Sketches on Atheism

This fits me rather well!

Cópia de Jump-in-puddlesUnquestionably the most preposterous, staggeringly ignorant, monstrously self-indulgent and yet equally childish argument for a god presented by apologists is that of Fine Tuning. The idea of a custom-made universe contends that the conditions for life are only possible within a slim corridor of physical constants which, if altered, would render life impossible… ergo god did it. Ignoring the fact that this “custom-made” universe is appallingly hostile to biological life and is in fact arranged in such a way to maximise the production of black holes, not life bearing planets, the first part of the statement is however correct. Alter the size of the electric charge of the electron or vary the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron by even a fraction of a percent and life as we understand would be impossible. Recalibrate the strong nuclear force by just 2% and the hydrogen inside stellar interiors would fuse into diprotons instead of deuterium and helium, and the universe would be fundamentally unrecognisable to us.

It’s mind-bogglingly extraordinary, and the chances of it all happening as it has are precisely 1 in 1. We are that chance. We are that card in the deck. We are that lotto draw. There are no odds against this arrangement as it’s already happened, meaning no conclusions can be drawn from it. To even evoke ‘fine tuning’ is a tautology: a stable of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because they depend on the assumption that they’re already correct. The only possible way to make this fabulously flawed proof-of-god demonstration a non-tautology is to compare our universe against another one, and apologists are typically at pains to never, under any circumstances, contemplate that possibility.

And so as Douglas Adams so wonderfully framed it:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” 

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191 thoughts on “This fits me rather well!

  1. If God really did come up with the number pi, he’d still be writing its infinite number of decimals. And if he makes just one mistake, circles won’t be circles and we’ll disappear in a puff of massive disillusion.

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  2. The fine tuning argument comes from the reluctance to accept the fact that our existence is accicidential. Many people seem to believe that the universe is there for us, that we are the goal of the universe’s existence. The idea that the universe simply exists, is too crude for people to accept.

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    • It’s understandable, and i can at least sympathise with this position. People want to feel special, to believe they’re unique, and when gifted with a huge frontal lobe it’s remarkably easy to create scenarios where we are the paragon of the universe… omitting, of course, that that universe is utterly ghastly for us. Indeed, step outside 1 atmospheric pressure and things start turning bad, and that’s just within our own blisteringly thin biosphere!

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      • What’s wrong with believing there is more to all of this? What purpose does it serve to believe we are an accidental occurrence? That point of view I could never understand, it never made sense to me and still doesn’t, yet I am as well versed enough in the trappings of modern nihilistic thinking as anyone. I don’t find it a satisfactory conclusion to arrive at, when it is obvious that we have the capacity to imagine way beyond that. Why is that? If we are a product of the physical universe, stardust as you and others are so fond of saying around these parts, then to have accidentally developed such a large frontal lobe and the capacity to imagine and innovate in the way that we do seems pretty fantastical I think, almost as fantastical as believing in God.

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      • Why does this acceptance of our position in the universe equal nihilism? That’s a common fallacy dished out by theists and it’s as absurd as it’s narrow-minded. Not saying you’re narrow-minded, far from it, but I personally find a deep awe in knowing I’m star stuff and am genuinely motivated to see future generations carrying this chance experiment forward. That’s humanism. If we later discover atoms can store miniscule packages of information and parts of who we were are transferred to other things then great… That won’t alter the urgency that right actions now, today, are what matters.

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      • Because as much as you discredit religion and the fallacious idiocy of some of its principles, it is still a fundamental part of human nature to strive and believe in bigger better things, to attribute meaning. The ‘happy accident’ theory for me is like putting your hands up and denying all responsibility. As much as it may condone a notion of free will, it also detracts from the meaning that we each give our lives, that for me is what is important. And anyone who balks at that word like it’s an utterance of a deluded fantasist is obviously deluded. There is nothing without meaning, whether that meaning is in labelling what we see before us, like a chair, or an emotion, a memory, a sentiment. We exist for the very meaning we give things. Right?
        Also I think it’s insulting and lacking in humanism to say that these kinds of decisions are not for the general populace to make [not suggesting that you are necessarily insulting me], that such discoveries rests in the hands of scientists with the gizmos alone. It’s ridiculous to wait for that kind of evidence before you allow yourself to entertain something better right now. As you say what we do now is what matters.
        Anyway, what is your definition of ‘right’ action?

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      • Nonsense. Happy accident places an even greater impetus on right actions (progressive, supportive, beneficial to all present and future life) in the here and now. It screams “urgency”

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      • Now you’re insulting my intelligence. But in the words of Fry “so fucking what?”.
        ‘Happy accident’ is my term, your term is ‘accident’. Nothing about an accident is positive. Progressive, supportive, beneficial to all present and future life, yeah, commendable, but at what cost John? Because from previous discussions that we’ve had here, you obviously believe that some loss is necessary. It’s a very idealistic view, and one that does not imply positive progress, or support or benefit. What is urgent I think is for people to stop entertaining idiot idealist notions of what constitutes right action. Whether it is based on theistic or atheistic belief. Punching somebody in the face is not a recipe for progress, not even if it guarantees you a ‘better’ quality of life. It fucking hurts and damages the person that you inflict that kind of progressive action on.

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      • Of course you wouldn’t because nothing in the universe is deliberate is it? I am being being facetious aren’t I? Yeah… Cruel to be kind? I get it, in fact to me it makes a certain perverse sense, but it does through the humanist approach out with the clowns and the biscuit-tin bashers, the ones with the loudest voices who proclaim to know fictitious truths, you know the ones… A very broad umbrella is that! If the hole fits…. I love ya JZ but you’re batshit crazy! 😉

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      • Hey here’s a thought, if we are all stardust as you say, effectively the same stuff as the universe we inhabit, then surely we must follow the same physical laws as the universe that we are a part of, so if we have the capacity to imagine and dream, then why shouldn’t the universe?

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      • wow, Ishaiya, you go right for the fallacy that atheists are nihilists and when John shows you wrong, you simply hide your head in the sand. You also claim, yet another old tired theist lie, that atheists just don’t want to be responsible. Hmmm, I take responsibility for all I do, I don’t piously say “God wanted that to happen in his wisdom” when I am too lazy to help the people who don’t have enough to eat, who are suffering in wars, etc.
        And you are also quite ignorant when it comes to what evolution actually says. No one claims that it was “random”, that would mean a universe with no laws, that anything could happen. That isn’t true and again shows that theists depend on willful ignorance and strawman arguments to cling to their beliefs.

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      • Ishaiya, I find nothing wrong with nihilist thought especially if it can be shown to be correct. We are born we die, and that is fact, and in the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes,

        vanity, vanity all is vanity

        .
        And the word accident, when referred to nature is a misnomer, for nature does nothing in vain. It acts according to its own laws, which are immutable and indifferent to the things in nature.
        Our capacity to imagine doesn’t diminish the fact that we are products of nature and yes there is something more and that is Nature and her laws. We don’t as yet know its bounds or why it does what it does, we have only been able to explain a few hows.
        And yes, we are stardust, just like everything else is. Nature allows the atoms to combine in a such a way as to allow for the coming into being intelligent beings, that is something we don’t as yet know how nature does it.

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    • There is no real evidence that life or humans are an accidental occurrence (if we agree on the meaning of the term accidental). There is no evidence that says the Universe was in some way planned so as to be friendly to life. The fine-tuned Universe does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that there is a creator, but it definitely allows for the conclusion.

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  3. John my old pal, you do realise that you will never change their minds don’t you? They’ve got the perfect answer to every argument that they can’t win: “Ah but that’s why you have to have faith.” In other words don’t question, just accept.

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  4. It has always fascinated me that they would use this argument. Our existence has been relatively short, life’s existence relatively short, we cannot be sure there are not other universes where life is impossible, whether this one has always been amenable to life, or whether it will stay that way. One thing is sure, we would not be here to debate how refined it is or isn’t if it wasn’t. Unless we find other examples we cannot rightly debate the issue.

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    • Not a truer word spoken. It was the size of the universe that first blew my mind and ruined any sense of being “special.” If god did it, and did it for us, why bother with the universe? Why bother with the galaxy, or even our celestial neighborhood? Why bother with our solar system? OK, Jupiter plays big brother and fends off a multitude of earth destroying space rocks, but why then have earth destroying rocks hurtling through space in the first place!? How anyone with half a neuron can hold onto an idea of supernal design is beyond me… and i figured that out before my 10th birthday.

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    • Life emerged almost as soon as the bombardment slowed enough for the earth’s surface to cool and solidify. It’s been around for at least 3 1/2 billion years. That to me is not short. And that is just this planet. A planet that formed 10 billion years ago (and is perhaps already dead) could have formed life 9 billion years ago. There is every reason to believe that life is extremely ancient.

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      • I couldn’t agree with you more. NASA’s Stardust probe captured complex Amino Acids from the coma of Comet Wild II out past Jupiter. If the building blocks of life are freely available in space then the universe must be literally teaming with life. The question is, how long does (can) it last before external or self-annihilation?

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  5. Humour aside, I think there are currently too many divergent strands of thinking within the science community and within what is held as ‘common’ knowledge to say definitively that what you’re proposing has legs. New discoveries in astronomy are being made all the time, for example the recent discovery made that black holes would seem to be intrinsic to the functioning of our galaxies, without them the rest of it wouldn’t exist. I would provide you with a link, but this was an interview with Prof.Cox on the box just the other day. Apparently black-holes consume very little, most of the matter being drawn toward it bounces back off and back into space. What it does though is affect the orbits and gravitational pull of all other matter within its remit, and that without one the rest of the galaxy would collapse. If this is true of all possible galaxies, then that to me suggests design, or at least a physical synchronicity that dictates the order of things. Not so random and not so accidental. Even the Big Bang theory has been proven to be heavily flawed, in that something must have existed before it in order to cause it. All interesting stuff. Good article John.

    TSK

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    • Cheers! Are you kidding about black holes signifying “design”? Again, that’ a tautology. Because supermassive stars collapsed in on themselves and created gravity wells is awesome, but it’s no more indicative of external design than my opposable thumb. Dark matter is in fact more important to holding galaxies together. The mass of galaxies by themselves just isn’t enough to stop them spinning apart, but dark matter by itself doesn’t indicate design either. It’s just dark matter, part of a system of remarkable things that have arranged themselves in one way and not another, and without being able to compare that arrangement to some other arrangement then no conclusions can be made.

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      • The ‘random’ theory is an attitude, an accepted scientific stance, a belief, not proof positive that it is at all correct. It’s not humanist in that it discounts everything that doesn’t fit. You can generate data and ‘facts’ till you go blue in the face with the limited instruments that you have, but it actually proves nothing, nor is it particularly helpful to most of the people on this planet who have better more pressing things to worry about than whether the universe is a random jumble of atoms or not. I agree with Ish that it’s a little insulting to many people’s intelligence.

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      • Not trying to insult anyone, my fine friend, apologies if it came across that way, just pointing out the fallacy of fine tuning arguments as presented for the existence of the gods. Let the discoveries keep coming, let our knowledge of the cosmos increase a thousand-fold with every generation, but until our universe can be compared to others its best we leave the untestable supernal dreams off the table.

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      • I hear exactly what you’re saying. Not saying I agree totally, because anything untested could be considered supernal, though we are harking back to history and every time that some clever bod has come up with a new crack-pot idea that turned out to be not so cracked. In the world of possibilities what if one day somebody found a way to prove god’s existence? God forbid! I’m as skeptical as the next man. But like I said current scientific thinking is a stance, a way of looking at things, nothing more. If a method of approach is useful then I’ll champion it, but who am I to say categorically that other people’s beliefs are not valid?
        Without the ‘supernal’ dreams, and by that I don’t refer to gods but that which is currently considered fantastical, then we wouldn’t have a cause to innovate.

        Man you need to go back to writing more of the funny stuff, either that or get yourself a new audience! That’s enough seriousness for me today!

        No offence taken my equally fine friend.

        TSK

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      • Why don’t you look up the latest research on the internet? Look up quantum mechanics specifically.

        TSK

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      • Oh, so you can’t show me how your claim about the BBT being “heavily flawed” is true. You try to make more vague claims and say “look up quantum mechanics”. What about quantum mechanics, TSK? It’s a very large field of research. Tell me what about quantum mechanics makes the BBT “heavily flawed”.

        It’s always a joy to watch people make baseless claims and then try to get out of them by insisting the answer is out there somewhere honest and for true. You made the claim, and its now up to you to support your claim.

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  6. Really John, you need to put on a sweater vest and start these things with “Can you spell “tautology,” boys and girls?,” if you want to reach your intended audience.

    And regarding THESPEAKING379’s last comment, nature is not random, it is self-organizing based on random events. Take for example the fact that this planet was once molten. Since it was liquid, the denser elements, like iron and nickel, sank and the lighter elements rose making a scum that became the crust of the planet. Our bodies are made of those elements, making us part of the scum of the Earth. See, it is simple.

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  7. You have such an amiable way of ruffling people’s brain cells! It is interesting how human beings become so upset when you propose the idea that we are not as important as we think we are. Beliefs are so sacred to us and yet hold no power over the forces of the universe.

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  8. I think it is a measure of a lack of imagination/intelligence that some are not prepared to think beyond ‘god’.
    And if there were a god, as we are created in his image, he’d be a pretty shitty god at that.

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    • And unfathomably wasteful! The observable universe is about 46 billion light years in radius… and so far we know of only 508 million square kilometers where complex life can grow.

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      • I once wrote a piece that stated god was like the worst gardener imaginable, creating a greenhouse the size of the Solar System just to house one tomato plant!

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      • In my defense, i did say “so far as WE know…”

        I think it’d be absurd to think the universe isn’t teaming with life. How far that life gets along before annihilating itself is another question…

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      • It’s tempting to think there may be intelligent life out there — it would contrast nicely, don’t you think?

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      • I never understood that but can’t spare the time to look into it—if the universe is 46 billion lightyears across, but only fifteen billion years old … PHUT … eek, just blown another fuse … orgle snorp farfle?

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      • It all began in genisis when Big G popped that bubble and Big Banged it. That was fifteen bill years ago, they say.

        Light travels at the speed of light, Uncle Albert said. Okay, he’s better at sums than moi so I’ll accept that.

        So after 15 b’ years I would expect the rotten bubble to be just 30 bill across from edge to edge … PHUT … bugger, another one gone; but wait, it gets more worser yet — they still haven’t convinced me that nothing exists, so if the outers limits are expanding, what are they expanding into PHUT eeek!

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      • The universe isn’t expanding at the speed of light (inflation happened at speeds that weren’t even speeds it was so fast). Light only first happened 400 million years after the bang. Before that point its just radiation/heat, and its not expanding into anything. Proponents of the cosmological argument need there to be a “edge” (or a boundary) for their thought exercises to work, but there’s no need for one.

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      • Exciting, isn’t it! Now we just have to work out how to get around (and navigate through) space to go say Hello! Slower than light speed travel could only make sense to an organism with a lifespan in the thousands or even tens of thousands of (earth) years.

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    • And as I’ve often said (but who the hell listens? Dunno why I bovver …) then there has to be a Mrs God. No? Why else would Big G have a toggle and two, hey?

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      • That was for ol’ Ark; I had no idea there’s be such separation as to render it meaningless. Another act of God to negate my input …

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  9. That kind of nonsense drives me mad too. I like all your big words and the confusing bits about oxygen and stuff, but the puddle quote says it all. We’re just big muddy puddles going,’Oh, I’m so amazing!’ Christians are so blinded by their own amazingness that the religion writer felt the need to counterbalance it with fake humility and innate badness.

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    • I only put in the big words (especially those with “ingly” at the end) for you, Strangefruit. I know things are little slow up there in dreary old Pictland, and there’s only so many times you can count all the stones north of Hadrian’s Wall without it becoming a tad tiresome, so i’m just thinking of your entertainment.

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  10. This is bravo my good sir. Not only did I learn some science, I learned some new words, and you banged the end with a Hitchhiker quote. What can be better than that? It’s like this fine post was written just for me! 😉

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  11. So God doesn’t dice with the universe, but does run around tailoring puddles to fit the available holes? Okay, I think I got it (had His work cut out with the Pacific, I imagine).

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      • I think I’ll take a God’s-eye view look, thanks to the almighty power of Godleearth and its angelic satellites.

        You’ve peaked my curiosity (pun intentional, by the way).

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      • Not sure I’m still speaking to you … my head keeps going PHUT trying to imagine a Big Bang inflating to fill a non-existent nothing with all the heat in the universe but no light PHUT see? There it PHUT PHUT PHUT bugger, I’ll PHUT back later

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      • Thanks for that. I’m glad to see that electromagnetism has come in out of the cold, and shall watch this a few more times before I comment …

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      • Hah! You scratched your initials on the summit, you naughty man~!
        (No wonder they stopped people going up …)

        From satellite closeup you can see all those puddle holes; the whole thing seems to be layers and strata stuff. Possibly ancient seabeds twisted into the vertical plane and eroded? Dammit, now I have to google Uluru (hey, I feel a song coming on …)

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  12. Can I plug my book here? I have there a discussion of the anthropic argument (which you present here) which loses even *more* of its logical force in the presence of a multiverse.

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  13. The universe we live in is just a picture in a caleidoscope: it’s beautiful, and organized, and looks like someone spent a lot of time putting it together – but turn the caleidoscope again, and there is another perfectly organized pattern, which looks just as impressive.

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    • The Multiverse is looking more and more likely, but if you really think about it, if a designer actually sculpted this universe wouldn’t you think they’d make the mass of the galaxies equal the centrifugal force? I mean, was Dark Matter an afterthought, a patch, a “Holy fuck, i got the math all wrong… better add something to keep those things stable”

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      • I know your response is intended for Mr.X , but I personally think you are putting too human a spin on things. I don’t think the is a singular intent or motivation behind anything. I think whatever is organising the patterns within the universe/multiverses is a cohesive endeavour, something inherent within the largest of universes to the smallest of particles. What I’m suggesting is the same model is present at every level, and thus has the same potential for expression. Everything within this model then becomes intrinsically linked.

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      • I didn’t actually mean the Multiverse, but just the way our particular universe was formed – if it had been formed differently, with different laws of physics, with different intelligent beings (a different pattern of kaleidoscope), it might also seem like it was created for those beings.

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  14. Feisty! Read some of the comments… I like the quote, too… My question is this: Okay, so you don’t believe in god and think it’s absurd that anyone would. Fair enough. Whatever my belief or nonbelief, I have no problem with that. But why all the hullabaloo? If some people want to be idiots and believe that the fact we’re here at all points to some “greater being,” why not let them? Why throw daggers at them? We all have brains, and, as Danny Breslin pointed out above, you’re not going to change their minds…

    For myself, I feel like there *has* to be “something else” out there… Else why would we feel so upset by the current conditions in the world? If this is all there is, why would we long for something else? But I’m not pushing my religion. I have a LOT of questions about god, if there is one, so maybe you’d say I’m straddling the fence and need to choose sides? But, eh, I feel like it’s up to me. I’ll figure out what I believe and let you do the same. The “truth” is likely somewhere in between.

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    • Jessica, however right you maybe in your view, the good host has not been to anyone’s doorstep to preach his message of a godless universe and stardust. It is on the internet, you can see it and ignore, but once you decide to read you can’t go complaining asking him not speak his mind. That is how totalitarian regimes begin, by suppressing dissent, and am sure, that is not your wish.

      The question, therefore should be, whether you agree with the thesis presented here or not but not why he is writing.

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      • the good host has two choices: to write or not to write, the motive to write is greater than not the motive not to write so he writes and will continue to do so until a greater motive takes over

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      • Thank you for your response to my comment. To tell me I can’t respond how I wish, though, seems totalitarian in itself. I am largely ambivalent and wish to approach the subject as such. I neither agree nor disagree — I only wish to seek greater understanding of someone’s perspective which may differ greatly from my own, as my life experiences have also been very different. Only in this way can I ever come to a satisfactory conclusion for myself. To shut out others’ ideas simply because they do not align with my own is true ignorance.

        So, no, I did not mean to complain that John was speaking his mind. On the contrary. I guess it was just my attempt to uncover a greater understanding of why he chooses to express himself as such, which I feel is a valid part of the discussion, if coming at it from a slightly different angle.

        Thanks again. You’ve given me more food for thought.
        Jessica

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      • Hey, it’s no problem! No apology needed. I was glad for your response. Made me think — and that’s always a good thing. 🙂 Thanks again, and hope you’re well.

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    • Why does everyone keep saying this particular piece is feisty? I’d say it’s one of my tamer ones.

      The hullabaloo (I do like that word) is not directed at people wanting to believe in the gods (believe in a talking salamander, Thor, Ra, Ba’al, whatever, its none of my business), rather its aimed at the apologists who publicly promote the fine-tuned argument as some proof of these gods. I think it shows extreme ignorance and is not only misleading but murderously self-indulgent, as the Adams quote pointed out.

      I like your question: “Else why would we feel so upset by the current conditions in the world?” This seems to hit right at the heart of the matter. The fine-tuned argument (and religion in the broader sense) is a delusion, a willful act of denial, and that ultimately displaces responsibility… something that riles me, the humanist, no end. Chatting to a woman a few months ago and she actually said this: “Even if climate change is real…” (yes, she didn’t believe the science)… “God won’t let humans hurt the planet.” That type of thinking is dangerous, and things like the fine-tuned argument only encourages it. It represents a running away from reality; a deliberate act of denial, and that can never be healthy, not in the long-term. We live inside a desperately thin biosphere in a blisteringly violent universe. It’s what we have and we need to get serious about protecting it and safeguarding not only our own future, but the future of all life on our planet. I think that answers our question, “why would we long for something else?”

      In all, I have no problem with deists. They have no dogma, do not attempt to impose any theological gibberish on others, and their idea of a god is logical to the point of it being completely indifferent. A deist has no reason to run away from earthly problems because they already understand there is no benevolent god who’s going to help.

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      • It is. Must be something in the air… maybe it’s God trying to wave that pesky fly away from his spicy nachos and beer as he sits watching the ensuing debate, this is certainly worthy of a bowl of nachos and a beer! 😉

        If only I had better things to do!

        TSK

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      • Nah, we’ve already established up top that god, in all HIS wisdomy-wiseness, is trapped writing out Pi, probably in a Cotswold cottage, if i had to guess 🙂

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      • Just to put my two pennies in, as the marvellous Jessica has been so courteous and accommodating, I thought I’d take a leaf and apologise for my bad language if anyone has been offended by it? You know when I’m serious because I don’t swear 😉

        Cracking discussion by the way John my bright spirited friend. Good personal resolve you have there. Admirable.
        Anyway who was being feisty, aren’t discussions of this nature meant to be gritty? Top stuff!

        TSK

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      • Oh, don’t ever worry about swearing, my friend. If a Londoner (or an Australian for that matter) isn’t heard swearing then there’s real cause for concern 😉

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      • Well that’s all right then! Let’s have a fucking beer while we’re at then!

        I just wasn’t understanding who the reference to being feisty was aimed at. I see it that everyone who had something to say said their bit whether agreement was reached or not, like I said, it’s been a good debate so far… even though I know you don’t think there is a debate to be had… but still… entertaining. You are a proper Geeza as we say here in London, when it comes to the ol’ word games 😉

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      • Haha. I didn’t mean feisty in regards to the post, but rather in response to some of the comments I saw *to* the post. People do get all riled up!

        I’d agree that the idea that god won’t allow us to hurt the planet is ridiculous. Clearly we’re hurting it and ourselves every day. And, whether there is a god who’s going to come “rescue us” someday, to deliberately destroy the planet is nonsense.

        I do think, however, that there is more to our longing for something else than just safeguarding our planet and the universe… It’s hard for me to put my finger on. But I’ll let your argument stand for now. No matter what others say and have said even in response to my original comment, my wish is not to argue, but to approach subjects with an open mind as much as possible. After all, you’re not stupid, and neither am I.

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    • Why all the hullabaloo? certainly not for those who tend to believe there feels like there is something more out there…. 😉 (or those who do not push their religion and/or have and allow questions and learning)
      More for those who continue to cause harm to others with dogma and beliefs that do not match reality, or reason.
      this type of story is current…

      http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judge_refuses_to_drop_murder_charge_against_faith-healing_parents_after_a_s/

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      • That is insane, I agree. People on both sides of the argument are sometimes totally off their rocker…

        I just don’t even know what to say right now, honestly. I’ve never been one to enjoy arguing. I was raised Christian in the States but *always* wondered what I would believe had I been raised in a different environment. The relationship between life experience and thought cannot (or at least should not) be underestimated. I lived in Asia for three years where I met good people who believed very differently from anything I’d previously encountered… Yes, there has to be “truth” — somewhere. But I’m so far from knowing what that is that the best I know to do is engage with and observe others to try to glean a better understanding of them and of humanity at large. Maybe that means people are my religion. And maybe that will piss a lot of people off. But I don’t really care. I’m not asking anyone else to hold to my views.

        Thank you for making me think today. 🙂

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  15. Hello John,
    You write quite well! I have a question. You’re claim that fine-tuning is a tautology seems to rests on this claim: “There are no odds against this arrangement as it’s already happened, meaning no conclusions can be drawn from it.” If I understand you correctly, you are claiming that the odds of anything happening (that has already happened) are 100%. Which sort of probability are you talking about? Epistemic? Logical? Frequency? If this is what you believe, do you find anything surprising at all, ever? (check out – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/probability-interpret/#FreInt)

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    • Thanks Ben, good to see you. Hope the skies have been blue and the winds steady.

      It’s a tautology for the reasons I gave. One cannot conclude that something is “designed” if there is nothing to compare it against. Because something is arranged in one way and not another means nothing except that it is arranged that way, and not another. In other words, it’s an untestable statement, and therefore absurd. One need not complicate the matter by trying to shoehorn the observation into this or that branch of philosophy; strains which are, in the end, little more than word games.

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      • If you and I play poker, and I get several Royal Flush hands in a row, would you be surprised? On your view of probability it would seem not. What has happened has happened. There’s no other alternative history (out there) to compare it to, therefore it is meaningless to ask whether I’m cheating. What’s the relevant difference between my example and your tautology? Would you be surprised or not?

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      • Suppose you’ve never met me. The point is, does your view of probability allow you to be surprised at anything actual? I’m concerned that it does not. The actual is all we have. There is no “not-actual” reality against which to compare the actual.

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      • “Why indeed,” doesn’t answer the question.

        I cannot be surprised by something I cannot compare. I can admire the universe, sure. I can even marvel at it, and I do at every chance I have (I’m almost certain you do as well), but I cannot be surprised by it. I could, however, be surprised (perhaps greatly surprised) by it if you can produce another universe against which I can compare ours. Can you?

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      • Of course I can’t produce another universe, but I can conceive of one (many in fact). For example, if I want to know what electrodynamics would be like if the photon had mass, I can turn to Proca electrodynamics. Of course, the photon is in fact massless, but that’s no obstacle to theorists. There doesn’t need to be another universe to talk meaningfully about the way things could have been.

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      • “Of course I can’t produce another universe, but I can conceive of one”

        Like I said: word games. Unless you can produce another universe against which to compare ours then any allusion, claim or appeal to “design” in this one is as meaningless as it is absurd.

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      • You are abusing the term ‘tautology’. ‘A or not A’ is tautology. ‘The way the world is is the way the world must necessarily be’ is not a tautology, its a philosophy. That philosophy renders all notions of probability (words like ‘could’, or ‘likely’) trivial. It’s a steep price to pay to defeat fine tuning arguments. Better to appeal to the multiverse and hang on to common intuitions about probability in my opinion. To each his own philosophy I suppose.

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      • There’s no need (nor indeed any possible way) to “defeat” the daydream of fine tuning when the notion is already fundamentally meaningless. As I said, present another universe and then we can talk about the good, bad or neutral design details distinguishing the two. Until then, you’re talking to the air.

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      • Did I allude to some “criteria”? As far as I recall the observation was quite straightforward: there exists no alternative universe to measure ours against, meaning no conclusions can be drawn about the particular arrangement of things. “Criteria” would imply the existence of a scale, yet no such point of comparison exists, and this renders all discussion after the fact absurd and meaningless.

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      • Are you not claiming: (a) that if the physical laws were slightly different life could not exist and (b) the odds of there being life-permitting laws is 100% because there are no non-life permitting universes to compare with?
        And when you claim (a), are you not conceiving of another possible universe, one in which life cannot exist? But then, in claim (b), you say that such a non-life permitting universe is not possible (odds are 100% against it) since it doesn’t exist. It seems like you have a double standard here. For (a), you think you can make meaningful statements about things that are not actually the case. For (b) you think you cannot make meaningful statements about things that are not actually the case. For (a), you speak about a possible universe that does not exist. For (b), you refuse to consider possible universes that do not exist.
        Maybe I’m just not understanding your argument correctly. Maybe you mean something else by (a), (b) or both.

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      • I made no claim concerning the odds for or against anything. 1:1 cancels itself out. The observation was quite simple, but if I must repeat myself one more time then so be it: no inference or allusion to design is possible without another universe to measure ours against. You can sing and dance all you like about “conceivable” universes, but until you actually produce one you’re just playing theoretical (one might argue, meaningless) word games.

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  16. One of my roommates says that proof of a “god” is inside us all in the form of DNA. I’d be curious to see what your think about that John.

    His belief is…

    1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
    2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
    3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

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    • Nathan, you naughty, character-shifting monkey… good to see you back!

      DNA is a whole different subject to a fine-tuned universe, so just briefly: Yes, it is a storage mechanism, but that neither indicates nor disproves a god. It is a replicator with a clear history arising from more primitive forms of RNA: the first organic encoding device fashioned from amino acid protein strands that formed inside fatty acid membranes. RNA itself could have had simpler precursors, like peptide nucleic acids, and a deoxyribozyme can both catalyze its own replication and function as an RNA strand without any protein enzymes. And this isn’t unique to earth. In 2006 NASA’s Stardust probe returned to earth with complex Amino Acids it’d captured after intercepting the comet 81P/Wild (Wild-2) around Jupiter, and that proved that these fundamental building blocks of life occur naturally on earth and are found equally naturally in space. That is to say, no godly fingerprints anywhere… and it doesn’t help to just think DNA magically appeared.

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  17. On computing probability…

    Try the following mental exercise.

    – Take 1,000 coins
    – Assign each one a unique number from 1 to 1,000.
    – Toss them into the air.
    – Record the result (heads or tails) for each coin.

    The probability of getting that particular pattern of heads & tales is:

    1 in 2^1000 ≈ 10^301

    Congratulations!! You beat those odds on your very first toss.

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  18. Wow, that is some response John. Interesting point. I don’t necessarily agree that fine-tuning as suggestive (not proof) of some sort of creator is a non-starter, but there are so many other alternatives. Unfortunately none of them are tested as of yet. We may get there, and the question will then be, is cosmology still as much fun?

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  19. With respect, your opinions at times seem to me as dogmatic as any hellfire fundamentalist preacher. As for the testimony of the former daughter-apologist become unbeliever: these testimonies are just like the religious who have religious experiences. The aha moments that come either unexpectedly or after years of seeking.

    It comes across to me as a passion around God, deities, religion, belief and their corollaries. As I read more and more from atheists and new atheists, I hear the same human noise I hear from those with opposing views: a passion for truth & Truth.

    Fine tuned. Thanks.

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    • With respect, this is not an opinion, rather about as truthful an observation as there is in this life. That is, of course, unless you can show me another universe against which I can compare ours and then make an assessment whether something here has the appearance of being tuned or not.

      Can you show me another universe against which I can measure ours? Of course you can’t, and that was precisely my point in lambasting theists for the childish/ignorant silliness of their claims.

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      • I don’t have that expertise. I’ve long believed there is more than one though. It makes sense to me because of the creativity and desire for more in myself and others, in nature, stars. Even in my short lifetime more planets and stars and space travel discovered amazing stuff!

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      • Agreed. The point, however, being that without another universe to compare ours to no conclusions about this one can be made. None. Zero. Zip. It’s absurd to even raise the matter.

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      • Not to me! I’ve always thought of alternative and multiple universes!! More than once an absurdity has been proven correct (Galileo, man on the moon, vaccines, human genome.) I like how your argue me reminds me to think big and impossible nonsense. Therein lies creativity, discovery and invention.

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      • I’m the first one to encourage wild thoughts, and if i controlled the purse strings i’d ensure all the sciences (no matter how crazy) got enough funding to succeed or fail. Failure is as good as success. Dream what you will and make it a reality if possible, but that is drifting waaaaay off what this post is about. Just because you can envisage another universe doesn’t mean you can make a conclusion about this one. That is a simple fact, and it will remain so until you can present a another physical universe to measure.

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  20. Agree with the thrust of your post. I just finished reading another essay on ID from a biologist making the long-odds-against argument. As an engineer that has actually developed probabilistic prediction codes from scratch, I’ve generally looked at the odds arguments (particularly for non-life-to-life evolutionary origins) with a dubious eye.

    They are too easy to manipulate. My last name has eight letters. The likelihood of having the exact set of permutations to get my exact name is (1/26)^8, or 1 out of 2×10^11. That’s an unbelievably small number. There haven’t been that many people to ever live on the planet. We can consider it impossible. If one takes the letters of my first and last name combined, it drops still further to (1/26)^15, or 1 out of 2×10^21. Impossible.

    Or, we could take the number of people on the planet that in fact do have my name, and there are several with a full 2-name match, and divide by the number of people on the planet. What does a person get? A much less staggering number.

    The difference, as alluded to in your post, is that one is a probability based on an actual sample set of such events (the right one), and the other is a probability based on complete randomness (the impressive one). The catch is that names aren’t random. Some letters can go next to each other and other’s cannot. There are many other complexities driving the system of naming which, if not acknowledged, allow for impressively tiny odds.

    Dawkins does this with actual evolutionary events observed in the lab – running the numbers the creationists way – and shows that the event they observed could not have happened. I wish that people could see the difference.

    The point is that 93% of all statistics are made up on the spot. 🙂

    Your point about the fine tuning is sadly the same. I suspect that the constants were driven by as-yet unidentified limiting factors that we simply don’t understand adequately. The attempt to calculate blind odds on this is… blind. Its just not a good argument. I didn’t go for it when I was a believer, and I’m very opposed to it now.

    Cheers, Matt

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    • Thanks Matt! A problem for apologists is they are not producing any new data. They have nothing to point to, no new arguments to present, and are therefore left with nothing but to try and shoehorn their supernal dreams into any crack they find, or at least think they find. Result: they come up with inane, entirely unjustified, completely unsatisfactory, logically-fallacious, wishful proclamations like ID.

      Reading your comment i couldn’t help but think of Borges’, The Library of Babel. I’m sure you’ve read it, but for a theistic work it must stand as one of the best written pieces of prose in recent history. Reading it as a kid, already having jettisoned any notion of a god, I did like the idea of Borges’ Catalogue of Catalogues. It had merit and was cause for thought… until, of course, cosmology taught us that the universe simply doesn’t require a Catalogue of Catalogues as nothing is permanent and absolutely everything will be recycled until such a time that all the helium is spent and the age of stars ceases.

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