipotence has always been unclear to me. Most people would agree that God can make the sun stand still in the sky, flood the earth, heal the sick, etc. I’m not really impressed- these seem like examples of technologies the human race may one day invent, assuming that such wonders are allowed by the laws of physics.

      But what about something more impressive? For example, can God violate the actual laws of physics? (Note that this would be the only way to distinguish literal omnipotence from highly advanced technology, but it’s nearly useless because there’s no way to be sure that we’ve uncovered the actual laws of physics rather than mere approximations to those laws.)

      Furthermore, can God violate the laws of math? Can He decree that 1+1=3? Omnipotence of that magnitude, power so mind-bogglingly vast that math itself is… pliable, just plain screws with my head. It seems to me that God’s omnipotence must be limited in at least some sense, otherwise I might as well check into an insane asylum right now.

      I agree that a perfectly omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God who shares my moral code wouldn’t allow the Holocaust. But what if God has to work within His own rules– what if it’s literally not possible for Him to create a universe completely devoid of evil? Would that being no longer qualify as God?

  3. Caleb Collins posted on 2008-11-15 at 17:35

    I agree that a perfectly omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God who shares my moral code wouldn’t allow the Holocaust. But what if God has to work within His own rules– what if it’s literally not possible for Him to create a universe completely devoid of evil? Would that being no longer qualify as God?

    Okay, being a self-identified atheist, raised in an atheist household, I have plenty to say; the way I think about it, due to a lifetime’s experience, the introduction of God as a concept isn’t based on direct personal evidence. It’s alot like looking at a rainbow and saying “But what if there’s, like, some *other color*, dude?”

    As re: Einstein and God. When he spoke of God, he was talking about mathematical equations, rather than miracles. It’s important to consider that.

    Lastly, in the above paragraph , it’s really only the omnibenevolent that I take issue with; so long as God’s one mean motherf**ker, there’s plenty of reason to think he exists.

    • I agree that omnibenevolence (as we humans understand the term) is the most troubling claim.

      But I still think God could be omnibenevolent, at least as long as His omnipotence isn’t so vast that He could say “1+1=3,” and make it true somehow. There are at least two types of evil, and as far as I can tell neither one disproves an omnibenevolent, (somewhat) omnipotent God:

      1. God allows “natural” evil such as tsunamis and plagues. Why? Perhaps it’s logically impossible to make a more comfortable universe. Maybe it’s just not possible to create a habitable planet with no tectonic activity, or to create life without allowing for viruses.

        Furthermore, how far should He go to remove natural evil? Should roses not have thorns? Should the Grand Canyon be filled to the brim with Nerf balls so that it’s not dangerous?

        There has to be some point at which God says “okay, that’s safe enough.” Perhaps He’s already done that– maybe previous versions of the universe had far more supernovae, making life really miserable– if not downright impossible.

      2. God allows “human” evil. This one is easier to reconcile, I think. God allows humans to have free will, and interfering would remove that free will.

  4. Also came from the PW bid, and also wanted to read before making a call. Nicely written, from someone who is, admittedly, a gut reaction on top of lack of evidence atheist. God doesn’t make any sense to me, but rabid preachers on either side of the debate frighten me.

    • Why thanks. Hopefully the extremists will– eventually– tire of shouting. Or get sore throats, at the very least…

      I agree with you that the concept of God doesn’t make much sense. A friend of mine recently pointed out that this is actually a distinct position: ignosticism.

      I actually think I’m more of an ignostic than an agnostic, but I don’t really feel like defining that term everytime someone asks me about my position on religion. :)

  5. Your PW bid brought me here too.

    I almost rejected your ad, but I try not to judge a book by its cover. I am happy that I came to read all you have said. It’s a very well-written article.

  6. Jess posted on 2008-11-16 at 12:58

    Bleh, ignorance.

  7. Reythia posted on 2008-11-17 at 17:15

    Okay, so as seemingly the only theist on the board (though a skeptical one), I feel required to play devil’s advocate. Here goes!

    You were discussing “omnibenevolence” earlier (which is a pretty cool term, I might add). I think Dumb Scientist had it right (or, at least, had a reasonable answer which MIGHT be right!) when he wrote that maybe God made the universe “as benevolent as practical” while still allowing for a dynamic world and free will.

    Well, I’ve a question. Assuming that there IS a God out there, one who cares about us and is watching, what makes you think that a perfect, static world is one He would consider benevolent? I’d argue that one of the CRUELEST things a God could do to intelligent people is to create a universe of perfect benevolence (as humans define the word)! After all, what would a perfectly “benevolent” world be like? Well, I don’t know entirely, but this comes to mind right away:
    1.) No one ever gets physically hurt.
    2.) No one ever gets emotionally scarred.
    3.) Everyone always has enough of all the physical resources they require.
    The trouble is, none of these things are conducive to life as an INTELLIGENT species. Or, really, even a non-intelligent one.

    What are you going to eat, if no living thing on the planet can get hurt? Okay, let’s say you can “eat” via photosynthesis. I could ask what’s going to happen when the sun runs out of fuel and if that would be “harmful”, but ignore that for now.

    How are people (or creatures) going to have children, in this perfectly benevolent world? After all, even the physical act of propagating the species involves giving something that is “yours” up for the child. And for most animals, that loss doesn’t stop at birth. For intelligent creatures who need to teach their children something, those pains can be emotional as well as physical. But are they all BAD? Kids can make cruel comments which sear their parents to the bone… and yet, that’s often one of the ways they learn things.

    In a truly “benevolent” world, there could be no “learning from your own mistakes”, because mistakes cause pain. Yet, people (and especially little children) do most of their learning via the old trial-and-error method. The argument that a truly benevolent God wouldn’t allow anything to go wrong for His People has never made much sense to me.

    Should God have stopped Hitler from brutally murdering so many people? Many would say yes. Yet… was Hitler really the one pulling the trigger behind all those deaths? Would so much attention now be focused on equality if not for this terrible tragedy? Did nothing good come of even these atrocities?

    Should God stop a man from raping his unwilling girlfriend? Many would say yes. But is stopping the act sufficient? What is causing the thoughts behind the act? Is it the act or the thoughts that ought to be changed?

    Should God stop a woman from jilting her fiance at the altar? Some might say a truly benevolent, forward-looking God would, surely, since the man will be hurt by it! And yet… would forcing the woman into an unwilling marriage be better?

    Should God stop a drunk teen from jumping in the car? Some might say yes, since he might hurt himself or someone else. And yet, sober people have accidents too. A truly benevolent God would prevent all of them In such a case, drunkenness is just an excuse for what a benevolent God should do anyhow.

    Should God stop a small child from putting her hand on the stove? Some might say He should, since the child is too ignorant and innocent to be hurt badly. And yet, going to far this way will lead the entire race into utter ignorance. Is ignorance better than a few burned fingers?

    Which of the above would an omnibenevolent God prevent? Why? And what would the repercussions be of a God who does everything for His People every time that things get a little rocky? What incentive would we have to grow, or change, or learn… or be responsible, decent people? After all, a benevolent God could hardly HURT someone Himself, no matter what they did, right?

    I’d argue that “benevolence” of that sort is anything but. Yes, a God who takes a “hands off” approach must allow some tragedies to occur. But a God who steps in with complete benevolence makes His People nothing more than toys. How cruel would it be to know that if you tried to do ANYTHING that God didn’t like, you would be stopped immediately? What would you learn from it, besides to be a good little sheep? What kind of life would that be? What kind of God would allow it?

    Whatever else God is, whether he really thinks we should eat pigs or pray five times a day or cross ourselves left-to-right versus right-to-left, SURELY the Creator of our universe understands the value of creativity. After all, how could someone with all the creativity it must have taken to create this universe not have realized how precious that free will — that chance to try and fail and try again — really is? If there is a God, His efforts to create the universe demonstrate His creativity and free will. I find it difficult to believe that He would think taking those gifts away from others would be considered “benevolent”.

    • That’s a good point– the problem of evil is really only a problem if God intended to keep us as pets. Dim-witted pets at that– incapable of striving to better ourselves.

      But the more I think about all the questions you brought up, the less sense this discussion makes from either direction. What I mean is that it seems impossible to disprove the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God… but it also seems impossible to disprove the existence of an equally powerful yet utterly malevolent deity.

      That’s one of the reasons I don’t find the problem of evil very compelling. It can’t even rule out the possibility that Satan’s already pulled off a successful coup d’état, so how could it ever rule out the existence of God?

      (Note that I’m saying I disagree with Stephen Law’s assessment of the winner of his fictional debate about the malevolent God of Eth. I actually think Booblefrip won, at least in the sense that he showed that his deity’s existence couldn’t be ruled out.)

  8. Reythia posted on 2008-11-18 at 10:55

    Oh, agreed.

    Then again, I’ve always had trouble seeing the distinction between “good” and “evil” as so clear, so black-and-white. Think about it. If, instead of a God of complete benevolence, I’d been arguing about a Satan of complete evilness, I’d have made about the same argument: clearly, the universe is NOT created/run by a totally-evil Satan. If Satan HAD tried to create such a universe, the black-and-whiteness of his views would have stymed him. For example, the proper “totally evil” response to nice people is to kill them all. But the problem with that is that, if you take it far enough, a totally evil universe would have NOTHING IN IT. Or, at least, nothing alive. (Human morals, at least, don’t lay down mandates on whether destroying a rock is good or evil.)

    The point is, that’s not our universe. Obviously, given that I’m typing this (and, while female and therefor inherently evil, I am NOT Satan!). So I feel pretty safe in saying that the creator of our universe is NOT a completely-evil Satan anymore than that it was a completely-benevolent God.

    So what you’re left with is a Creator who seems to allow both ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the world. Now, the easy way to look at this problem is to claim that there are two ‘sides’ to the good/evil dichotomy and thus two Creators: God and Satan. That’s what most (Western) relgions claim. This is a solution that is easy to understand from a human perspective (everyone’s been in an ‘us-versus-them’ situation before). An ongoing battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ easy to explain, even to small children, and makes really nice Tolkein stories.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

    Another option is that the Creator is a more neutral character. Presumably, given that we’re alive, he wants us to live. Also presumably, given the predictable pattern of nature (which humans define by laws of physics), he wants us to have some control over our environment. To me, that makes him rather more benevolent than malicious, but as a human benefitting from those rules, I have to admit a certain bias in my judgement.

    But then, while it’s possible that a fairly-benevolent God put us in this neutral world (or allowed us to grow here), it’s possible to imagine a fairly-cruel Satan putting us in a neutral world and then laughing at all the mistakes and pains we put ourselves through. After all, there’s something decidedly satisfying about giving your enemy enough rope to hang himself, and a certain pride in the fact that you didn’t have to do the dirty deed yourself. Maybe Satan agrees.

    So yes, I agree that there’s no more proof that the Creator was a fairly-benevolent God than a fairly-evil Satan. I think there’s excellent proof that whoever the Creator is/was, he isn’t completely good or evil (at least as we think of it, in the short run), but that doesn’t rule anything else out.

    And, changing the topic a bit, let me ask a question to all you atheists out there: If some sort of God didn’t create the universe (or at least the laws behind it), then what DID? How did our universe get here? And, by the way, the answer, “It’s always existed,” isn’t an answer at all. After all, that’s the same as saying, “God’s always existed,” and if a good atheist can’t believe that, then he shouldn’t believe “the universe’s always existed” anymore!

  9. brono posted on 2010-09-11 at 22:41

    You say you’re leaning towards agnosticism and away from atheism. But the terms agnostic and gnostic regard actual knowledge, not what you believe on the matter. Which I think is a big difference. Either you believe there is a god or you don’t. Thinking that it’s possible for a god to exist but unlikely is not believing in a god. Agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive.

    • But the terms agnostic and gnostic regard actual knowledge, not what you believe on the matter.

      I’m confused. For me, what’s the practical difference between “actual knowledge” and “what I believe on the matter”?

      It sounds like you’re saying atheism/theism is defined by “belief” but agnosticism (regarding the existence of God, because if memory serves the term actually just refers to generic knowledge) is defined by something different called “actual knowledge.”

      You seem to be implying that belief is binary but knowledge isn’t. I don’t know which precise definitions for those words would lead you to that conclusion, but I place all my beliefs on a continuum from most to least certain. We’ll need to agree on some definitions for those words to reach the common ground necessary to understand each other on this topic, I think.

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