Thursday, October 30, 2014

If you don't believe in a loving creator, you believe . . .

My explorations of the last few years have resulted in the following conclusions regarding God. More specifically, a being or beings within nature that are able to create universes. I've written a fair amount justifying my assumptions and beliefs. Now I want to turn it on its head and ask the atheist, who thinks it important to do away with belief in God, to prove beyond reasonable doubt any of a few very specific beliefs. If you think creators do not exist or are extremely unlikely, then you must believe at least one of the following things:

  1. Humanity will eventually go extinct.
  2. It is impossible in all of reality that any being would ever evolve with the power and knowledge to create or simulate universes.
  3. The laws of nature are such that beings like us are likely to come into existence all over the place.
  4. All of existence is finite and too small for creators to evolve within.
  5. Everything is predetermined--completely.
  6. Nothing is really predictable.
While it is possible to believe in a creator and believe some of the things on this list, it is not possible to reject everything on this list without the probability for creators approaching 1.

If you reject these six beliefs, or are willing to accept that their rejection is reasonable, and accept the possibility of creators (even for the sake of argument), but maintain that these creators are not radically compassionate, are not involved with their creation, or are irrelevant to our lives, then you believe at least one thing on this list:
  1. The resources available to creators are effectively scarce.
  2. Cooperation among creators will not maximize creation at a significantly greater rate than lack of cooperation or competition (or nature acting without creators).
  3. It is impossible for creators to interact with their creation.
  4. Making more creators won't result in faster rates of creation.
  5. Making more creators is as easy or easier to do with minimal intervention/interaction as with a more hands on approach.
  6. The laws of nature and their consequences are few and simple.
If you reject these six beliefs, then the logical consequence is the existence of loving, involved creators who are intent on making us into independent creators.

It is possible to believe in other Gods with other traits. I know many people define God in ways that this reasoning does not apply to. But for those who would remove the possibility of any kind of God, and replace creators with laws of physics and evolution, you're stuck with something on these lists. I won't deny the possibility that certain elements of these lists could be true, but I can point you toward reasonable, scientific reasons for rejecting each of them (and respected scholars in the relevant fields who support those reasons. Just ask). So before belittling the intelligence or education of a believer, take a minute to realize that we might have thought pretty hard about our beliefs. And even if we haven't, there may be some pretty good, rational reasons our gut tells us your arguments against God are incomplete. So let's all get past the black and white, either or, right or wrong, smart or dumb, good or evil, educated or uninformed, and foster the discussions where we can make some real progress in understanding.


  1. This atheist will play along.. although it isn't important for me to do away with "god" any more than other irrational beliefs... I differ in this respect. I find all irrational unsupported beliefs potentially dangerous, but a necessary coding of our being. It is who we are to want to believe.

    1.Humanity will eventually go extinct. - hard to tell, too little information, we may move to other planets which would improve our chances
    2.It is impossible in all of reality that any being would ever evolve with the power and knowledge to create or simulate universes. - extremely unlikely given today's technology and what we know about physics, yes
    3.The laws of nature are such that beings like us are likely to come into existence all over the place. - "like us" is vague, but there is a potential, yet it is unproven. But if you mean "intelligent" then yes it is likely.
    4.All of existence is finite and too small for creators to evolve within. - No clue... we don't know, but there is no evidence
    5.Everything is predetermined--completely. - no, there are complex small variations making determinism difficult
    6.Nothing is really predictable.- some things are very predictable

    The second list of bullets is one that no atheist (someone who believes there is insufficient evidence to support a creator), would answer "we don't know". I think the comfort of not knowing might be a disconnect here. Atheists are not afraid to say "I don't know" ... so they don't replace creators with "science" of any kind, because it isn't important to have "a creator"... things can just be, and for what purpose "we don't know" is a pleasant state. Also.. there aren't really arguments "against" God... arguments "against" are really just shedding light on there being no evidence "for" God. You can't argue against something that doesn't exist, you can only point out flaws in the arguments for it's existence. Like the invisible pink unicorn behind you... Atheist believe in one less God than mono-theists... so why is it that the atheist point of reference is difficult to understand? Do you give equal credence to "Thor"? No? Can you prove he doesn't exist? Of course not. But you can't point out that there is no evidence for Thor being a real God, and not a fairy tale.

    1. Very good. I do hope I'm comfortable not knowing. I think that is part of the process of maturing, for atheists and theists alike.

      So you do believe number 3, and accept the possibility of number 4. So far I'm two for two on identifying subsets of beliefs held by atheists! (not really a great feat, but maybe worth a chuckle)

      I explain in this post ( why I think the only cosmologies worth discussing are ones where universe creators are likely. At 2.2 I discuss what I'm claiming as regards number 3, above. It's simply relative fitness. As to 4, not knowing, and then claiming creator Gods are a myth, is simply choosing your preferred myth. Accepting the possibility of 2, but then drawing back at 4 is realistic but fatalistic. I can't prove that we are in one of my preferred cosmologies, but there are both good scientific reasons, and hope in humanity reasons, for people to live as if we are. This means there are benefits to the future of humanity of such a position, and possible harms from the position of choosing disbelief. It's not as simple as pointing to Thor's pink unicorn. Thor on his pink unicorn is not the loving creator I am arguing post-humanity must become for humanity to continue its evolutionary success.

      If you are effectively striving for the same vision of post-humanity that I aspire to, it doesn't much matter if you are an atheist or not. But as far as theism effectively inspires striving toward that benevolent vision of post-humanity, then theism is beneficial to humanity.

    2. Very interesting and thoughtful reply ... you make large assumptions in some of your statements. Such as "possible harms from the position of choosing disbelief," and "as far as theism effectively inspires striving toward that benevolent vision of post-humanity, then theism is beneficial to humanity." So I'm going to make an assumption... I assume that I'm not the only atheist who had the experience of feeling more moral after disposing of theism on grounds of insufficient evidence. Suddenly I wasn't a battle ground of good and bad, being acted upon by supernatural forces I that were not always consistent. Instead I owned my behavior, and I alone was responsible for my behavior. Being a better person became something that didn't involve prayer and meditation, but rather research and action. Now your line of rational seems to suggest that such a thing isn't possible without a "purpose". I don't have one... I just know I like my life more living that way. I theorize we have evolved to favor cooperation (and there is evidence for this) which are the foundation of morals. I see God as completely unnecessary. Why is it so important to you that there be a "rational" foundation for arguing that there is an unseen creator?

    3. I don't believe in a supernatural God. I believe it is consistent with my religion (and many other people's) to own our own moral choices, even while believing in God. My views of God have certainly changed, but I experience significant evidence for God, so don't feel that I am arguing for an unseen creator, just one that is difficult to understand.

      As to the last question, what I hope can happen is that we can move past the black and white approach that asserts that atheists and believers must be opposed. Bad ideas and bad beliefs are (only sometimes) the enemies of goodness, and neither side has a monopoly on rationality. For the most part, I continue this exploration to better understand the God I'm already convinced is there. I don't really believe any of us do anything for truly rational motives, but I feel emotionally compelled to keep pushing the rationality of my beliefs. I've felt that way for as long as I can remember.

  2. I read the link you pointed me to. Yes, it could be. But as you say there is no evidence... so why believe it? God doesn't exist, so what? This life is still pretty f'ing amazing.

    "I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon.
    I have one life, and it is short
    And unimportant
    But thanks to recent scientific advances
    I get to live twice as long as my great great great uncle-es and aunt-es.
    Twice as long to live this life of mine
    Twice as long to love this wife of mine
    Twice as many years of friends and wine"

    - Tim Minchin

    Unless it isn't... and that is why a higher purposes is so necessary?

  3. A friend of mine tries to base his morality on the things that the believer and the atheist can both agree do the most good right now. I find it admirable.

    I also find it admirable to build meaning in what happens here and now, whether or not life is short or there is an afterlife. Many Buddhists certainly feel that is essential. I think my own religion has elements that focus on the here and now, and also has beliefs about the afterlife that direct us to focus on beneficial behavior in this life (we have other beliefs in tension with this). Here is one transhumanist inspired response to why a higher purpose is so necessary:

    First I'm going to rename it. It is a longer purpose. I'm not interested in a purpose that is different in kind from the ordinary purposes of this life, only in degree. If we only plan for the next meal, we will never make the advances that lead to the doubling of lifespan. Thus, planning on dying can lead to a fatalism or nihilism that will prevent humanity, both collectively and as individuals, from surviving into the indefinite future. It may provide a comfortable mental state (just like believing in a guaranteed afterlife may), but it does not provide reason to strive for more. That reason has to come from something else. So I accept a longer purpose--one that seeks the future good of my children, grandchildren, and all of humanity into a future that extends beyond our current, observable universe. Such a purpose implies trust in future human beings with power to do unimaginably great things--to transcend the limits of our universe as we currently understand it. If I trust it will be done in the future, it most likely has been done in the past, and it behooves me to try to learn from what has succeeded in the past. Thus, in trusting for our future, I seek to know God in the past and present. If God appears absent in the present, either God isn't there, or there is a very good reason for it. I trust it is the latter, so I look for that reason to learn from it. I choose this perspective rather than assuming humanity will go extinct because I wish to plan for the future--not just for the next 50 years.

    Another answer is, religion is powerful. If we don't want it to destroy humanity, we must shape it to ennoble us. It isn't going away soon (faster birthrates among the religious), so we better do our best to shape religion towards goodness, humility, and love. If we drive religious people away from science through telling them that only atheism is reasonable and scientific, we lessen the ability of science to shape the course of religion. I think that's a bad idea and harmful for humanity.

    All that said, I've seen people I love become atheists and continue to become better people. Empirical evidence tells me your approach works, even if I can't share it.

  4. Great answers. The only thing in everything above that I take issue with is: "If I trust it will be done in the future, it most likely has been done in the past" ... we can speak to the likelihood of something in the future based on evidence in the present. We have nothing but pure guess work to suppose that this has happened in the past. Also there are limits to what we can trust will happen in the future. I see curing death as likely. I see us moving our civilization to other planets as likely. I don't see us creating universes as likely... just no evidence for that. We also theorize there is intelligent life, but we have no evidence to what extent that is likely. So I just don't see evidence for alien god like beings. I'm curious if it is a belief "choice" or if you really have evidence?

  5. Definitely a belief choice. Based on current evidence, I don't see us creating universes in an interactive way, either. Even if we learn to foster the generation of more black holes (which may already be at the physically optimal concentration), and black holes make universes, there is no indication that we would be able to program them, let alone interact with what goes on in branching universes. Purely hopeful speculation (and the circular assumption that it is possible because I believe in God, already). You have accurately identified one of the most speculative points of my belief. Thank you.

  6. I like this article. It's very well-considered.

    It's worth noting that the Buddhist canon explicitly asserts option 1, namely, that all things are transient.

    There's a story in the Pali Canon in fact, that goes roughly like this:

    The Buddha goes on an astral journey, visiting the lower and higher existential planes (understood as being "lower" and "higher" in the Hindu sense), attempting to locate a "highest" being, a prime mover to fit a narrative of original creation. Naturally, he doesn't get anywhere, and finally ends up at the "top", where he finds Brahma passing by with his retinue. He manages to get the ear of Brahma, and asks him the same question he's been asking everyone from bottom to top.

    The Brahma brushes him off, asserting his universal primacy, and the retinue starts to move on. The Buddha asks him again, and the Brahma sends his retinue on ahead. The Brahma turns to the Buddha and whispers something like, "I don't actually know! When I got here, it was mostly like this, and no one else was around!"

    Thus, for the Buddha, there is no prime, no Creator, at least, not in a way that matters for people seeking to transcend the whole mess.

    I think this is an interesting story in the light of Mormonism, because, although I'm ignorant of the particulars, there appears to be Mormon doctrine of an eternal and unbounded progression of Creation:

    This is not the first time that Christianity and Buddhism have had something to discuss together, either:

    1. Interesting connections. Thank you.

      Perhaps one clarification is in order on option 1. Humanity can be transient without going extinct. I would expect it to evolve into something that is no longer humanity as we know it, and even that state would be transient. By extinction I intend an end of progeny, not a change into a new species.