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In the interests of free speech…just make it interesting

Religion on it’s way out?

with 63 comments

A story just hit the headlines showing that most religious of western countries, the USA, in a decline of religious belief.

Granted, it’s only gone from 14.2% who say they don’t, to 15%, but that 15% is nearly double the 8.2% who didn’t believe in 1990. At that rate, about .3% per year, it would still take over 100 years before America reached the levels of non belief of a Sweden, and a good 200 years or so before it was an overwhelming majority.

As someone who believes religion has a lot to offer, I contemplate ways to reverse this trend. Maybe if the Anti-Christ arrives? 😉

But on the other hand, I think most people in this blogspace don’t believe in religion. Do they have any ideas of what would make their perspective grow faster in the populace?

Maybe taking control of all schools?
Maybe actually trying to prove God doesn’t exist? (i.e. manifest life from raw matter).

Well, anyhow, interested in whether people think it’s good, bad, and what can be done.


Written by rexinfinite

March 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Posted in faith, free speech, religion

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63 Responses

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  1. the USA returning to its secular roots at last – the founding fathers would be pleased!
    what would make secularism increase? literacy, education, common sense, knowledge of the Enlightenment etc?
    sorry if I being flippant?


    March 9, 2009 at 3:44 pm

  2. I don’t consider it flippant.

    I’m thinking more that those things have all been tried… with little effect. Isn’t it time for something more radical? Either way.


    March 9, 2009 at 3:59 pm

  3. with little effect? really?
    I would have said that the world has never been as secular as it is now (even though it doesn’t seem it sometimes!)


    March 9, 2009 at 4:13 pm

  4. I’m talking about America, not the world, and a rate of 15% irreligion with a rate of growth of .3% a year at that. Surely that’s not good enough? Or you’re content?


    March 9, 2009 at 4:33 pm

  5. I would love to see all schools being secularised with a weekly lesson for Religious and Philosophical Studies. Single faith schools are basically brain-washing institutuions by their very design (however lame that sounds). However, I don’t expect to see it made law anytime soon. For some reason, despite a healthy disregard for religion from the majority, religious figures and thinking still have a loaded influence on modern society.

    As for proving there isn’t a God by ‘manifesting life from raw matter’, even if it was acheived it wouldn’t prove anything to believers. They would just say that it was God that created the ‘life’ vicariously through whoever conducted the experiment.

    For me the bottom line is this; noone is able to prove the existence or non-existence of a supreme being or higher power, therefore either belief is entirely futile and arrived at without any real intellectual consideration. Having said that, if two people showed me an empty box and one of them told me it contained nothing but air and the other told me it contained a large weasel called Kenneth, I think I’d expect the Kennethist to have all the proving to do.

    As the late, great Linda Smith said “If God had wanted us to beleive in him he’d have existed”.


    March 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  6. the USA?
    happy that it will take the USA 100 years to reach the enlightened levels of Sweden! yeah thats not bad.

    I’d like political leaders to stop feeling the need to mention faith (i.e. getting back to the spirit of the founding fathers)…but maybe the people aren’t ready for that?

    obviously the difference between the UK and the US is the great Church of England – the ultimate in respectful religions (its a private matter and we can all do what we want). Sadly the US has been infested by pentecostals, evangelists, methodists and the rest.

    That said, I am still amazed at how quick secularisation in the UK HAS been. 400 years ago I couldn’t have dreamt of the secular country we live in now!

    Would you like to take it the other way? How would you do that? Would you do it if it meant teaming up with the US christian fundamentalists?


    March 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  7. 1) Ensure that every school is a faith school. Including, so as to keep it fair, Atheist faith schools where people can be trained as good fundamentalist atheists.

    2) Explain that it’s because we don’t want to know God that we can’t see God. The onus on God’s existence being squarely placed on our shoulders, since love can’t be forced, and if we were simply shown God without having to work for it, then love couldn’t exist. The practices of God minded people are to work on knowing God, and there are many advanced people satisfied in this quest.

    3) Address the issue of science at it relates to the material, and as it cannot relate fundamentally to anything beyond the material which is the remit of the metaphysical.

    4) Teach the exploration of meta physical as a separate but related body of human EXPERIENCE alongside the science of the material.

    5) Continue to give tax breaks for believing in God.

    6) realise that apart from 5, none of that really works and a radically different project is needed 😉

    1B) add new books on superstition, the end of the world, and drum up cultural religious wars

    2B) trigger the end of the world in order to make science irrelevant by undermining the centres of knowledge so that man can once again live simply connected to the pagan gods of the past

    3B) Continue to give tax breaks

    4B) Forget the schools, and bring back the inquisition. Much better to police the thoughts of the population than to try the hard long slog of teaching them something, anything, plus you don’t really want them to know too much about what is in the scriptures because they might have some ideas from that, or see it as ridiculous. Better to keep the scripture in a foreign language and teach only superstition.


    March 9, 2009 at 5:11 pm

  8. I think you’ve successfully set out all the factors that we would need to regress a few hundred years!
    Can I be ruler?


    March 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  9. no rulers Jack, only living gods, if you’re up for proving it.


    March 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm

  10. sign me up!


    March 9, 2009 at 6:23 pm

  11. The anti-christ has arrived and YES HE CAN. 😉

    @I’d like political leaders to stop feeling the need to mention faith (i.e. getting back to the spirit of the founding fathers)…

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    They were deeply religious men, they just didn’t want to force anyone else to believe in their God.
    That whole freedom from religious persecution idea, the reason why the pilgrims ran away from the mean king in the first place (I learnt that bit from my 3 year old and that they had to eat bread with worms in it :))

    And why can’t politicians talk about faith?


    March 9, 2009 at 6:51 pm

  12. @”They were deeply religious men”
    you sure?

    “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” – Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason, 1794-1795.)

    Every man “ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” – George Washington (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789)

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” – Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787)

    “When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” – Benjamin Franklin (from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780;)

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of… Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”- Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason, 1794-1795.)

    “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error
    all over the earth.” – Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 363.)

    “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” – James Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785.)

    “Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?” – John Adams

    “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.” – James Madison (Original wording of the First Amendment; Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).)

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” – (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 – signed by President John Adams.)

    “As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith.” – Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776.)


    March 9, 2009 at 7:02 pm

  13. Apart from Thomas Paine, not one of those is anti-religion, they are all just anti State Religion.

    My favourite is the “Question with boldness…”, I was listening to a very religious (albeit reluctantly religious) man talk about this a while ago, and his interpretation was that if God cannot stand up to profound questioning then he does not deserve your faith.


    March 9, 2009 at 7:25 pm

  14. not anti-religion, but not religious


    March 9, 2009 at 7:40 pm

  15. So they just added the bit about “[your] Creator” to make up the word count?


    March 9, 2009 at 7:48 pm

  16. they used a nicely ambiguous concept to be diplomatic
    maybe its’ meaning was lost…like the right to “bear arms” 🙂


    March 9, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    • Fundamentaly the majority of them believed comfortably and profoundly in God. Any other interpretation is a very difficult, skewed and manipulative interpretation of something that is quite obvious in their words, actions, and lives.


      March 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm

  17. nonsense!


    March 9, 2009 at 7:59 pm

  18. you ain’t claiming newton or einstein either!


    March 9, 2009 at 7:59 pm

  19. @ they used a nicely ambiguous concept to be diplomatic
    maybe its’ meaning was lost…like the right to “bear arms”

    What are you talking about?
    It’s only ambiguous in that it doesn’t say which God, which was the fucking genius of the men.


    March 9, 2009 at 8:11 pm

  20. who knows what was really in their minds or what they may or may not have wanted to convery
    I’m being facetious – its a Family Guy joke


    March 9, 2009 at 8:16 pm

  21. Newton for sure. He nearly went crazy (or was crazy) trying to understand the inner meanings and codes of revelation.

    Einstein was more neutral, but certainly comfortably in awe of the meta-physical and what was beyond simple material science.


    March 9, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  22. Jack— the razor. In the abscence of a direct contradiction, the stated obvious must be accepted.

    As Gipper has pointed out… They emphasised the Creator. It’s as simple as simple can be, and has to be addressed on those terms, unless, like I said, you want to get into convoluted and strange interpretations. If you don’t, just accept it for what it is.

    Your list of quotes is still fantastic, and shows how much the Christian fundamentalists have hijacked the founding fathers, and I agree with your argument against that 100%. But to suggest that as a group they didn’t believe in God is just too apparently false, even from the words you have quoted.


    March 9, 2009 at 8:20 pm

  23. newton – all a front (he was just a bit of a pussy)
    einstein – I, JackShaftoe, am “comfortably in awe of the meta-physical and what was [is] beyond simple material science”…does not imply blind faith


    March 9, 2009 at 8:20 pm

  24. Newton. Come on… look into it properly. His exploration of the meta-physical is well documented, and his efforts and crazyiness around Revelation well noted.


    March 9, 2009 at 8:22 pm

  25. Your list is fantastic.
    They were incredible men.


    March 9, 2009 at 8:23 pm

  26. strange I know but true (I have inside knowledge)
    I WANT to get into “convoluted and strange interpretation”…Ockham was a twat!


    March 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

  27. Rex, coming back to your original point about how to get people interested in religion @ ‘Maybe actually trying to prove God doesn’t exist? (i.e. manifest life from raw matter).’

    How about: The Point of Singularity – God vs the Big Bang. Surely exciting stuff? The CERN Hadron Collider is one of the biggest experiments in history. Could this prove God doesn’t exist, if it ever reaches fruition? What if a mini black-hole is created, would that take anything away from God?

    I presume your metaphysical position would be similar to Father Copleston’s in his famous debate with Betrand Russell? – “…Since objects or events exist, and since no object of experience contains within itself reason of its existence, this reason, the totality of objects, must have a reason external to itself. That reason must be an existent being. Well, this being is either itself the reason for its own existence, or it is not. If it is, well and good. If it is not, then we must proceed farther. But if we proceed to infinity in that sense, then there’s no explanation of existence at all. So, I should say, in order to explain existence, we must come to a being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence, that is to say, which cannot not exist.”


    March 10, 2009 at 10:20 am

  28. Hi Tree:

    @ CERN. No, I don’t believe it would prove God does not exist, because it relates and measures specifically the material world around us, which is causal.

    I believe that there is in fact a cycle of material expression and destruction, akin to the big bang followed by compression in an infinite cycle of material and non material.

    What fascinates me more is life itself (as separate in wholly (holy?) incomprehensible ways that at a minute level are almost imperceptible. (where if something is alive or not is open to debate). While a human and a rock are obviously different as alive or dead.

    To date, I would have to quote certain scriptures and say “life comes from life” as an observable fact, irregardless of theories of primordial soup- and lets face it, we have all the ingredients of said soup- but no cheating 🙂

    I agree very much with the fantastic quote you pulled up.

    1) our entire experience is causal- i.e. there is a cause for everything and the best we can achieve is a never ending cycle of cause and effect.

    2) This never ending cycle is itself profound and immeasurable. We can create a machine to count backwards and forwards in time for all time, and it could still never encompass infinite. That is our position in applying our measurements of science to understanding what is outside of science. And yes, I know through calculus and through quantum physics we make use of the paradoxical and infinite, but we make use of it through approximation and acceptance, much like a leap of faith in fact.

    3) the statement, as “X approaches infinite, the limit is” which is used in calculus is to me a statement of belief 🙂 just because science helps us expand X, doesn’t mean the curve has a final limit, in fact it only approaches this limit.

    4) Something cannot come from nothing. By pure and plain and simple observation, both philosophical and scientific.

    5) Therefore, there must be something which, as Father Copleston put it, “a being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence.” Or as the Bhagavad Gita puts it, roughly, “never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings, and never will we cease to be.”

    This is actually mirrored wonderfully in most philosophy, and even in ancient Bantu traditions of Africa where almost the exact same thing is said.

    As Credo Mutwa puts it, “The sun is part of God; the moon is part of God, and each one of the stars is but an infinitesimal part of Him who is, and yet is not, Him who Was and yet was not, and Him who will be and yet shall never be; because there never was a time when God was not and there never is a time when God can never be.”

    6) At this point I limit my argument to simply something outside the causal stream, rather than an embodiment of personality which is a different argument. This is GOD as absolute, as the Principle beyond the material. My brain actually starts to shut down when I try to contemplate something that always is and will always be. Not a healthy space to put a brain designed for causality.

    7) Even science will say that we are bound by our perceptions, and the abilities of our scientific eyes. Even Dawkins cedes this point in the final page of his book the God Delusion, where he leaves a space open for the metaphysical understanding of existence (whilst the whole book of course says there is no standard for this, and it’s full of delusions and misinterpretations and fraudulent claims, and abusive misleading applications.)

    I don’t dispute either. The fact that as X approaches infinite the limit is… doesn’t mean this belief then applies to all and sunder.

    So the large X for an ignorant savage pertains to everything around him/her, therefore belief applies to river spirits and pixies and gods of the forest etc. Taking this kernel of essential belief, one can then twist it into any shape a charismatic person wishes.

    8) I would argue this kernel of belief is hardwired into our consciousness.

    9) I believe love, consciousness, beauty, self control, and death, are also, finally, beyond the ken of science.



    March 10, 2009 at 11:42 am

  29. For me, your point 4 is probably the only reason that I remain open-minded about the existence of god (for want of a better term). Until proven otherwise this is certainly true and posses a massive problem for all reductive scientific theories. The big bang might explain the beggining of time (as we understand it, in this universe) but it doesn’t really deal with existence (dead or alive). Moreover, as you point out, if you don’t want to start before the beggining, there is still the fascinating question of the conditions for things being deemed ‘alive’. The philosophic mercury. Scientists have been playing around with chemicals and raw matter for a long time now and still seem no closer to denying the existance of god in this way. As for love, beauty, etc – I see these as human, not godly constructs.


    March 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

  30. Hi Tree,

    I’m glad we can agree on the ambiguity of point 4, whilst perhaps inhabiting different sides of that ambiguity. But I’m certainly willing to accept the point that this is not clear.

    In terms of love and beauty, I think I understand your point about these qualities being human. Certainly they are. I don’t consider them “godly constructs” so to speak, but actually something we share with god.

    And what I mean by saying god has these qualities, comes from applying an infinit scale to everything.

    Infinite of life, infinite of matter, infinite of time, infinite of love, infinite of beauty, infinite of consciousness… And whereas our individual quantity of these things is finite, if that scale of infinite is applied to the qualities, then it becomes Godly.

    You can argue I have no right to apply those qualities to a scale of infinite, but I would argue that these things are natural to life itself. And since life itself exists in this ambiguity, and since this ambiguity can be combined with an infinite scale, that these qualities can be.


    there is a limit of existence at which there is no beginning and no end, which is outside the parameter of our causal experience and senses, but which we can know as we approach it.

    life comes from life

    the ambiguity of life coming from life opens up to a world in which the limit of infinite is not just matter, but also includes consciousness

    life itself has many qualities about it that are profound to our heart as well as our head, and which are experiences which have value to us individually

    if the infinite scale is applied to these qualities, they become the qualities of God in capital letters.


    March 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

  31. Sticking with the how to make this subject appealing, I think that the application of infinity is probably a turn-off because most people, myself included, find it difficult to conceive. Whether mere endlessness or something more transcendental, I don’t think infinity is the key. Point 4 is a tangible gauntlet from which to proceed, let’s stick with it a while, there are interesting questions to consider:
    Does the prospect of artifical intelligence threaten Omnipotence?
    What about Frankensteinian experiments – would cloning a human be an affront to Creation, albeit life from life?
    In 1953, Stanley Miller, at the University of Chicago, passed electricity through a mixture of water and gases sealed in a flask. When he analysed the results, he found traces of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
    Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building protocells from non-living matter that can almost be called life. If he suceeds is it game over for god?


    March 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    • Some good points there tree.

      Sticking on topic, if life can come from matter, without any cheats, and if it can be complex enough to be without doubt, then I personally will feel that one of the core reasons to believe in God will be gone. I have even told others I would no longer believe in God if life can come from matter.

      There are already experiments taking the dna information out of an egg cell (thus technically making it dead), and replacing it with other dna and then letting it flourish. But I consider that to be a cheat on two counts (the use of a once living egg, and the use of previously constructed dna).

      I consider dna to be the information of life, and of course proteins the building blocks, but again, simply having the building blocks is not life itself, and all of it would have to be created in a non life environment in case of pollution (some small life cell could be in the mix by accident.)

      So yes, that’s the key challenge to me, although I guess I can’t convince you to join me believing in a God until such time?

      Infinite and human psychology are the other two bedrocks of belief in god for me, but they aren’t as tangible to me.


      March 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm

  32. Interesting that you would abandon your faith on this basis. Would all the infinite love, beauty and other aspects beyond the ken of science just disappear from one moment to the next? I doubt it.
    My own faith in the future would be rocked if this ever happnened. I hope it never does as I think it would mark the beginning of the end. Maybe I will take to the street muttering ‘the end is nigh.’ LOL.
    Some things should remain hidden. I think mystery and magic are probably essential to our happiness.


    March 10, 2009 at 8:36 pm

  33. My faith in the future would be full of hope (same as usual)…it would be the beginning!
    We’d make terrible mistakes sure but what technological advance has not resulted in terrible side effects?
    You could argue that we weren’t responsible enough for fire-making, agriculture, tool-making, writing, industrialisation, electricity, the internet, stem cells etc etc
    Bring it on!
    But Rex…what changes in the essence of the love etc if life were created artificially?


    March 10, 2009 at 9:13 pm

  34. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. It’s not just about responsibility but the value/sanctity of life and how we relate to one other. Please Jack, tell them to stop!


    March 10, 2009 at 9:34 pm

  35. Rex @ ‘I guess I can’t convince you to join me believing in a God until such time?’ Believing in a God would be possible. Joining an organised religion impossible.


    March 12, 2009 at 8:21 am

    • Hey Tree.

      I agree. Never join an organized religion.

      My order of preference is:

      belief in god; outside religion
      no belief in god; outside religion
      belief in god; inside religion
      no belief in god; inside religion

      It’s the last ones that are the worst, and frankly the largest group.


      March 12, 2009 at 12:22 pm

  36. OK. That makes it a bit clearer and I agree with your opinion of the last group. But what about those who belong to the agnostic faith? Where do they belong in this schema?

    Check out this passage from the Cula Malunkya Sutta, the sixty-third discourse in the Majjhima Nikaya of the Pali canon. The Buddha says: “Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions brought a surgeon to treat him. The man would say, ‘I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me; whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a cross bow; whether the arrow that wounded me was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed.’ All this would still not be known to that man, and meanwhile he would die. So too, Malunkyaputta, if anyone should say, ‘I will not lead the noble life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me whether the world is eternal or not eternal; finite or infinite; whether the soul is the same as or different from the body; whether or not an awakened one continues or ceases to exist after death,’ that would still remain undeclared by the Buddha, and meanwhile that person would die.”

    This seems quite agnostic does it not?


    March 12, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    • Whilst I believe it is possible to lead a good and “noble” life being agnostic.

      And whilst I believe that this is MORE important than living a bad life while professing to believe in God.

      I believe that once one has embraced living a good life (note, I don’t say actually living a good life which is maybe impossible, and only aspirational), I then think it’s important to move on to those self same questions.

      I believe in God, not for science and not for morality, but for love, beauty, and consciousness.

      Which kinda answers Jack’s question.

      I would find it hard to say I believe in God were it to be possible for life to come from matter, and would not defend it.

      But even believing God exists, I don’t find it valuable to believe in God except for love, beauty, and consciousness.

      And yes, I realize that many worship these qualities instead in man/woman, rather than in God, but I have answered that.

      I believe God is the infinite construct of these qualities, whereas man is the finite example of these qualities. So man is indeed wonderful, but not worshipable except as God, the accumulation of all.


      March 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  37. If we all join hands from here to eternity, never-ending love, beauty and consciousness can be ‘accumulated’ without the need for god. I’m sure that you believe god to be more than the sum of the parts but the added value is no more evident than gods existence itself, so therefore probably doesn’t sway agnostics.

    Agnosticism tends to arise from non-resolution on the existence front (back to point 4) or a lack of verification (Malunkyaputta), rather than uncertainty about any particular qualities (point 9) and their extent (to infinity).

    At it’s extremes some even want to use agnosticism as a proof for their aetheism. Buerthecentaur (above) suggests that “the bottom line is this; no-one is able to prove the existence or non-existence of a supreme being or higher power, therefore either belief is entirely futile and arrived at without any real intellectual consideration” . He seems to have bought Dawkins “anti-Pascal wager” but I would wager that even if he put his hand in that box and it was bitten, he still won’t convert to Kennethism until the large weasel tells him how it all fits together.

    So perhaps on direct experience of god (or weasals) will do it? – or is there another proof (akin to your life from dead stuff test)?


    March 12, 2009 at 6:44 pm

  38. zygruntë:

    “A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
    Stephen Hawking – A Brief History of Time

    Rex – it seems to me that you unwittingly unravel your ontological position early on in this blog by stating in 4: “something cannot come from nothing”; yet if God is not something then what is “he / she / it”? Nothing? If the answer is ‘something’ then the principle ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’ if strictly adhered to can be seen in itself to do away with the notion of ‘god’ as an object of any kind – let alone one with ‘personal qualities’.
    Likewise you go on in sec 29 to confidently assert “life comes from life as an observable fact” while once again unwittingly falling into your own trap when it comes to the life of ‘God’. That is, this position begs the question: ‘where does God’s life come from?’ What happens is that you again and again fall into the classical philosophical snare of infinite regression. I guess one could respond to these objections by quibbling over semantic differences between ‘life’ and ‘existence’ or ‘object’ and ‘entity’ etc., but this I contend would not take us much further forward.

    Outside time and space Dennett.

    Tree2one mentions what some physicists posit as the ‘point of singularity’ within some versions of the so called ‘big bang’ theory as potentially pointing some to a SOURCE of this point – perhaps Anselm’s famous ‘primum movens’ of everything? (ergo God?) Yet this simply takes us back to the infinite regress argument outlined above. It is because of such difficulties that this earlier theory is starting to become eclipsed by what has been described as the ‘serial big bang / big crunch’ model, where an eternal series of expansions and contractions of the universe is posited. This position seems to many more logically coherent than its forunner.

    Moreover it may be argued that the very conceptual coherence of the idea ‘first cause of everything’ is in question; and indeed upon further analysis can be clearly seen as a prime example of a Rylian ‘category error’. This was most clearly illustrated in the great Bertrand Russell’s beautiful rebuttal of Coppleston (as quoted by Tree) in their famous debate:

    “Coppleston: Well, why stop at one particular object? Why shouldn’t one raise the question of the cause of the existence of all particular objects?

    Russell: Because I see no reason to think there is any. The whole concept of cause is one we derive from our observation of particular things; I see no reason whatsoever to suppose that the total has any cause whatsoever.

    … I can illustrate what seems to me your fallacy. Every man who exists has a mother, and it seems to me your argument is that therefore the human race must have a mother, but obviously the human race hasn’t a mother — that’s a different logical sphere. “

    Thus although it is evident that different events in the universe have different causes at different times this does not imply that the WHOLE has one cause at one time; the latter loses sense as the concept of cause is stretched to the point of illegitimacy.

    Indeed I noticed that in sec. 29 you seem to move away from the ‘first cause’ position in the more logically coherent direction of the serial big bang / big crunch model by mentioning “a cycle of material expression and destruction”. Unfortunately however you then go on to posit a pseudo duality of “an infinite cycle of material and ‘non material’” which falls straight into the classical trap of the Cartesian (substance) dualist: ie FALSE REIFICATION.
    In other words, what in this context IS the ‘non material’? Nothing is not some THING – Let alone something that can be part of a cycle involving temporal duration.
    To put it another way when the TV evangelists call upon their congregation to “reach out and touch faith” we clearly see the fallacy of mistaking an abstract substantive for a noun – and the same goes for ‘spirit’ and ‘consciousness’
    Maybe you are attempting to reinvoke an anachronism such as a “non material substance”? If so, I think you will be hard pressed to demonstrate the existence of such…

    As I indicated above, if the idea of ‘god’ as an object is questionable, then a fortiori the concept of god as an object with particular properties is more so. Indeed personal characteristics as applied to such an object were famously characterized by Einstein:
    “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.”
    – Albert Einstein in a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952; Einstein Archive 59-797; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 217.

    Yet in sec. 22 you state that: “Einstein was more neutral” – well when it came to a personal god he wasn’t:

    “It was, of course, a lie that you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    – Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

    In a similar spirit I am quite in sympathy with your sec. 31 move to a more congenial definition of God as a sublimation of some of the culturally relative positive human constructs such as love and beauty by applying them infinitely – this seems to me a move in the right direction. For one thing it is much less likely to lead the kind of societal separatism and bloodshed which has characterized most other conceptions of gods through the ages.
    As Wittgenstein recognized – perhaps the only move to an intelligible notion of what it means to have ‘God’ in one’s world is the Spinozic “to view the world sub specie aeterni” (under the aspect of eternity) [TLP 6.45]
    The concept of ‘worship’ however may strike some as misplaced in this context…


    March 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    • Thank you for adding to the debate Zyg.

      I do not feel, however, that you have done my argument justice.

      Let me try to explain again.

      First of all, you rightly point out that I say that something cannot come from nothing.

      What that means to me, is that there is something which “ALWAYS EXISTS” and importantly, has no cause, and has no ceasation.

      However, we do not know of anything in a material sense that “ALWAYS EXISTS.” In fact, everything we know has cause, and ceasation.

      Now, I also say, we cannot, in fact, know what this something is. What we do know, however, is that it is certainly not “nothing.”

      The alternative to this unknown and unknowable substance of “ALWAYS EXISTS” is an infinite progression, which by the definition of infinite could then be observed as a single whole.

      So you asked me what god is, if not something.. nothing?

      I’m saying, God is both something, and something beyond our observable material sense. Because God is a something that is NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASES… which, as I have explained, no material thing is…

      That we can then observe that life comes from life is not so outrageous. Because my point is that life itself is not “material”.

      Life is also connected to “NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASES”

      And if you want me to get into purely religious terms, that “NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASES” is a soul, which is exactly the same as GOD, but in smaller proportion.

      Now, can I prove that something exists beyond what we can measure and see materially?

      Well, I can’t prove it materially, just as I can’t show infinite materially (we have no instrument that can count both backwards and forwards infinitely and completely, as time itself would restrict such an infinite machine.)

      But we still USE infinite in every day calculation.

      And that is how I see God. God/soul/life is something we can use, but which cannot be counted or measured from a material, i.e. causal way.

      Please do not confuse this in any way shape or form with turtles all the way down.

      If you cannot see the fundamentals of this, i.e.

      Something cannot come from nothing

      therefore there must be a something which is NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASING

      We are not aware of anything MATERIAL, which is NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASING

      Therefore, that something must be beyond the MATERIAL


      This is not to be confused with a proof of God.

      This is, in effect, a proof of the concept of God.

      In other words, whatever you believe God to be, you should be considering the possibility of God, by the limited nature of science, when it comes to the final understanding of NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASES

      I’m only arguing that meta physics is a vital component of exploration (i.e. we should contemplate the spiritual) along side our wondrous exploration of the material.

      p.s. You say, wrongly, “That is, this position begs the question: ‘where does God’s life come from?’”

      When I have said consistently, GOD is NEVER CAUSED AND NEVER CEASING, therefore God is that for which the question of causality does not exist.




      This spiritual is something we cannot comprehend with finite minds and material senses, but it is something which we can appreciate, from a simple understanding that it must exist, or we could not exist.

      As I say, this is a completely different argument to whether god is a person or not which relates to, but is not dependent on this.

      All this argument sets out to say is that there is something which, for want of a better term, we can call SPIRITUAL, but for which you may find a better name.

      What science does is say, “We cannot measure it, it is outside the material world, and we can only know the material world, so therefore it is irrelevant, and not important.”

      How many times has a scientific book started with that statement? Pretty much every Darwinist of note begins with that statement. And rightly. I appreciate that. Their point is that even life, the universe, and everything has a cause, because we have not yet discovered this Spritual something. But it is the science of the material which is trapped by a infinite regression of causality.

      Spiritual is not bound by the question of cause. It has no cause.

      I hope I have answered that question, as I am tired of the pointlessness of asking what is God’s source…

      Yes, you might argue that there is no reason to believe that the universe itself is not made of “SPIRITUAL SUBSTANCE” if that is your point, then I would say, great, that’s the extent to which you accept and understand God.

      The point is not what is GOD, but that we should accet what is MATERIAL.

      And the substance of “WHAT IS ALWAYS” takes a leap of faith on the part of beings which are material.


      March 15, 2009 at 5:42 pm

  39. And when faced with the choice between the leap of faith or the reductio ad absurdium, perhaps agnosticism is the easiest belief of all?


    March 15, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  40. I prefer accepting the absurd.


    March 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

  41. “Absurdity. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.”
    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)


    March 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  42. “Absurdity. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.”
    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

    spot on! just the sort of paradox I was trying to portray…

    Seriously though, this is precisely where rex and I part company.
    I feel accepting the absurd is the slightly scary, but best option.
    He feels that this is the place to make the slightly scary leap of faith.

    We both feel that the other is, for want of a better expression, ‘too scared’ to accept the others conclusion.

    Long live the infinitely absurd paradox of life.


    March 16, 2009 at 9:20 am

  43. Rex – it’s a pleasure to be involved in this discussion.

    Now once again it would appear we are at loggerheads 

    You summarize your ontological trilogy as follows:


    Now apologies in advance Jack, but it looks as though we might after all need to evoke the spirit of old Okham here (be he twat or no…) in considering this position.

    In my previous post I mentioned the theory becoming more popular among physicists and cosmologists of an ETERNAL series of MATERIAL expansions and contractions which make up what has been characterized as the ‘serial big bang / big crunch theory’ of the universe as a whole.
    Within this model then the material realm cannot be meaningfully said to ‘cease’.
    In addition – as Russell so aptly pointed out – this TOTAL cannot be said to have a ‘cause’ in the same sense that mankind cannot be said to have a mother.
    In this way we already meet your joint criteria of ‘never caused, never ceases’ without the need to introduce a new ontological category; namely ‘spiritual’ – nor ‘phlogiston’, nor ‘aether’, nor ‘ectoplasm’ either; nor any of a host of others that have been introduced over the ages.

    Okham’s Razor thus deals the ontological deadwood category of the ‘spiritual’ a swift trim – whereupon, a la Hume, we can “commit it then to the flames” …

    The simple thing / nothing duality will serve us very nicely thank you; and the third trilogy category can be seen in an ontological context as superfluous and redundant.

    Indeed Rex it would seem that you are only tempted down this illusory path once again by the long-lived seductress of ‘false reification’. Unfortunately it would thus appear that you may turn out to be what I describe as a habitual ‘religious reificationist’.

    You unwittingly nail your reificationist colours to the mast when you go on to use what you describe as “purely religious terms that NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASES is a soul, which is exactly the same as God but in smaller proportion.”

    Here the reificationism once again takes the form of a Rylian ‘category error’: you apply the conceptual grammar of a noun (a soul) to an abstract substantive (soul) – and go on to propound the problem by applying terms exclusively applicable to material objects (Descartes’ ‘res extensa’ as opposed to ‘res cogitans’) such as ‘smaller’ and ‘proportion’ to your ‘spiritual’ category. This is as inappropriate as saying ‘justice is purple’.

    Let me explain:
    In this case it would appear that you are applying what Ryle characterizes as ‘the myth of the dues ex machina’ in the microcosm (man) to the macrocosm (universe).
    In his classic THE CONCEPT OF MIND the great professor Ryle uses the example of a visitor to a university who is being shown around the departments, buildings and being introduced to the staff etc., when he suddenly asks “but where’s the university?” thinking that it was a ‘thing’ over and above what he was being shown.

    Similarly one could describe a person’s mirth; their anger; their passion; their kindness and so on – and still mistakenly ask – but where is their SOUL?

    A person’s ‘soul’ then can come to be seen not as an ‘object’ in a crudely literal sense (like a person’s kidney) or some kind of ghostly sheath that can be detached (to use Wittgenstein’s example) – but even in a religious context is much more intelligibly understood as ‘a person’s moral character’ (DZ Philips). Thus when someone is said to have ‘sold their soul for money’ we can see that they have become overly consumerist etc…
    Likewise when Toots n the Maytals sang the classic “Reggae Got Soul”, we can now see that the song would have become an absurdity with the addition of an ‘a’ to ‘soul’!

    Similarly when I earlier evoked the ‘spirit of Okham’ no phantom tickled our earlobes with its cold caresses; or when I evoked the ‘spirit of Okham’s Law’ a ghostly legal tome didn’t fall, leaves unfurling, into our lap; and evoking the ‘spirit of the age’ is unlikely to bring a medieval hurricane of witches a whirlin’…

    Yet these phrases all have their legitimate (non object-based) uses.

    If however I evoke A spirit NAMED Okham – we see the subtle change in surface grammar mediates the semantic modulation to nonsense.

    Wittgenstein was apt to remind us to pay attention to what can be described as the surface-depth dichotomy in the grammar of propositions for the very reason that language is likely to seduce us into confusions which lead us into the same philosophical traps which assailed the ancients – and which we ourselves are yet embroiled…


    March 17, 2009 at 9:05 am

  44. @ Turtles

    Zyg! Now who is arguing a stack of turtles? I can’t believe you have moved all the way around my position from first attacking it as a stack of turtles, to stacking up your own turtles (i.e. big bangs).

    You say that the duality of thing/nothing serves quite well, but that is patently false. Something cannot come from nothing.

    So your real argument is not that there is nothing-thing-nothing-thing-nothing-thing.

    Your duality doesn’t address the fundamental issue that what you describe still needs a cause. So you are turtle stacking.

    My argument is that there is a substance which is different to matter, and I argue this in the same way that we argue in science about things like the Higgs-Boson, by looking at what is not there, but must be.

    Simply because I have applied the term Spiritual to this, you have then attempted to throw huge amounts of baggage at me, not least the spagetti monster.

    I am trying to take the terms spiritual and soul down to their fundamentals. Until I apply baggage to them, I would like to use the terms as they most appropriately apply.

    However, for the sake of argument, lets say nothing is O, matter is X and the unknown NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASING substance is Y.

    Here I actually believe that we have space to agree 🙂

    You will note in my argument that I accepted as a minimum that an infinite cycle of big bangs could itself be the condition of NEVER CAUSED, NEVER CEASING. However, I do not accept this from a condition of thing/nothing duality.

    I accept it only if it is premised from an exceptional Y at the point of singularity.

    As I know from pop science tv, Steven Hawking has found that at the moment of the big bang, all of physics falls apart. We then start to talk multi-dimensional, universes born from black holes of other universes, no time, no matter as we know it, no light, no space, no gravity, sound would be faster than light at this level of compression of space etc etc etc…

    But it is still, something. Otherwise it would be 0 and that would be all.

    So this something is what carries forward your endless cycle of matter. So it’s actually not 0 to X to 0 to X to 0 etc but YX to Y to YX to Y etc

    So it’s not a duality. There is a constant something, on top of which is a temporary matter.

    And in fact, my answer of Y (unknown substance that is Never Caused and Never ceases) is a better answer than the impossibility of something from nothing.

    I am, however, willing to concede that the ONLY leap of faith currently acceptable from the perspective of our material senses, when it comes to “Spiritual” is a leap into accepting there is some substance that is Never Caused and Never Ceases.

    Please keep in mind that this substance erases the need for the stack of turtles, in both scientific and religious senses. And this substance is also not a dualistic substance, but a single… none of which is outside the realm of science. We call the moment before the big bang, a singularity for this very reason.

    All the other leaps of spirituality are absurd because, as you rightly point out, once you accept something that we don’t know exists (like the higgs boson), you are open to ridicule for every imaginable something that could be in the realm of imagination. I will address that later.

    But just to say again, you are suggesting my Y substance doesn’t exist, and you prefer to either argue that a duality of nothing/thing is better (which is not even absurd but impossible- more impossible than that there is something that exists that we don’t know about)

    Given the amount of times we have found something that exists that we don’t know about, I’ll err on the side of a leap of faith, as Columbus did in finding America once he understood the world was round.

    Your second related argument is a turtle on top of turtle argument when you suggest the birth of temporary matter from temporary matter in an endless cycle, without the need for a substance that is not matter. If that was really the case, then the laws of physics would be knowable at the point of singularity- they are not.

    The simplest answer is, in fact, that there is a substance we simply don’t know, which is never caused, never ceases, and is outside the laws of matter. I will refrain from placing any further values on this substance at this time. If we can agree on this point I will be satisfied.

    And please, don’t yet thrust the argument at me that believers in God are in a shrinking circle of the unknowable, I will address that below as well.

    @ Life

    What brings me to contemplate the soul, is the relation of life to this same question of the universe.

    So when we look at the universe, and we see that something cannot come from nothing, and we see that, by the very existence of the universe, and the logic trap of infinite regression (turtles on top of turtles), we are faced with a substance Y which is never caused and never ceases.

    When we look at life, the same question pervades.

    We have matter, and all the ingredients of matter, and yet they are distinct from life.

    What is the distinction between dead matter and life?

    Taking it down, as we did with the universe, to the point of singularity, it is not absurd to say, life is also substance Y. Never caused, never ceasing.

    If it was caused, it would be the same as matter, and you could make life from matter and matter.

    Your theory of life, to be consistent with your duality of nothing/thing, would be that life comes from matter (just as something comes from nothing?) But we have all the ingredients of matter, and still no way to make life without adding life.

    So again, I would say that your nothing-thing duality is the falsest and most falsified concept ever proposed.

    Science and maths cannot accept a proposition which is already falsified.

    Let me falsify your something from nothing suggestion.

    You have 0 and add 0 and you have 0. Always, and infinitely. Therefore you cannot have your thing/nothing duality.

    Equally. You have matter. You add matter. You don’t have life.

    You have matter. You add life. You have life. Simple.

    The default position if you wish to ignore nothing is that both the universe and life are a flow of death and rebirth without substance Y to carry matter over.

    By this standard, life and matter both cease, but are always reborn in equal measure with ceasing, and therefore the cycle is never exhausted.

    As I have pointed out with the universe, you then get turtles all the way.

    I would suggest (though I can’t prove), that the essence of life and the essence of Y are both the same and both always exist.

    However, I would say that even if Y and life (lets say Z) are different, they are still very similar in their nature. Neither is matter. Neither is created. Neither is destroyed (yes, life terminates as we measure it, but frankly, matter ceases to be in a measurable way, whilst life neither ceases nor is created, it just exists.

    Few will agree with my position that life itself is eternal. Let me try again.

    At the very least, life is simply separate from matter. Take all the matter you want, and you still don’t have life.

    Matter we can measure both ceasing and being. At in the big bang, whatever we know of matter has ceased (but something still exists 🙂

    Life we cannot measure as either being or ceasing. And yet it is.

    Of course, we can tell the difference between matter and life. But we can’t tell what that difference is. So death is something going from matter plus life, to matter minus life. You cannot suppose from this that life itself has ceased. You can only suppose that the matter is no longer living.

    My solution of Y answers both issues of life, and the universe.

    @Proportion and category

    I accept your point that saying a soul (Z) is a smaller (Y) would be a confusion of category of matter which can be larger and smaller, with a spiritual category which needs be no such thing.

    Let me redefine it in terms of only spiritual form.

    There is Y which is something. This Y includes all of matter (X) and all of the accumulation of life (Z).

    Matter comes and goes. Y and Z do not. As Z is a distinct component (life is present in each cell), and Y is the accumulation of all of Z as well as being distinct to Z, Y is apparently larger than Z. That is all I meant.

    Let me put it this way. One Z isn’t all Z’s. But Y is all Z’s and itself.

    @ baggage- the belief wedge.

    I agree that once one begins to believe in something that cannot be shown, it opens the door to an infinite variety of fictional and non fictional somethings.

    This is as true of science as it is of religion.

    We have a bunch of bones of dinosaurs. And we speculate as to their colour, their skin, their composition. Some of these speculations are actually more magnificent than anything a religious person has speculated.

    These speculations are fun, but the underlying proof of the bones is all that you can be certain of.

    My Y is the underlying bones- a substance that is always.

    From here, people have created a profusion of ideas such as skin, bones, colours, attitudes, and all the sundry beliefs and ideas of religions.

    I am not too concerned with this. I’m interested in the bones.

    If the discussion of what the skin colour was, what the skin was made of, and what it could have done helps me to understand the bones, then all is well.

    So I see the variety of religion as an aid to contemplation of the underlying question of an eternal something, the mystery of life, and the appreciation of what it is to be alive, as well as the further appreciation of what it is to be human.

    Just like if a scientist wants to intrigue young children with dinosaurs, he’ll draw images of a dinosaur using many unknowns (extracted from what he or she currently knows), religion intrigues mankind with the mystery of the known unknown, with plenty of speculative leaps.

    This can be abused, manipulated, and mistreated (as it is often in Science as well). But that doesn’t mean it provides no usefulness.

    However, apart from what it guides us to, it is, frankly, indefensible, and I won’t defend it.

    I think meditation is useful for human beings. But what chant you choose, if any, and what form your meditation takes… upside down, eyes closed, in the water, silent, noisy etc etc, none of that matters except where it is defended as absolute.

    And when science is defended as absolute, it also becomes abusive and prone to error.

    But people love to argue that because one thing is unknown (Y and Z), there must be a whole alphabet of unknowns that exist also. I see no justification for those. But I see every justification for the speculation as to Y and Z.

    The rest is fun, and if it helps me to lead a better and fuller life, then great. I enjoy fiction and fantasy. I won’t defend them other than to say I enjoy them.


    March 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm

  45. Rex, I suspect that your X Y Z will still fall foul of Zygrunte’s reifying category errors or surface-depth propositional dichotomies because you are trapped in the empirical bottle with this way of talking.
    Perhaps we can release the genie from the bottle with a different way of talking. For instance, your conviction that fiction and fantasy are useful (as well as enjoyable) might offer some release.
    If we reject the logical positivist view that statements are only meaningful if there is a finite procedure for conclusively determining whether they are true or false, then we are free to understand the world through metaphor. As you suggest, herein lies the route to a fuller life (outside the bottle).
    Zygrunte, seems to be advocating (correct me if I am wrong) a nominalist position (alongside that twat Ockham) with no room for abstract objects and no place in ‘reality’ for universal ideas. Perhaps ideas don’t exist at all for Zygrunte?
    Where would we be without metaphor?
    Justice is purple!


    March 19, 2009 at 1:01 pm


    a) The law of conservation of matter / mass states that matter cannot be created or destroyed.

    b) The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

    c) After Einstein made his breakthrough with M=MC2 the two laws became merged into the law of conservation of mass-energy.

    Rex – whilst I agree with you that arguing can be enjoyable, I must say that I’m afraid that you’re not getting hold of this serial big bang / big crunch idea at all.
    Again I feel that this is because of your deep seated (intuitive) reificational framework of reference.
    To refer back to my original post – my duality of something / nothing does not imply that nothing is a THING.
    There only is something or there isn’t; this applies to particulars (like milk or no milk) and the idea of applying ‘nothing’ to the whole of the universe is as nonsensical as applying ‘cause’ to it. It is not conceptually coherent to speak of a universe consisting of NOTHING (or periodic nothings).
    This is where you illegitimately transplant my position into your own mistaken cycle of ‘material / non-material’ – as if the latter could be part of a temporal chain. Indeed this is why you need your postulated ‘spiritual substance’ as a continuity medium to support the ‘straw-man’ ontological dichotomy of 1 / 0.
    I fully agree that the scheme you outline of 1 – 0 – 1 – 0 etc makes no sense.
    What I postulate is “1 ETERNAL”; the critical variables here are not that of existence / non existence but of expansion / contraction – and critically the latter NEVER REACHES ZERO MASS.

    Matter has ALWAYS existed – yet in varying states of compression and contraction.
    In my model the turtles don’t stack up – each one springing into existence on the expiry of the last – as if by divine fiat! Rather – to persist with the analogy – it would be clearer to say that one grand turtle (the material universe) got fatter and thinner during the eternal cycle [no doubt due to the relative abundance / scarcity of cosmic lettuce].

    You say “let me falsify your something from nothing suggestion” – I have suggested no such thing.
    ‘Nothing’ is not an ontological category! Either something exists or it doesn’t: there is no in-between.

    Likewise the material did nor ‘come’ from nothing – as stated above, what I am contending is that it has always existed. The grip of teleological bias in a world of particular objects often blinds our intuition to this possibility.

    Whilst I couldn’t agree more with some of your concluding remarks I must also I’m afraid reemphasize your claimed enjoyment of ‘fiction and fantasy’; indeed I would say you were a connoisseur of such. In the speculative alphabet soup of possible existents I cannot see your ‘spiritual substance’ as on any firmer footing than green-cheese moons or city hobgoblins. In each case we owe it to ourselves to evaluate the evidence before passing judgment on its likelihood of existence.
    Sadly robbed of its ontological justification as outlined above your ‘spiritual substance’ (what you describe – evoking yet another category error – as “the constant something ON TOP OF which is a temporary matter”) holds no more evidential weight than the sea of sour breast milk of the inter-planetary sloth of Alpha Centuri.

    In other words by permitting the ‘leap of faith’ as a legitimate mechanism for the transition of a substance you DEFINE as Y into EXISTANT substance Y you open the floodgates for anyone to conjure their wildest fantasies into existence as long as they first provide an a priori definition of them.

    The logical conclusion of this position is a FALSE REIFICATIONISM PAR EXCELLENCE: i.e. mistakenly mapping all conceivable entities into actual existence – from Pegasus to Hanuman – resulting in what Professor Quine famously described as “”Meinong’s BLOATED UNIVERSE” (referring to the position of the 19th century Austrian philosopher).
    The one and only WVO Quine applied (the twat) Okham for the cure of this disease: Ontological Parsimony!

    To put it another way, rather than DEFINING SOMETHING INTO EXISTENCE a la Anselm (and his ‘causa sui-primum movens’) we had best have good grounds for supposing it exists – such as we do with the aforementioned Higgs Boson particle [an elementary constituent of matter] – which the ‘standard model’ experimental data strongly predicts – otherwise: ‘spaghetti monsters rule ok’!

    As for Tree’s ‘nominalism’ accusation – lol…
    Well – if you pardon the irony – apart self-applying the label ‘post-labelist’ – I would suggest I was a ‘realist’ in so far as I believe universals (eg. the universe or mankind) do exist alongside particulars. What I AM contending is that they do so (to reinvoke Russell) in different “logical spheres”; some terms (like ‘cause’) that apply to particulars do not apply to universals and vice-versa.

    As for the origins of carbon-based life on Earth – I agree with Quine that this is a matter rather for biology than religion … and it is evident that we are still a long way from unlocking this puzzle…yet we are making progress. As Tree2one has already pointed out certain experiments such as Szostak’s are pointing us in the right direction.

    You claim that my views imply that “science is defended as absolute” – I certainly don’t hold that position – science cannot tell me why Bruch’s violin concerto moves me so…
    Although I would contend that the scientific method of enquiry is by far the best humans have devised to investigate the material universe – it has its limits; the social sphere of abstraction is one.

    I certainly agree with Tree that fiction and fantasy are useful – moreover they are the bedrock of religion!
    Indeed it will become evident on further analysis that many problems (including some of those mentioned above) arise via the mistaken introduction of religious concepts such as ‘spiritual’ and ‘God’ into inappropriate contexts of discourse (eg scientific theory).


    Within Christianity the tale of the “Good Samaritan” is an example of such a story – what is critically RELIGIOUS about it is that its moral message (agapeism) remains valid even if even if its factual basis is questionable. Indeed the historical accuracy of such a story is, a la Aesop, beside the point!

    Religious terms in their most constructive form then can be seen to lay within the social sphere of descriptions; and using them in the context of ontology and physics is misguided and doomed to failure.

    Science and religion do different things and there is no single Archimedean point of reference for their mutual interpretation. As Aldous Huxely (pre-empting Wittgenstein) so beautifully put it in his masterpiece Brave New World: “You can’t play electro-magnetic golf according to the rules of centrifugal bumble-puppy”…

    A guy squeezed my girlfriend’s bum at the bar the other day. “Outrageous!” I thought and I cracked him a good one in the eye. Ooooophh. Damn, that eye turned a nasty shade….
    Justice is purple.


    March 20, 2009 at 8:59 am

  47. Another interesting ‘law’ of physics is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which implies that particles can flit into and out of existence, their duration dictated only by their mass.
    It has long been held (as a ‘basic law of physics’) that ‘no volume of space can be perfectly empty’ i.e. that a perfect vacuum is a useful concept but can never exist. However, contemporary physics seems to regard vacuums as more than useful, verging on vital. OK empty space might be seething with weird forms of energy but the point is that laws change. As we all agree, being absolute about science/holding any of these laws as immuatable is short-sighted.
    Zygrunte –
    @ ‘Matter has ALWAYS existed – yet in varying states of compression and contraction.’
    Matter and energy are distinct. As I have suggested above, while it currently seems true that energy is universally pervasive the same cannot be said of matter with such certainty.
    @ ‘It would be clearer to say that one grand turtle (the material universe) got fatter and thinner during the eternal cycle [no doubt due to the relative abundance / scarcity of cosmic lettuce.’
    Turtles are dead, long live the cosmic lettuce!


    March 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

    • Some great points Tree in this thread tree. I feel like it is all progressive dialogue at the limits of our knowledge.

      Just a small point about your cosmic lettuce, it only grows on the infinite expanse of manure.

      Let us bathe in the glory of infinite shit, and wonder at it’s mercy to allow the lettuce to grow which feeds the turtle whose growth is our own empowerment.

      p.s. it’s a brilliant day out! can’t wait to enjoy the sunshine…


      March 20, 2009 at 11:52 am

  48. Brilliant response Zyg,

    and I do think we have reached a point of agreement with your clarification that you believe matter and energy are never destroyed, simply contract and expand.

    I would agree that this obviates the need for any alternative permanency.

    My understanding has always been, however, that Einsteinian physics and the law of conservations of mass-energy breaks down at the point of singularity.

    So I would suggest you are taking a leap of faith about energy.

    Nasa’s website says:

    Even though we now know the age and recipe of our Universe, we don’t know what started it all. What was the energy that powered the Big Bang? What came “before” the Big Bang? What process planted the primordial seeds? We will go Beyond Einstein as we study these profound questions and attempt to understand our origins.

    Of course, your leap of faith requires nothing but the materials extant in our known universe. My leap of faith says that these materials are not permanent enough and requires some unknowable.

    However, I am willing to sit on this point until we have further clarifications from science.

    Your position that matter and energy themselves “never cease, and are never caused” satisfies my demand for such a substance to exist.

    In many ways the multi-dimension concept of string theory is the leap of faith. And the idea that the strings vibrate at various frequencies to form different substances is a wonderful way of looking at the world as formed by information rather than by matter.

    “The central quandary facing 21st-century physics is that the two main pillars of 20th-century physics – quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are mutually incompatible. Quantum theory deals with the very small: atoms, subatomic particles and the forces between them. General relativity deals with the very large: stars, galaxies and gravity, the driving force of the cosmos as a whole. The dilemma is that on the microscopic scale, Einstein’s theory fails to comply with the quantum rules that govern the behaviour of the elementary particles. On the macroscopic scale, black holes are threatening the very foundations of quantum mechanics. Something big has to give. This augurs a new scientific revolution.

    Some believe that this revolution is already under way because of “superstrings”. As their name suggests, superstrings are one-dimensional string-like objects. Just like violin strings, they can vibrate, and each mode of vibration, each note if you like, corresponds to a different elementary particle. This note is an electron, that one a quark, a Higgs boson, and so on. The strange feature of superstrings is that they live in a universe with nine space dimensions and one time dimension. Since the world around us seems to have three space dimensions, the extra six would have to be curled up to an unobservably small size if the theory is to be at all realistic. Fortunately, in the equations this actually happens. Unfortunately, there are not one but five mathematically consistent superstring theories, each competing for the title “Theory of Everything” – an embarrassment of riches.

    This problem is cured by M-theory, a unique all-embracing theory which subsumes the five superstring theories by requiring 11 space-time dimensions and incorporating higher-dimensional extended objects called branes. M stands for “Magic, Mystery or Membrane”, according to taste.

    Theorists are so excited about string theory and M-theory because they seem at last to provide the long-dreamed-of consistent quantum theory of gravity and hold promise of incorporating and extending standard models of particle physics and cosmology. ”

    By extension, if I can show that your laws do break down, and that all matter is causal, rather than permanent (irrespective of contraction which is irrelevant to this argument), perhaps you’ll agree that something else that is permanent must exist?


    March 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

  49. Rex I was hoping that you were going to claim the cosmic lettuce (“God” is Universal Energy) rather than introduce manure.


    March 20, 2009 at 12:54 pm

  50. Zygrunte, another problem with your ‘serial big bang theory’ is that it implies a ‘multiverse’, comprised of an infinite number of universes (each of which might be infinitely large). So you don’t necessarily escape infinite regression (turtle stacking) and bloating looms large. Get your razor out.


    March 20, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  51. Hey Tree, I don’t see how my position implies a ‘mulitverse’. I for one have never heard an argument which convinces me of the likelihood of the existence of such.

    Maybe along with Rex I’ll look into this a bit more. (after all ‘particle physics gives me a hadron’ 🙂

    One thing is certain though – when one thinks of ‘spirit’ as a ‘substance’ this is the kind of thing that can happen:


    PS – look out for my new blog topic shortly called: EXTREMISM: IS SCIENCE AS GUILTY AS RELIGION?


    March 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    • Damn, the guy on the floor scared me. And I loved the build up to the lady in blue. On the other hand, every religion has some kinda dancathon… they are just smart enough not to record it I think 🙂


      March 24, 2009 at 11:18 am

  52. So what does each big bang give rise to Zygruntee – a pocket universe or miniverse? Moreover, given that big bangs are events (i.e. particulars) they must be caused n’est pas? If the series is causal then you are either stacking turtles (reductio ad absurdium) or will have to admitt a first/primary big bang (point of singularity).


    March 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

  53. Monsignor Tree, I beg to differ my good fellow – let me reclarify:

    @ ‘Matter and energy are distinct’
    One of Einstein’s great insights was to realize that matter and energy are really different forms of the SAME THING. E=MC2 is the foundational equation for this ontology. Thus Einstein emerges as the natural heir of Spinoza in many ways (including religious outlook).

    @ ‘what does each big bang give rise to’
    What I am suggesting is that there was never a state of zero mass-energy during the eternal cycle of expansion-contraction and thus no thing was ‘given rise to’ out of ‘nothing’. Mass-energy has ALWAYS existed – but just in varying states of expansion (big bang) or contraction (big crunch). What is sometimes (to my mind misleadingly) described as ‘the singularity’ can thus most meaningfully be seen as the universe in its ultimate form of contraction before expansion once again commences.

    @’ an infinite number of universes (each of which might be infinitely large).’
    Such an idea is a true stackfest – my turtle (universe) is a unity with no ‘particularity’ – it has no ‘beginning’ and no ‘end’ as these concepts (a la Russell) can be seen to make no sense when applied to a ‘totality’; they occupy a different logical sphere (eg. mother of a man / mother of mankind)


    March 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

  54. Einstein’s equation does not entail that MATTER is the SAME THING as energy. Strictly speaking, this constitutes an elementary category mistake. In relativistic physics, as in classical physics, mass and energy are both regarded as properties of physical systems or properties of the constituents of physical systems. If one wishes to talk about the physical stuff that is the bearer of such properties, then we talk of “matter”. The equivalence is between mass and energy and not between matter and energy. Moreover, while mass and energy are found to be related or unified in physical/matter systems, they are conceptually distinct.
    Bondi and Spurgin have demonstrated that purported cases of conversion of mass and energy are best understood merely as a transformation of energy. Rindler suggests that any such conversions are best understood as mere transformations of one kind of energy into a different kind of energy. Thus demystifying mass-energy equivalence where one property is magically transfigured into another.
    Matter has both mass and energy, whereas fields only have energy. Energy can exist without mass but not mass without energy.
    Matter is dead long live energy!


    March 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    • Long live infinte of energy, infinite of lettuce, God.


      March 25, 2009 at 10:37 pm

  55. “Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.” Carl Sagan

    Here’s to cosmic lettuce!


    April 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm

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