Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ontologists Discuss the God Meme & Its Arguments

By Gary Berg-Cross
The ontolog-forum can be a fun thing to read about semantic topics and our understanding of reality. 
It can also generate off-topic discussion thread and a recent one concerned Dennett’s God meme ("an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.) as the primary application of memes that seems to interest both Dawkins and Dennett.
Memes were already being discussed when someone through in a reference to Giussani's "The Religious Sense" 
some reflection of an driving need for truth, goodness, and beauty. Giussani is the founder the lay Catholic ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation (CL), similar to the Neo-Catechumenal Way, Foculare, and Opus Dei. He writes popular books to spread memes, I guess, and in "The Religious Sense" his pushes the idea that values of truth and beauty constitutes the fabric of the religious sense, which is evident in every human being everywhere and in all times.
Ontologists on the forum are not shy about taking shabby arguments to task. I thought that 
readers of this Blog be interested in here some of the argument and exchange.
Polymath John Sowa responded briskly, and tongue in cheek, as it were:
I'm willing to grant that all arguments for the existence of God are unscientific. 
But I also believe that all arguments *against*  the existence
of God are equally unscientific.  It's actually harderto develop
a solid proof that something does *not* exist.   
That's why I recommended that any exploration of the "god meme"
should be based on a study of gods such as Zeus, which don't
seem to be tied up with much emotion, either pro or con.   

An equally deep and insightful Pat Hayes added to the put down with an appeal to the flying spaghetti monster. 

The basic scientific argument against the existence of God is that there is 
absolutely no observational evidence for the existence of a God,  nor any reason  to hypothesize such an entity in order to explain anything that is observable.  A very straightforward application of Occam's principle then suffices. Of  course this is not a *proof*, but it is a sound *scientific* argument. Proofs   are irrelevant here. There is no proof that the flying spaghetti monster does  not exist, but that does not shake the faith of the true Pastafarian.   

Matthew West picked up in the proof idea to add:

All one can say scientifically is that the existence of God is a hypothesis that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to prove or disprove scientifically, because there is no experiment that we can conduct (or at least I cannot think of any) that would prove or disprove the hypothesis. (Of course you can always set up God hypotheses that you can disprove, but they are not generally ones the "faithful" actually believe in).   

As to Pat’s There is no proof that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist, but that does not shake the faith of the  true Pastafarian.  
Matthew added:
And that is the essence. It is a matter of faith, not science. So any
scientific argument is irrelevant. Irritating though that may be to those
who believe only in science.    
Pat disagreed a bit here saying
No, this makes the situation seem symmetrical. But science is not symmetrical
in this way: one only has a burden to show something that is hypothesized in
order to explain something else. God does not explain anything that cannot be
explained better without using that hypothesis. Every attempt throughout
history to offer an argument for the existence of God (e.g. to explain the
cosmos, to explain life, to explain morality) has turned out to be wrong. Every
one, without exception. I would say that this was pretty convincing argument, myself.

As for experiments, how about the recent empirical tests of the efficacy of prayer? (In sum: it has zero effect.)

Oh brave freethinking people out there.





Don Wharton said...

Excellent post!

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Kathy Laskey added another piece to the discussion.

Pat (Hayes) hypothesizes a "supreme being who created the universe" which he finds unparsimonious as compared with, I suppose (although he doesn't say explicitly), a Big Bang that just happened without assistance from a supreme being. Pat's "supreme being who created the universe" is an "incredibly large and powerful creature." (It seems funny to me to call the supposed creator of all a "creature." Who created this "creature"?) Pat's extravagantly anti-Occam "creature" cares specifically about our tiny rock, having a "keen eye" to even find us here, and has "plenty of time on His hands" to wait around till we appear.

I agree that the hypothesis Pat sketches is (1) not terribly unlike the view of God put forward by some vocal Christians; (2) extravagantly unparsimonious; and (3) contrived to a degree far surpassing any epicycle hypothesis. Pat's hypothesis (if laid out fully) would be extraordinarily improbable a priori under a Bayesian model with, say, some kind of minimum-description-length prior. I agree that it stretches credulity as a serious scientific hypothesis.

With minor variations, these ideas are apparently sincerely believed by a clear majority of adult Americans and a large fraction of the population of Europe.

Apparently you think nearly all people who identify as believers conceive of God as a large and powerful creature who cares specifically about our tiny rock and has plenty of time on his hands to attend to us. I'll grant you that something akin to this view is sincerely believed by a vocal minority of believers. As to whether a majority of believers subscribe to that view, I'm skeptical. Religion is very diverse.

The rabbi I quoted in my earlier email would consider this hypothesis just as improbable as Pat does. Pat's hypothesis is not what the rabbi means by God. He discourages seekers to think along these lines, making it clear that the majority view among Jewish theologians does not regard Pat's hypothesis as credible. In fact, the majority view among Jewish rabbis is to discourage seekers from boxing God into definitions that are scientifically testable. That's not the role God plays in Jewish thought. Nor is it the role God plays for large numbers of people who call themselves believers.

simone amselli said...

What "god" or "God" are we talking about? What are its/her/his "attributes"? Before stating if something or someone is or exits, shouldn't we define it/her/him?

Don Wharton said...

Excellent point Simone. If we have clear definition we will be able in most cases to answer the question of existence.

The major problem in debating Christians is that they refuse to define an unambiguous conception of God. If we disprove a given conception of God then they just say God is a wonderful mystery and those nasty atheists just don't understand. There is this fatuous notion that we cannot prove a negative, such as the nonexistence of God. There are many negatives that we do prove. Nonsensical, internally inconsistent and scientifically impossible conceptions of God are just factually false.


The current problems at hand include certain behavioral disorders.

"Reject before Inspect" is big these days. How can one see a complete truth if no one is not interested in looking at it in the first place.

Another problem is the limited size of today's typical attention span.

This too contributes to the general "Reject before Inspect" behavior, and does so since it forces people to belief that they can see an entirety by just by looking at a portion of the entirety.

Thus if an absolute truth of enormous scale is presented to mankind, it is rejected in a flash, and this occurs due to people having judged it before even having examined its entirety, and this rejection will most likely be based upon a pervious rejection of something else that is remotely related.

For instance,.....Bible Codes have been basically been rejected.

If you recall, back in WWII there were many Code Languages that were used by spies to smuggle information back to their home country. If one code language is cracked, then it must be replaced with another, and just because this one code language was cracked it does not mean that all code languages were therefore cracked as well. Different code languages, are different code languages. They are each separate.

Thus if one so called Bible Code language is examined and in the long run is regarded as being mere rubbish, thus it is a False Bible Code language, that in no way can speak for other possible Bible Code Languages that have yet to be examined.

But today, most folk are 100% convinced that if you prove that False Bible Codes are "False Bible Codes", then a True bible Code would also therefore be a "False Bible Code", since one code language speaks for ALL other code languages.

Meanwhile, it appears as though a real God character managed to place both proof of his existence, and proof of Jesus Christ's existence within the Bible, and did so in such a clever yet simple unique encoded manner.

To see this encoded proof, go to

Then click on the flashing words "Watch / Listen", and let the web page take you on a web page tour of such proof, and do so via automatic web page scrolling and complete audio coverage.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Taking in the Big Picture is an ongoing task and preliminary hypotheses can be useful when treated as something that needs more thought and evidence on. So when I read, "it appears that" in an argument about Bible codes and absolute truths I do wonder if the presenter is going for "accept before inspect." That's a problem too.