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« "We're kicking him out to show how inclusive we are" | Main | "They were soul mates" »

Friday, January 11, 2013


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Brian Westley

I have; I still find gods to be extremely unlikely, and less likely than leprechauns existing.


Thanks, Brian. Leprechauns more likely than God? Would you care to explain your reasoning?

Brian Westley

Sorry for the late reply...

I consider leprechauns more likely than gods for the simple reason that the existence of leprechauns would involve fewer violations of physics compared to gods. I would find unicorns more likely than leprechauns for the same reason (after all, about all you need is some kind of 4-legged animal with one horn).


Hope you had a happy holiday season, Ken!
And Valentines day, of course, with your special folks..

And I see you are still trying to appeal to the unbelievers.

Always good to keep thinking, isn't it?

That is how a lot of conclusions come about..


I decided to peruse through some of the earlier posts I missed..

I think what Brian is suggesting is Ockham's razor, (and Brian correct me if I am wrong, please!) not particularly a favorite of mine..

It also resonates with Russells teapot. I also find the nod to Harvey quite amusing and truthfully, the razor, the teapot and the rabbit do not exactly encompass the magnitude and grandeur of what you and many others believe in your hearts to be god. Surely not.

But what the rabbit may have in common with the god ideal is how it permeates from the mind of Elwood in the film. In that sense one could argue that this entity is real, but only insofar as Elwood is real. It is doubtful that the rabbit would exist with Elwood passing away. Unless the ideal was passed on to another generation.

I think this is the underlying urgency with you feeling the need to explain, or have us understand your deity. Kudos for the effort.

I think you pretty much made my point with your Narnia analogy a while back, when you stated that sometimes fantasy was better than reality. That is of course, debatable, but honestly, you would at some point have to delineate fantasy from fiction, correct?

Otherwise you could very well argue for the Unicorns and the Leprechauns, two things I do love and wished that existed :)


Thanks Brian for the reply even if a bit late. Can you explain how a Being that transcends physics violates physics? That kind of gets to the point of this post. If you assume that there is nothing that is not empirical, you will never find God unless He decides to write your name in the clouds. But even then you could quickly dismiss the clouds as an aberration, a coincidence, a dream, or something else, anything but God. Yet the assumption that all is empirical is not a scientific assumption. Science does not and cannot deny the possibility of things beyond the realm of science. Right?


Zoe, great to hear from you again. Yes, the Harvey reference was certainly a result of our conversation earlier. I liked it then. I like it now! Hope your holidays and St. Valentine's Day were a blessing to you as well.

I have been trying to get you guys to see that there is evidence for God, or at least a transcendent reality. outside the empirical realm of science. Those values, like beauty and justice and love etc. must be more that mere mental states. We know them, even though we don't know them very well. And we don't know them empirically. If Harvey told Mr. Dowd to love his enemies, or if the quest for the teapot led vast numbers of people to sacrifice for the good of their neighbors, or if a leprechaun informed us that seeking a pot of gold is a fool's errand, then maybe one should take a second look at whether those things might be real and not mere imaginings. Right? There is probably something deeper beneath them.

Occam's Razor counsels us not to multiply causes beyond necessity. I am suggesting that the human values we know require something beyond the human. There must be something which explains them beyond the physical, empirical, scientific reality.


My holidays and V day were fairly busy, but good nonetheless.

I have to wholeheartedly disagree that you have produced any evidence whatsoever for god, or any gods.

What you have actually accomplished in this letter as in the other ones since we last spoke, was to bring up many fallacy laced arguments, mainly the 'conclusion that denies a premise.' i.e. No matter how many stages you take it back, everything must have had a beginning at some point, somewhere. And god started it all. Do you see the contradiction here?

Can you perhaps show me a link or give me a name of a Scientist who describes love and other very important human experiences as merely Science, that when applied to them, reduces them to mere mental states; or practically nothing...? Where are you getting this erroneous idea about Science and Scientists?

That was my overall point originally as well. It permeates from the mind itself. hence why a corpse cannot love a living person nor two corpses love one another. In this regard it is part of the person, so long as the person is making this occur, does that make sense? I hope so.

Yes, Mr Dowd is a gentle man, but imagine him as the total opposite? or people deciding that their teapot was giving them instructions to kill the infidels who oppose the teapot ideology, or that the Leprechaun was asking for a blood sacrifice in return for a pot of gold? regardless of the intention of the believer, or his personality (helpful or harmful), the fact would remain that his claims are dubious. It would still not prove that these beings exist at all outside of his own mind.

Not arguing that science can at times blind people but so too does theology..


No, Zoe, I don't see a contradiction. A problem, perhaps, but not even a very big problem. Certainly not a contradiction.

Some of my arguments do involve the unmoved mover... but that is no contradiction. Not all of my arguments do involve that concept.

We have human existence. We have values which we recognize although we do not measure up to them very well. So, what is the source of those values? If we are their source, why don't we measure up to them? There must be something or Someone to which we aspire. That is the argument I am making. I see no contradiction in that.

Here is "A Neuroscience Definition of Love
Love is a poorly understood neurochemical, and perhaps neural electrical phenomenon, probably primarily processed in the brain’s limbic system which was genetically evolved to make us value, join with and assist the survival and healthful well-being of those loved usually via interactional relationships." It comes from here:

Obviously, the good doctor recognizes that that is not ALL THERE IS TO LOVE, yet that is the neuroscience definition of love reduced to neurochemical and electrical phenomenon.

Sam Harris is no scientist, but he has a very scary view of science and moral values expressed here...

Following this rabbit will likely take us far afield. I am just defending my statement that science, as science, cannot enlighten us about our values like love. Harris says that at the beginning and then argues (frighteningly, in my opinion) against it.

You say, "It (Love?) permeates from the mind itself." Yes, but that only begs the question. What is the mind? What is it that makes us human? A corpse is not, even though it has the chemicals. What has left when a person dies? Is a person just atoms? Or is there something to the pattern of those atoms? Is the pattern altered at death? Why is that specific pattern more valuable than the corpse? For some the corpse is more valuable... it is easier to cut up and eat. Yet something important happens at death. What is it? Why is life better than death? The atoms are essentially the same whether the body is alive or dead. What is the difference? I am doubtful that science can answer that, but maybe it can. Still, whether it does or not, it is a question of utmost importance.

Yes, theology can blind people and science can blind people. I am not arguing for Harvey or a teapot or a leprechaun or even a specific God, only that there must be something more than what meets the eye in order to explain the experience of human existence. Can you see that?


I didnt think you would see it. Read more carefully..

No matter how many stages you take it back, everything must have had a beginning at some point, somewhere. And god started it all.

The problem is that god is the exception of everything needing a beginning. God then has a special pleading case that defies the logic of that statement and contradicts it.

We idealize a lot of things. We wish to be rational, perfect, brilliant, and to win over others. It is what made our ancestors top of the heap. This ideal may not be realisitc but we still yearn for it. I cannot say why that is, but I do not readily assume it is a god. I think I have made that quite clear many times over.

Regardless of how we feel about Mr Harris, he is, in fact a scientist, but the aforementioned scientist did not relinquish love to nothing. Again, he failed to give credit to your god. That is basically what you find troublesome and are unable to put into words, I think.

The mind is a vast universe in itself, I believe and we do agree , science has not touched on it, but neither has religion in my honest opinion. But yes, I do have faith that science will eventually.

I still do not see how the probability of something is proof of something. Otherwise since we have no proof of any other fantasy, they must be reality. You do feel there is a difference between reality and fantasy right?

I surely hope so..


And to reiterate more fully on your last statement..

I don't think in these particular letters you are arguing for your god or teapots or rabbits or unicorns..I think you know deep down that that would be pointless as I and many others ask for hard evidence of such claims, not circular arguments nor logical fallacies.

There is most certainly more than meets the eye, but in this case, both you and I cannot say with certainty what 'it' we both seem to be in the same camp it would seem. Only difference is, you DO seem to know what it is or you would not spend an inordinate amount of time trying to explain it by using logic, a logic most religious folks say is 'puny' or 'wimpy' nor spend your life preaching about what you seem to think 'it' is. That too is the difference between Mr Dowd and yourself. He is convinced of his rabbit and neither has the urge nor the necessity to explain his rabbit to anyone who does not believe in it. He does explain it and describe it, but otherwise he is content to hold the arm of his friend, go about his merry way and not convert people.

I honestly had wished that more atheists and agnostics as well as other adherents to religions who mirror a lot of these views, such as Jainism, Taoism, Buddhism or heck, even some Universal Unitarians, would have shown up to discuss these points with someone as intellectually curious such as yourself.

Or even adherents of the other two monotheistic religions that prevail in the world. To hear their viewpoints on this matter would of been interesting.

Of course, that could very well happen still, as these letters seem to spawn a life of their own..


Zoe, an exception is not a contradiction. If some things are higher than others, that is a strong suggestion that there is something which is the highest. If one is better than another, it would seem that there is a best somewhere. There is no contradiction in that. So, it is not really special pleading at all. When I mention the cause of the universe I was merely suggesting that there must have been something very big and powerful to make all this happen because causes are greater than their result in our experience. That is all. There is no contradiction in that. Similarly with the mind and intelligence, there must have been some kind of mind, reason, or intelligence behind the construction of our minds or there is really no reason to believe in them at all. If my brain is really just the result of random processes, why should anyone believe anything it produces? If your mind is rational, it must have had a rational source.

You say that there is more than meets the eye. Great! We agree. Do you know anything about what that might be? Can you tell me any thing about it? You don't have to be certain. In fact, it might be helpful to consider what it (the stuff which is more than meets the eye) isn't. What might you know about it?

Brian Westley

"Thanks Brian for the reply even if a bit late. Can you explain how a Being that transcends physics violates physics?"

No. Can you demonstrate a being that violates physics, or transcends physics?


Sure, Big Bang, DNA, human reason, human morality (unless you think it just an elaborate sham), the anthropic principle.... These (and more) do not PROVE such a Being you ask to see, but they all point in His direction.

I don't think there is any doubt that if we found a meteorite containing a molecule like DNA, we would consider that evidence of intelligence behind that molecule even if we couldn't read the code. What prejudice prevents people from acknowledging the obvious when we see how DNA operates with the cell; storing, transmitting, using information? It is the very thing we look for when we seek intelligence.

Brian Westley

"Sure, Big Bang, DNA, human reason, human morality (unless you think it just an elaborate sham), the anthropic principle.... These (and more) do not PROVE such a Being you ask to see, but they all point in His direction."

Sorry, that's your opinion, which I find worthless. You have no evidence.

"I don't think there is any doubt that if we found a meteorite containing a molecule like DNA, we would consider that evidence of intelligence behind that molecule even if we couldn't read the code."

I sure wouldn't; I would call that evidence of life (probably) elsewhere in the universe. I say probably because it's possible that a large meteor strike on the earth could send fragments with DNA from earth life outside the earth's atmosphere to re-enter much, much later, and so it wouldn't be definitive of life outside the earth unless the origin of the meteorite could be determined. There are a few meteorites that are chunks of Mars due to this.


If you say everything needs a creator or an 'origin' except god, then yes that is a logical fallacy. Any way you spin that, that is exactly what it is.

The mind is not entirely rational, and that is why we have biases and conflict in the world. As rational as we hope to be, we are essentially to the core aspiring to be rational and many times fall short.

As I mentioned previously, there is much that is unknown but I don't immediately jump to the conclusion that this something is god and it will not have me running to the nearest church hoping to find out what that something is.

For some that may be a viable option, but for me, I'd rather enjoy the here and now. That is what works for me. It is what has worked for many other atheists/agnostics as well.


Brian, how can you say that I have NO evidence? You can say I don't have conclusive evidence. I would agree with you. You say that my evidence isn't sufficient. That would be YOUR opinion and you are welcome to it. But you cannot honestly say that my list is NO evidence. Right?

I was unclear with my "molecule like DNA". I should have said something, anything, like DNA inside the meteorite. A scroll, a book, a gold-plated disk with a spiral groove on one side (peaks and valleys in the groove) and strange scratchings on the other side (which show how to decipher the peaks and valleys if only would could decode the scratchings!) Any device which transmits complex information will possess characteristics like DNA possesses. That people can study a device like DNA and not realize that it was probably devised... is amazing.


Zoe, I never said everything has a creator. That would imply a contradiction (if the Creator were a "thing"). What I have said is that in our experience things have causes greater than themselves. That implies a starting point... which must be pretty great (massive understatement!) There is no contradiction in that, is there?

I am not asking your to run off to church. It is interesting that you bring it up, though. I am asking you to think deeply about WHY we aspire to be rational, why we aspire to be moral. I think you are capable of figuring much of it out on your own. I am glad that you enjoy life. But as you said there is more, right? I am asking you to think about what that more might be.


The starting point could very well be in the cosmos, in the stars, in the vast ness that is a universe. It is something we have not figured out yet, but I simply do not assign a god or some alien beings to that. That is a cosmological argument that I find no validity in. Someday science may find empirical evidence for what that is but we do not know. You do not know what that origin is (or at least here you claim to not know) and neither do I.

This back and forth with Brian's a case of begging the question on your part. in other words, 'when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof' and unless we are as biased as you are and put our god glasses on, we will not see what it is you want us to see. Your wording is great, but its fallacious nonetheless.

I bring church up not to be flippant, but because of your occupation and my childhood. That is where you spend every Sunday worshiping the being you have chosen to fill these gaps of knowledge with, and that is where I was informed as a child (and up until I left for college) that all the answers to life were to be found. And I found nothing except the deep seated emotional need (for some folks)to believe in something that is not there.

I find that we aspire to be moral, rational, and to have desirable traits because after millions of years we figured out that it suits us best as social beings to do so. This is the answer you mentioned you found, 'wimpy' with not much of an afterthought. I found that comment of yours interesting as well since you are not 'arguing for a god'.

That 'more' to me is to try to be the best that I can be which in turn will make my life and the life of my loved ones on this floating rock a lot richer. As I mentioned before it is not about being right, or being more knowledgeable than anyone else or knowing all the answers some day. It is about the ride. The destination is unknown to me and I do not care to know it.


"Someday science may find empirical evidence for what that is but we do not know. You do not know what that origin is (or at least here you claim to not know) and neither do I."

I have been asking you to consider the possibility that there are other ways of knowing things besides the empirical. Can you grant that possibility?

"This back and forth with Brian's a case of begging the question on your part."

I don't see that at all. The confusion seems to be the difference between evidence and proof. I am not saying there is proof of God or even the something more, just that there is evidence which should be considered. When Brian says there is NO EVIDENCE, it seems to me that he is overstating his case at the very least.

I understand you guys have an aversion to putting on "the god glasses". You think that then you can see anything from unicorns to leprechauns to flying spaghetti monsters. It doesn't have to be so.

Do you remember those fascinating 3D pictures which appeared to be random noise? When you looked past the picture, a unicorn or dinosaur or block letters saying "Happy Birthday, Zoe!" appeared. You might think, well, if you look at it that way then you can see anything. Well, no. You will see what has been carefully placed there by the guy who made the picture. I know. It all looks like noise until you change your perspective. Then, what is THERE just jumps out at you. And, by the way, leprechauns, unicorns, and flying spaghetti are not there. You have agreed that there is something there. I am asking you to look around and see if you can figure out what it might be.

I didn't think you were being flippant with your reference to church. Yes, I am a pastor but I am not talking to you as a pastor. I am speaking much more as a philosopher. One of my heroes said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." So, I am asking you to examine your life. Where did it come from? Where is it going? Is there a meaning to life, the universe, and everything? Those are really important questions about which Science has no opinion. Think about it.

If I might expand on your floating metaphor... imagine us each floating in our boats. Part of our aspiration to be moral is, "Don't ram other folk's boats!" That is a very important part about which practically everyone agrees. But another part is, "Where are we anyway and where are we going?" Are we in a pond? A rapid stream with eddies and cataracts? An ocean with waves and storms? Is there a destination, a shore somewhere we can land or is the floating all we can expect?

You are saying that the floating and no ramming other folks boats is all we can really be sure about. Most of us humans are convinced that there is more. There is a destination. If you came to my church I would tell you what I think that destination is. But here I am only asking you to investigate the possibility that most of us humans are right that there IS something more important than just floating around. You seem to think that since we don't agree it can't be that important. Most of us, while we don't agree on specifics, are unanimous that the something more is much more important than the floating.

I am asking you to consider the possibility and investigate what that something more might be. You can figure it out, I'm sure.


Can I grant that there is more to the empirical? more than our five senses? as in what, intuition, our heart, so forth and so on? yes, I can totally accept that possibility. I can also accept that these findings are erroneous and misleading, distorted by our won feelings wants and baises.

I would say that the best psosbile thing to name here or pinpoint is that you have a hypothesis. You neither have evidence nor proof but you do have a hypothesis. I do understand the difference between evidence and proof.

I cannot speak for Brian, but for me personally, I would not call it so much an 'aversion' as I would, 'indifference.'
And I would surmise that 'god' glasses would have me seeing 'god' in everything and anything. The leprechaun and the unicorn could then become god as opposed to a fairy tale being. And insofar as the spaguetti monster, well some do claim him as a god, so they would need their spaguetti glasses for that task.

I do remember those glasses, also remeber taking them off and seeing the world as it was. That was just as amazing. The world as it is with all of its energies and yes, its mystery to find all in my time, in my own way.

Socrates is also my hero! as well as Plato and Epicurus, yes all of them helped me considerably in my childhood and beyond. Socrates also mentioned the hieght of wisdom was knowing that he knew nothing. Such wisdom there, one that most egos cannot accept in our modern age. I also know that you would ask me to think about your hypothesis, just as much as someone in a Temple would ask me, as well as a Mosque and on and on and on..I have had the wonderful opportunity to have seen these places first hand and speak to all these wonderful people and hear the hypothesis directly from their mouths of where I came from, where I am, and where I am headed. And I am truly grateful for them sharing that with me.

But as I mentioned previously, I had an entire childhood to comtemplate the hypothesis of my family and my church community and you are correct, I had discovered more questions as opposed to answers. I found that not having the answers was ok, and knowing I did not have it all figured out was ok too. I keep an open ear out for many things, but personally, the answers (and questions) found in church led me to look much further than anyone in my family had ventured to. Much more than their confort level allowed. But how else do you find the truth unless you go out of your comfort zone?

I would not have a problem admitting that you may be right, but only insofar that you could admit that the few people (who are at least courageous enough to reveal their true feelings) may also be correct. Sometimes it is the majority that is not as correct as they presume themselves to be. If we clear any biases and egos and really look at what we really truly believe as opposed to what we know or think that we know, (or want to be true) that could be a starting point.

I enjoy your metaphor, but it illustrates a point that one of my favorite transcendentalists has quoted as saying, 'life is a journey, not a destination.'

Sure there is a destination one way or another, a beautiful beach, a vast unkown paradise, dropping off the face of the Earth, a different dimension of time and space, or the equivalent of a hamster wheel. One way to find out is to actually get there, and enjoy the sights along the bank, watch the dolphins play in the water, and feel the sun on your skin. Because eventually you will reach your destination.


I am comfortable admitting that I could be wrong about Jesus and His resurrection. We will know when we no longer see "through a glass darkly" but "face to face".

Yes, eventually we all reach our destination. If that destination is nothingness for us all, well, then not much really matters, does it? But if there is more, then that matters more than anything else, right?


My dear Ken.

I wouldn't be happy if I were right and you were wrong is also my point.

I would disagree that the destination would be 'nothingness'. Our energy would not cease to exist and it would in fact, feed the energies of other beings that are still around. It would just make more room for other creatures to live comfortably in the world. What would be missing would be your consciousness, so therefore you would not even be able to contemplate on your situation being nothingness anyhow.

why be so afraid of the here and now? it's a moment in time that once gone you never get back. So enjoy it.


Enjoy the moment in time I do. It is the missing consciousness after death that is the issue. Consciousness is ME, not my atoms or my "energy". If I, my consciousness, or you, your consciousness, ceases to exist, then, what else matters, even here and now. I am the best I've got, really ALL I've got right now. Unless there is more, why should anyone care about anything else besides themselves and this brief moment in time that we are enjoying?


I am sure that you do enjoy it.

I disagree that the atoms and the energy are not you, they are part of you, as they form your brain that helps to a degree for you to experience your consciousness. That would not make them separate from what is you.

Unless there is more is the question for you. Unless you feel that your life would have a purpose beyond this one that would not make your life as meaningful. For me, life is not so much a meaning but an opportunity for meaningful experiences. This may not sit well with your viewpoint with your given hypothesis, but that is, in all honesty, where I stand with it.

We could well turn that question on its head as well. What if tomorrow, you made the realization that you are, in fact immortal. Would your life have had any meaning before that time, and would it have any meaning after this realization?

Maybe the best thing to say is that your only apparent atheist friend on this thread has given you an answer and it simply is not the one you prefer?


"... That would not make them separate from what is you."

Yes, I am afraid that it would make them separate. A part is not the whole. Logically, they are separate. My foot is not me though it is a part of me. I can lose my foot and still be me. It is possible to imagine my consciousness without my brain, perhaps with another brain or a computer or something else. My brain is not essential to my consciousness. Even if a brain of some kind is essential to consciousness, the one have now is part of me or what I am made of... it is not me, my consciousness. You can see that, can't you?

I am having trouble following your next couple of paragraphs. Life is not a meaning but an opportunity for meaningful experiences? I can't make sense of that. Can you help me?

What question are you turning on its head? I don't understand. A mortal life can certainly have meaning. An immortal life might not have meaning. I don't see what you're getting at. Can you help?

If my atheist friends consider that there is more than empirical data alone, then I am content. But if they agree with me that there is more, I would then ask them (as I have) what can they know about that non-empirical reality and how they come to know it. What might it be like?


Yes, but your foot is still part of you. I wasnt suggesting otherwise.

In a sea of severed feet your foot would still be a part of your body. I think the question here from me should be what do you think the 'you' is, and is it entirely separate from your physical being? Is that what you believe?

Life is not a meaning but an opportunity for meaningful is self explanatory. Life is composed of meaningfull events, times and add meaning to them.

Yes, a mortal life has meaning we agree on that. An Immortal life may not have the same meaning, if there were such a thing. Are you suggesting gods immortal life might not have meaning?

I think quite a few atheists do admit there is much to learn, not that they know everything. There could be more but I do not know what that is yet.

I don't think that is as arrogant as someone having a hypothesis and stating that it is evidence or proof when they have neither.


I wanted to have you touch on this statement you made also...

It is possible to imagine my consciousness without my brain, perhaps with another brain or a computer or something else. My brain is not essential to my consciousness. Even if a brain of some kind is essential to consciousness, the one have now is part of me or what I am made of... it is not me, my consciousness. You can see that, can't you?

So you are suggesting that you are conscious without the brain waves produced by your brain? that you can think and be aware without your brain?

How do you do that..?


Zoe, we seem to be talking past each other. We need to stick with it so we can connect. I never said that you said my foot is not a part of me. What I said was that my foot is not ME but only a part of me.

Then you ask a good question... what do I think I am? I am my mind, which has a brain... and a body. That begs the question, what is the mind?

Nobody really knows, do they? My idea is that the mind is something like software and the brain is the hardware. If so, then it is likely that the mind (software) while needing a brain (hardware) to be active, is not dependent on any specific brain (hardware) to be ... itself. To put it another way, we are minds (souls) that have a body (brain) not the other way around.

I don't think I have ever thought or been aware without my brain. There are some (like Dr. Eben Alexander) who say they have able to think and be aware without their brain. Personally, I am skeptical but it is a fascinating possibility. I was just suggesting the thought experiment of transferring one's consciousness into another piece of hardware, either another brain or some future computer. The fact that it is conceivable (though presently impossible) to move one's self like that into another medium, suggests the possibility that a brain is not essential to one's being.

Does that help explain what I was saying in my last comment?

But the whole comment was a response to your suggestion that a person continues to exist even as the matter which constitutes their bodies is recycled by decomposers because that matter continues to exist. It is not the matter that is me. In fact the matter which carries me changes over time as cells die and are replaced. I am the pattern of that matter... not the matter itself. The paper and ink that constitutes a book is NOT the book! The book proper is the words or ideas which are lost if the book is burned or dropped in a washing machine. Even if the paper survives and ink could be found in the sewer, the pattern which is the book is gone. The fact that you can read Moby Dick on a Kindle shows that the book is not paper and ink but the words and ideas. Similarly, the mind, the self, is not a brain even though a brain is the only thing we know of that can carry a human being. The brain carries the human. It is NOT the human. It is the loss of the human (mind, self) that one grieves at death not the loss of the body which we can preserve for quite a while if we thought it worth the effort.


Are we talking past each other? I didn't mean for it to sound that way.

But you may have taken what I said out of context. This was the entire thing.

"I disagree that the atoms and the energy are not you, they are PART of you, as they form your brain that helps TO A DEGREE for you to experience your consciousness. That would not make them separate from what is you."

I don't think again that these atoms are the total sum of what is 'you'. Yes, you still have your ideas, viewpoints, experiences and genetical predispositions that shape who you are and make you different than say, me. It is a combination of many things.

'To put it another way, we are minds (souls) that have a body (brain) not the other way around.'

That sounds reminicent of C S Lewis, "you don't have a soul. You are a soul, you have a body." It made me smile. Thank you for that. It did explain your viewpoints actually.

I too, am skeptical of Dr Alexanders descriptive events as he is a neurosurgeon not a neuroscientist. Key difference.

The brain is not entirely the human, no. But I do believe the thoughts and the way we percieve the world (passive perception) as much as we are able to originate from it. That is as much as science has allowed us to see.

I also believe the energy that we are composed of is endless. It does not start nor end entirely with us. But without a brain, I am convinced personally that we would not have the baility to think about any of that.

Anything else would be purely hypothetical and to a lesser point conjecture, right?


And to regress on your point of unless there is more..

as you stated, why should anyone care about anything else besides themselves and this brief moment in time that we are enjoying,
does the finality of anything make it less?

Do you not give your wife roses because they don't last long? (or do you believe roses have souls too)

Do your interactions with others and how you make them feel not matter, even if you never know it?

Would you plant a tree for others to enjoy even if you will never experience its shade?


"I also believe the energy that we are composed of is endless. It does not start nor end entirely with us."

Now that is hypothetical and conjecture, is it not?

My point is, even if matter and energy were eternal, it is the pattern of matter and energy, not the matter and energy that makes me me and you you. We are conscious, moral agents. Matter and energy are not (as far as we can tell.) If matter and energy are all there is, then my death and your death mean we cease to be. The fact that my atoms are recycled does nothing for me. If you think of me (fondly, I hope) after my death, that then does nothing for me, for I am no more.

Now, to your questions about finality.

"does the finality of anything make it less?"

A root canal would be an exception, but for most good things, yes. Good things are diminished when they cease to be. You will say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. That applies to things taken for granted or unappreciated until their absence. So, we feel a longing for their return and an acknowledgement of loss.

"Do your interactions with others and how you make them feel not matter, even if you never know it?"

Of course how I make others feel matters to me. But if I don't know it... how can it matter to me?

"Would you plant a tree for others to enjoy even if you will never experience its shade?"

Sure I would. But my question for you has been, why should I unless it benefits me. Why should I care what happens to others except in how it will enhance the seventy years or so that I can expect from this life? Or put another way, what does your philosophy say to someone who has the motto, 'Live fast. Die young. Leave a beautiful corpse!'?


Zoe, I would really be interested in your critique of this review. From this article, this guy's book seems to be making much the same point I am trying to make in this post. Here's the link


The recycliyng of matter may not do anything for you in death, no, but you will more than likely be survived by your loved ones when it is added to their world. Also, your memory will still be cherised and any other way that you may have impacted your loved ones while you were alive. For me, simply knowing that would and is, perfectly ok.

I also do not think that we ever read a book that we begin to love with a nagging thought that it will invariably end. Nor a film nor any other experience, so to me life is no different in that regard. That we feel a longing for the return of lost things and an acknowledgent of loss, sure that is a common trait that we have as humans. I don't disagree there.

If you impart advice, valuable advice or comfort to someone on here, (whom you may never meet in person) they could be forever altered and changed in a positive way and you also may not know it ever. I doubt that you would not think that was important or even worth the effort. Otherwise you would just be silent if afforded the possibility.

Well, planting that proverbial tree would impart benefits on others. It could very well be your loved ones or total strangers, to me, that would be of the utmost value. I tend to consider myself a very empathetic person, so the thought that it may help someone does quite a lot for me in this life.

What would I say to someone who says, 'Live fast, die young, Leave a beautiful corpse?'

To not be so shortsighted. To live a full life and get as much of the experience as they can. To try to read as many books as they are able to, to travel to as many places in the world as they can, and to talk to as many different people as they could ever possibly meet. And to know that despite all that they may not experience it all in the end. But why not try it? Chances are, they won't have that opportunity in living a 'fast' life.

Also, lastly I would comment that beauty is subjective ;)

I read the article about Mr Nagel a while back and found the criticisms from the atheist crowd to be rather sad, honestly.

Mr Nagel seemed to have struck a nerve with the neo atheist crowd when addressing their own dogmatism, some of which I refer to in earlier comments. He did offer some good logical viewpoint, and offers a view that is akin to neutral monism (Which I do also find close to my own ideals) and despite coming from a non scientific position, he makes brave assertions. But these assertions are similar to ones I have made myself and have been derided on in that the best that we may have at any moment scientifically is not 'The' final best.

There is room for more findings, but for alleged rational beings they do not acknowledge that, and it is dishonest and to me boring and limiting. They acknowledge that science can come up with the best answers at times but it does not make us better people at times.

I just do not take that dogamtic route in these matters. In regards to scientific claims or religious ones. I don't have any shame in admitting that at all. That is why I also do not discount the emotional aspect of belief and how important it is for any of us when we make decisions about beliefs, or lack of.

To me knowledge and belief, or legitimate belief for that matter are very separate things.


Once again we find ourselves much in agreement. Professor Nagel's perspective is one much needed today.

And here is a similar point from C.S. Lewis:

"If we are to continue to make moral judgments (and whatever we say we shall in fact continue) then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of Nature. It can be valid only if it is an offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom, a moral wisdom which exists absolutely ‘on its own’ and is not a product of non-moral, non-rational Nature."

Now, you are right that beauty is subjective. But so is a "full" life. Aren't you being rather judgmental calling the live fast folks, shortsighted? I mean, how long a view should one take if one's life will only be 70 years or so?

You will say that my seventy years will be better if I take a longer view. Maybe, but that view is certainly counter-intuitive and depends on that pesky, subjective "better". So, what is one to do without a universal moral compass, or as Lewis puts it, some absolute moral wisdom?

You say, 'the thought that it may help someone does quite a lot for me in this life' and I say that's great! But isn't it rather selfish of you to do good to others because it makes you feel good yourself?

It seems to me that you are saying that the transient nature of individual human life is just something we have to accept. Is that right? But what if it's not? I once heard a Christian say, "Our hope is that when we die, Jesus is there. Your best hope is that when you die, He isn't."

You end the comment with a statement of the difference between knowledge and belief. Could we explore that a bit? Surely they are related. Knowledge must be believed to be knowledge, right? Could it be that belief actually precedes knowledge as a foundation?


We do seem to agree on some points. I don't find that at all surprising. I think the more people you talk to openly and honestly, the more you will see some agreement.

Mr Nagel could of been making the point that Evolution, as the best model to date that we have, still has gaps and ones that Darwin himself admitted to. To treat scientific findings like dogmatic theological thinking is (to me) somewhat comical from those who say they do not find theological dogma to be 'reasonable' nor 'intellectual' My question to these folks is always why does it make it any different with any of the sciences?

Is the a moral compass outside of folks themselves? sure, like most concepts that is a good probable view to take. I personally, do not immediately assign that to be a 'god' as easily as you or Mr Lewis do.

Am I being judgmental on the live fast opinion? I don't think so. 70 years is not by definition fast, nor is it dying young..I think by that time, most folks would realize, (if they are honest) that there is much to learn and much to explore still. A life time is also subjective in that in can last seven seconds or seventy years. And I also do not think I am free from being judgmental, nor to my knowledge, claim to be anywhere in my comments. That is something most people do on a regular basis and I may not be totally free of it myself from time to time.

Do I think it is a bit selfish to do good because it appeals to my sense of empathy? absolutely. I never said I believed in true altruism, and if I did I would love for you to go back and point that out to me. Regardless of the reason, I hardly see a case of anyone doing anything good for 'no reason at all.' But regardless of the reason, someone, somewhere will be helped. And I think that is effective.

I don't think I am telling you nor any other Christian what you need to believe or why you should believe as I do. I am not a preacher nor a representative of atheism as a whole. I am saying I do not 'hope' for anything after death, Only that I expect there will be no consciousness or knowledge of my being gone. And I believe that is exactly what will occur. I could be wrong of course, but as it stands this very minute, I do not think that I am.

In that regard, it would be for me as it was before I was born. It is not about me 'hoping' that Jesus is not there after I die anymore than it is for you to 'hope' that its Jesus waiting for you there as opposed to Allah, Odin, or Quetzalcoatl or the number of gods that people have invented through the ages.

Are Knowledge and Belief related? I do think so. They are not entirely the same, but I will go back to that Humean ideal that I actually agree with in that people shape their knowledge around their beliefs. These come from emotional reasons first, then the rest is an edifying of that with intellectual and logical reasons. Not the other way around. Think of it as an elephant and its rider. One guides the other, and are not the same, although they share much and guide each other.


Oh, Zoe, I fear I have offended you. Forgive me, please. Understand that my quips about being judgmental or selfish were meant as light-hearted jests. I think I had an image in my head of those atheists who complain that Christians who do good in order to gain heaven are really being selfish. It is, as you say, that there is no such thing as pure altruism. Even Jesus, we are told, bore the cross "for the joy set before him." I was trying to be cute. I failed. I'm sorry.

I like the elephant and rider image. Which is the elephant and which the rider? Belief as the elephant and the knowledge (rider) gives direction? Or is it the elephant as knowledge of what actually is in the world and belief latches on to that?

You say that the moral compass exists outside us. What do you think it is? Is it scientific? That is, could it be known by science though we haven't gotten there yet? Or is it something outside beyond the reaches of science since science is limited to empirical data?

It seems clear to me that morality (compass) is beyond science. The fact that you cannot derive the "ought" from the "is" makes it clear that they (science and morality) have different ontological foundations. What do you think the moral compass is?

Coming back to belief and knowledge... Do you know that I exist or do you believe that I exist or both? I mean, it is conceivable that I am a character that Rick has invented to express certain ideas on his blog. When we get into arguments, he is merely arguing with himself, you see. All you really know are little dots on a screen that form images, letters and words. So, do I exist? Do you know? Do you believe? What do you think and why?


I promise I was not offended, I did not realize that was a quip, but yes, we agree on altruism, or 'true altruism being a fallacy and I have no problem admitting that :)

In regards to the elephant and the rider scenario, I feel that the elephant is actually emotion and the rider is the intellect. I feel that it is a good metaphor used to represent the human mind: an elephant and a rider. The rider would be your reason, ego, human mind and the elephant would be your passion, id, animal side.

The elephant runs the show more than you realize. Your human mind has about as much control over your passions as you would have control over an elephant. But with proper training and thought I feel that it can be done after a while. That is my thinking anyways.

Yes, as a concept it does. Think of all the concepts in the world that we cannot seem to shake, regardless of how silly some of them seem. They seem to have a life of their own at times. It is scientific in the way that the natural world is scientific but its origins are not known yet, no. We very well may be in the process of learning what it is but I do not think anyone 'knows' yet. I'd say give it some time.

Your last sentence is interesting and I had thought of it before. How does either one of us know the other is real? I suppose you could say we do not know unless we met for coffee. But I believe I would know, in the sense that it is very possible for us to meet in person and because due to experiential knowledge from the past that I am able to meet people this way, it is reasonable for me to be confident that you do, in fact exist apart from Mr Rick.

However, it could be trickier if for instance, instead of meeting you in person, there were to be a pamphlet in your seat, describing yourself to me in the clearest way possible. Then I could say I still do not know if you are real. Then if we decided to meet again and after several attempts and sevral other clues to your existence that are not directly linked to you as a person, i would have to conclude that Mr Rick is pulling my leg and you in fact do not exist.

This same scenario could be played by myself as well, and you could either hope to meet the real me someday or keep on getting 'clues' to my existence. You might die waiting, I suppose that is what is for some a part of their ability to have faith.


I am so glad you were not offended. Thank you for your graciousness.

Let me see if I've got this elephant captured properly. Belief is the emotional elephant. Knowledge is the rational rider. Of all the things we might believe in, from ghosts to green beans to global warming to going to the moon, reason whittles them down to the ones that are real. Is that it?

Now, when you say, "Yes, as a concept it does." you are referring to the moral compass, right? It exists as a concept, but it might not be real? It is like the natural world... but unknown as yet? Is that it? You think science will eventually figure it out. Is that what you are saying?

If so, I think you place far too much faith in science or the scientific method. There is/was a wonderful lecture by Dr. Philip Morrison called "from Termites to Telescopes" in which he calls us humans "model makers". Model making has accelerated our evolution as a species. Yet he ends with a kind of warning about the limits of making models. "So willing are we to attenuate the model!" Every model is just that, a model. It does not represent the THING fully. Science makes wonderful models, but it can never, ever capture the THING completely. When applied to human beings, it MUST leave out the important things.... like free-will, morality, justice, even beauty and love. Science simply does not and cannot have the tools to analyse and capture those transcendent REALITIES. Trying to use science in those areas will inevitably bring about a "Brave New World" or perhaps something more like "1984" or the Soviet Union or Mao's Cultural Revolution. It is folly to think it could be otherwise. The moral compass is, and must be, beyond science, beyond nature especially human nature, beyond this physical reality.

Zoe, you have heard of solipsism haven't you? It is perfectly rational. Even if we met for coffee, all you would then know are the mental images in your brain, perhaps the sounds of my slurping the coffee through my gray beard and mustache. All you know are your perceptions. I still might not exist, even then. You see, to know me you have to believe that your perceptions are consistent with some outside reality. But you don't HAVE TO believe that, do you?


Not that I would say I am totally gracious all of the time, but you are welcome.

Yes. The knowledge part is what we can rationalize and whittle down to what occupies space and time. Not things outside of it. Belief would fill the gaps then of what may not be seen or heard and I feel that this does work for most people, but not me.

Do I have more 'faith' in the scientific? I prefer to call if confidence from experiential knowledge and only insofar as when it (science) can admit there is more to know that we have not learned yet. I have failed to see any common religious ideology that embraces that kind of thinking. There may be for some people, but in my own experience, that has not been the case.

What I meant to say was also that in terms of moral epistemology vs moral ontology that is not a subject I am very knowledgeable about to even begin to debate on. But seeing how it is open to debate leads me to believe that is is not as dichotomous as you would have it to be. A concept can be real insofar as people give it reality. Think money, democracy, terrorism, etc, etc..

When you say, 'Science simply does not and cannot have the tools to analyse and capture those transcendent REALITIES' I say that it is a possibility that we WILL. That is all I am proposing because that is the most logical way for me to see it ;)

Yes, I am aware of solipsism, and am aware of my own limited perceptions, rationale and intelligence. I would have to believe that you are real only insofar as I would need you to be real. And I would be able to acknowledge your existence rationally with all of my senses to say I 'know' you are sitting in front of me slurping your coffee.

This kinda reminds me of Descartes saying we are real because we acknowledge that we are.

But my particular question here is, would it be my fault to be skeptical of your existence in the last part of my scenario?

And that would bring up yet another question. Why would you have a need to hide from me if it was of the utmost importance that I meet you and ascertain that you are in fact, a real entity outside of Mr Rick's imagination? why a ruse?


Only God is totally gracious all the time. I am always grateful whenever I recognize grace around me. It is a mark of God. "Te err is human. To forgive, divine."

I don't think I will be able to convince you of the futility of science finding values. You know the old saying, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."? Well, if all you have is science, everything looks empirical. But some things are not. So, like the old song, science is "looking for love in all the wrong places"!

If I understand the last part of your scenario, all you have is a pamphlet and you've been stood up on several occasions. So, since other clues are inconclusive, it is reasonable to say the object of the pamphlet doesn't exist. Is that it?

I would say that the pamphlet is at least as compelling as words and images on a computer screen. I would say that the other clues are highly significant and evocative even if not conclusive. I would ask for more information about how the planned meetings fell through. Was there some mis-communication or unwarranted expectations between the parties?

But the real issue you are asking about it the "need to hide", isn't it? Let me take a stab at it.

The "pamphlet" is pretty clear that no one presently can stand in God's presence. Why? It would destroy you. I suspect it would turn you into a babbling sycophant that would say or do anything just to remain in or return to that Presence. And that would be the same thing as destroying you.

Here is how Screwtape explains it to his nephew, Wormwood:

"You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo."

and then one of my favorite passages of all...

"He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Hope that helps. You see, there is no ruse.

Oh, I found those passages from The Screwtape Letters, here:


'Only God is totally gracious all the time. I am always grateful whenever I recognize grace around me. It is a mark of God. "Te err is human. To forgive, divine."

Or so the hypothesis goes. I don't think I could convince you otherwise either. I honestly never thought it was worth the effort anyways.

I think that my having faith in human potential is more feasible when there is introspection by each person. That may seem msiguided to you, but that is also understandable given your particular views.

Yes. From my pamphlet analogy, it would be reasonable for me to be skeptical of your existance when you never show up. I don't think I would be expected to not be. Esp if I am to have a 'relationship' with someone other than myself.

Your last analogy still does not help me as it never goes beyond pretty prose and analogy for believing that a ficticious world is better than the real world.

Anything fictitious can be presented that way with no validity. And if I cannot be faulted for not accepting that from my own limited logic, or have some psychological block or what have you which since we are palying the devils advocate game here of probabilities, then it would not be of any fault of mine if I remain skeptical of your god concept or any other god concept for that matter.

I think The Screwtape book exploits the fact that god is unprovable to get people to accept concepts that only faith or what have you can get them to accept otherwise. I remain skeptical :)

I was hoping you would touch on that 1984 analogy a bit more. So what would a theocratic society be like in your view? would it be better? how would those of us that have 'free will' to reject the religion established by the gov be treated in such a society? Or those with conflicting religious ideals?


And to further reiterate on this..

'The "pamphlet" is pretty clear that no one presently can stand in God's presence. Why? It would destroy you. I suspect it would turn you into a babbling sycophant that would say or do anything just to remain in or return to that Presence. And that would be the same thing as destroying you.'

So basically a being that is powerful enough to create the entire Universe has no power to find a way that would conclusively let someone know that they are in fact god and not leave it open to any kind of debate ? that sounds inept to me...

You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo."

So by these last statements, it is being understood that he is not capable of doing this? so then he would not be as powerful as claimed. Or a need to 'scheme'...

These sound more like human traits than the traits of a god like being, I think. Which makes sense to me considering they are in my opinion, fabrications by humans..


"I think that my having faith in human potential is more feasible when there is introspection by each person."

Are you saying that I am not introspective enough? That if I looked deeper into my heart I would see the reasons for "human potential"? Really? Views of human potential are far greater among religious folk than among atheists, right? I mean you guys think it is all wishful thinking, right? But we also see human CORRUPTION. How do you deal with that when it shows up during introspection?

Zoe, what would go beyond "pretty prose" to show you that the world you call fictitious is real? How many decibels are required of the "still small voice"? If you found "Zoe" in ASCII characters among the "random" digits of PI, would that do it? How much love and grace, humility and forgiveness is necessary in a dog-eat-dog world to show that a sick and dying world needs love and grace, humility and forgiveness, in order to survive? If WE are the ones we are waiting for, (how arrogantly human of us to think that!) then we are doomed.

"So what would a theocratic society be like in your view?"

The Kingdom of God is where the lion and the lamb dwell together. Where swords are beaten into plowshares and they study war no more. Where the law is written on people's hearts. Where the captives are set free and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Where Love reigns supreme. I could go on, but you get the idea.

"then he would not be as powerful as claimed. Or a need to 'scheme'..."

This objection is that a God bound by His own qualities is not really God. God is not God unless He can make a rock so big that He can't lift it! If God makes the universe in 15 billion years then He isn't so great. He should have done it instantaneously! If God eliminates evil by hanging it on a cross (along with Himself) that is just nonsense. He should just snap his fingers and be done with it! A God with a plan or a process or a "scheme" is not really God, now is he. Do you see how presumptuous that attitude is?

No, Zoe, the Big Bang is not a fabrication by human beings. Neither is the crucifixion of God and His resurrection. Who of us would have thought of THAT!?! A God of Love who honors His creatures with free-will and does not violate that precious gift (freedom) even when the creatures drag it through the mud and try to destroy it along with themselves... that is no fabrication. It is an explanation of the sorry state in which we find ourselves.


I wasnt suggesting you were not introspective. I was sugegsting that most people are not, regardless of what they believe in. We would both row away from the rocks minus the praying part for me.

How would I deal with corruption? well the same way the religious would - minus the appeal to invisible beings.

I don't think that hoping for enlightment is arrogant. It is only arrogant to you if you feel that is does not appeal again to some fantastical entity. I just do not discount all of humanity as quickly as you seem to.

You could go on with that Kingdom of god idea, yes, and it would sound as idealistic as Communism, fascism, Nationalism, Socialism, etc, etc..I think we both agree that when it is entirely up to humans without any checks and balances there are issues.

The last part of your statement begs me to ask..what is your definition of free will?


I dont think it is presumptious to wonder if the god you believe in is in fact able to show himself or willing to. Is that not what makes a being infallible? Is it presumptious to question that in earnest?

And what exactly would you define as free will? I am interested to know more about your views on that.

Hope I didn't strike a nerve, honestly.


'Views of human potential are far greater among religious folk than among atheists, right?'

Uhm, I don't see how you think that from what I am reading. And I would have to say no, not according to what you are saying, humans are nothing without 'god'.

I am trying to multitask..sorry if my comments are broken up in this way..


Sorry I've taken so long to get back to you here, Zoe. I don't multitask very well!

Free will: the ability to choose between two or more possible courses of action. That which makes human beings moral agents, i.e. responsible for their actions, choices, decisions.

Earnest questions are great but even earnest questions can be presumptuous. Do you require that God show up on your terms, or His? Of course, God can appear however He chooses. But it seems He usually chooses (for very good reasons which C.S. Lewis describes in the guise of the demon, Screwtape) to "woo" rather than to "ravish". You do understand the difference there, right? You see how important that difference is?

Humans are nothing without God? Well, yes, but everything is nothing without God!

You seem to be saying that if there is something greater than humans then humans aren't so great. I am saying that the religious vision of human destiny is far greater than the atheist vision. The religious vision, while it varies quite a bit, is basically that humans are created to be a little bit less than God, eternally. The atheist vision of the future of humanity is... spreading our pathologies (greed, dishonesty, pride, anger, hate, lust, etc.) across the galaxy, eventually the universe perhaps, as we hop from star to star until entropy catches us at the inevitable heat death of all that is. You still think that is greater than forever being a bit less than God?


I am admittedly terrible at multitasking.

I have my own ideas about free will..considering that there is the sunconscious and genetical predispositions, there isnt always as much free will as people believe. But that is of course, my humble opinion.

I suppose my wanting this 'god' concept to prove itself is presumptious in your view. I never really saw it that way but it is possible that I am in fact presumptious. I am how I am. It was never out of a malicious intent, but it simply is the way I feel. If that is my nature, then there isn't much I can say or do that would sound justifiable to you or any other theist then.

I think humans have great potential, not that they ar perfect. Sometimes the flaws are endearing, and I brought up those regimes (and I was including Theocracy) here on earth as flawed because in my opinion, they put the concept above the human population. Usually these regimes have philosophies that seem very begin initially to the humans it is suppose to service, i.e. communism, everyone working together with no classes) Nazism (pride and love for your own bloodline and fair race) and socialism (redrestributing of wealth)
but it usually ends up being about concepts and products, not people. One good example is the amazon and how its inhabitants human and animla alike are being uprooted for products.

I don't see the atheist vision that way at all, unless you feel that those folks who are theists are free of any of those 'pathologies' and I would be hard pressed to believe that.

Theists are exactly as human as we atheist are, except in their belief that there is an perfect, all powerful, all good, all knowing being that takes care of them, at his own time and will. If it helps you through the day then I am happy for you.


Also, I am a very optimistic person. And a realist as well.

But the fact that I am able to openly express a lack of belief in god or gods in this day and age without the fear of being tortured or killed (or both) in this
country and in many others is a good sign for me that people can change for the better - despite their beliefs and in spite of them :)


Again, we agree! There is probably less free will than we think. But if there is any at all... and there simply must be some if we are human... then the real questions arise. What is it? Where does it come from? Is it scientific? How could it possibly be scientific? If not scientific, then what?

My description isn't the atheist vision? OK, surely it is the vision of some atheists. What is your optimistic vision then? How is it greater than the religious (I won't say Christian) vision of human potential?

Yes, theists are just as infected with the "pathologies" as anyone. But we Christians think there is a cure. We think we have the cure, though it often takes quite a while and usually lot of effort before the cure has much effect on the symptoms.

As a realist, you know the pathologies are real. So, what is the source for your optimism? Is it just wishful thinking?

Oh, it is the freedom we enjoy in Western Civilizations. Is that it? You do realize how indebted the West is to Theism (specifically Christianity) for that freedom, right? You will say, "Christians have killed infidels." Yes, they have. They have also killed other faithful Christians. Because we are all infected with the pathologies.

But how do you think we humans change? Isn't it by exposure to those who are better than we are? As we watch them and learn from them, we begin to be like them, to think like them, to act like them. Do you see how the belief in a good, perfect Being propels people to be, think, act better than they are? You will say, "Well, if it helps you, that's fine." No, it helps EVERYONE! If you don't believe in something better than human beings, how will anyone become any better than human beings? So, again, what is the source of your optimism? Could it be, dare I say it, Christianity?

But it doesn't really matter whether it helps or not. The real question is whether it is TRUE. Is there a good, perfect Being, or not? I think there is quite a bit of evidence... free will is one piece of it. Goodness, joy, peace, love, beauty, Justice are a few other pieces of evidence. God has not left Himself without witnesses to His glory and power and goodness. You just have to look and listen. Just look and listen.


Is that notion that we don't entirely have free will scientific? it is in the sense that science can and does explore it. Aside from what we can learn that is still in the realm of not entirely known yet.

My vision is what I mentioned previously:

People changing their attittudes towards other people and putting more value in them as opposed to ideals, concepts, and egos.

I mentioned the Amazon previously because aside from that being something dear to me in school, I noticed how people from the Middle Ages onwards have felt that humans are somehow above the rest of nature. It makes little difference that almost two hundred species are extinct a day to accomodate humans and that people who have coexisted peacefully with nature are systematically displaced and powerless to stop the world from being destroyed. In this regard, I think science should step in or we will be extinct as well.

Yes, Christians and infidels alike will kill each other for an ideal and just as many will extend a helping hand to help one another, despite their own beliefs or misgivings. I have had just as many Christians be kind and loving towards me as I have had Christians be ugly to me. I separate their beliefs from who they innately are.

Yes, people can change when they prioritize others. In this nation of ours, I would not exactly credit Christianity as much as the deistic students of the Enlightment for that. The were the ones that had the prudence to see that an established religion was not the best thing, neither for the State, nor for Religion itself. Otherwise why have that separation?

It does help everyone if you decide that coexisting with those who do not agree with you personally is better than trying to destroy them, totally agree. I for that reason, do not suggest it is harmful for you to believ in what you do any more than Santa Claus is or the Easter Bunny. But yes, for me it is about wether they exist as their own entities and I do not believe that they do. Regardless of what you want to assign out there as evidence.

Just as long as your imaginary entity does not call for me to be killed, we will not have a problem. :)


I am less interested in the notion of freewill than in freewill itself. I am less interested in the amount of freewill we have than the fact that we have it at all. So, what is it? Where does it come from? Is freewill scientifically verifiable?

Zoe, do you see any limits to scientific investigation? I don't mean things that we don't know but might figure out in the future through science, but things which by their nature and the nature of science can never be known by that method. Do you see any boundaries across which science cannot cross?

I see freewill as one of those things. Here is why. Science require results to be reproducible before they are valid. Experiment A performed by scientist A in laboratory A must yield the same result as Experiment A performed by scientist B in laboratory B. But if scientist B requires the same result as scientist A, then where is the freewill, where is the choice? You see, science, by its very nature is deterministic and drives freewill away. That is why some scientists think freewill is an illusion. It is not scientific and therefore they think it must not exist. I can't imagine a person really believing THEIR freewill isn't real. OTHERS freewill, sure. But the individual's freewill must be or there is no sense in making decisions... not much sense in living. Certainly a human without freewill is not really human. I can't imagine a healthy human thinking themselves not human.

So, if freewill is not scientific but real, what else might there be that is not scientific but real? Beauty, Reason, Justice, Love are some really good possibilities.

Your interest in the Amazon is fascinating. Have you ever seen or heard of the movie The End of the Spear? It is based on the true story of five missionaries who made contact with the savage Waodani tribe in Ecuador which was about to be wiped out. I highly recommend it.

How is your vision of human potential different and better than that of religious folks? Personally, it seems your vision is a part of the general religious vision of humanity. How is it greater?

I am glad that you, unlike some militant atheists, don't think my beliefs are harmful. However, I am suggesting that your belief, or lack thereof, is, if not harmful to you, at least limiting to the mass of humanity developing the values you espouse. Humans absorb the values of those they are exposed to and focus on. They come from friends, family, books, ideas, etc. The more the values are contemplated and attempted, the more they shape the individual and society. So, exposure to and contemplation of the idea of God, perfectly good and loving, tends to move people, individuals and societies, in the direction of Good and Loving. The notion that human beings are the best we can expect, besides being depressing, gives no compelling motivation for most people to improve as an individual or society.

Unfortunately, Zoe, the "imaginary entity" does call for you to be killed, for me to be killed, for every human being on the planet (past and present and probably future) to be killed. Nobody gets out of here alive!! And so we do have a problem, don't we? Is there a solution?


Free will as a scientific finding is limited in how much we are able to find at the moment. All I am saying is that we have not found that yet. That is as reasonable and logical a way to put it.

I only see limit in scientific findings insofar as how they limit the imagination of the scientists themselves. Thinking that there is no other possibility is a limit unless it is completely exhausted and I do not see that happening any time soon with any of the big findings we have. In this regard it is perfectly reasonable for me anyways, to have a scientist who says, 'I don't know' and stand next to one who says 'I don't know either, but maybe god did it'.

Have I seen The End Of The Spear? yes I have. And have visited that region shown in the film on a number of occasions. My point was that for a very long time people lived in these parts of the world as part of nature not necessarily the modern world and they were fine. But yet someone deciding long ago to go into these places set something into motion that may never fully stop. To change what is happening there would mean that another renaissance of thought needs to occur. but that to me would entail that man stops seeing himself as above nature but more so as part of it. (which he is)

I don't think beliefs are harmful per se, no, but people can be harmful when they do not consider what is inherently important to some folks. In terms of illness that can be either a real medicine so long as it does not cause an allergy, nor an addiction, or a placebo as I mentioned once before, so long as they are not fooled into thinking it is something else besides a placebo. For people to insist that I need to believe in what they do is their own arrogance and need to be right in my honest opinion. It is a need to show folks where to look for something and tell them what to see since it is not obvious to start with.

Sure exposure to and contemplation of the idea of 'god' can move people to do great things but it can also do the opposite. But keeping in mind that human beings do not and have not for a long time lived up to their full potential (but given their survival being at stake) very well could reach said potential is not depressing to me. It is realistic. That would include working together as part of nature, regardless of the belief in a deity or not. Because, like it or not, atheists and theists are part of the natural world.

Insofar as your last comment..well of course we are to be killed off by time, disease and so forth. That would give room for others to share in the world too..You can enjoy the hayride as much as the next person but eventually you have to vacate your seat to someone else. The solution? enjoy the time you have in the healthiest way possible. :)


I don't think I am being clear about the limits of science. Of course science hasn't found out about freewill, yet. My point is that it CANNOT find out about freewill since science is, by its nature, deterministic. Am I wrong about that? Can you conceive, or imagine, a way which science, as science, could overcome that objection?

"I only see limit in scientific findings insofar as how they limit the imagination of the scientists themselves."

I'm sorry, but I am having trouble following you here. Science limits imagination and that is a bad thing? Or is it a good thing that science limits itself to things which are verifiable and true? Science is limited to the truth and therefore, if it is true, then science must be able to find it. Are you saying that there is no truth to be found that is not scientific truth? Is there no possibility that some true statements are beyond the ability of science to verify?

I am so glad you've seen The End of the Spear! Do you really think the Waodani were "fine" spearing each other and anyone who approached their territory? Do you think Steve Saint's forgiveness of the man who killed his father (he was actually about three years old when the killing happened, not about eight as portrayed in the movie) is characteristically human?

I guess there is a semblance of arrogance in any teacher. And similarly a level of humility is required of everyone who would learn. A student who complains that the teacher is arrogant is unlikely to learn much. A teacher who really is arrogant is unlikely to help the student.

Help me see how exposure to and contemplation of the perfectly good and loving will lead to the opposite? You speak of human potential which we haven't reached. If we haven't reached it... how can you be so sure we will, or even can, reach this vision of yours. Is your vision "scientific" or just imagination? I mean, isn't it about as likely that we will destroy ourselves and/or the planet, as we will jump off to another star? What is the mechanism (science?) by which human beings change "...their attitudes towards other people... putting more value in them as opposed to ideals, concepts, and egos."? How will that work? Do you have evidence of that happening? Obviously, religion can do it, as The End of the Spear demonstrates. How many humans can do that on their own?

Ah, yes. Enjoy the time you have. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" I seriously doubt that will work out for you. Is it possible to enjoy the time you have without blinding yourself to the enormous suffering of others? There are many on this hayride for which there is little or no joy. Your solution for them is... what?


Yes, science can be deterministic for some who engage in it. It does not necessarily mean that it is fatalistic as some folks would like to think it to be. Many natural scientists see the physical world as probabilistic, not deterministic.

Quantum indeterminacy would entail that determinism is wrong, by definition. truthfully, as far as we know, there is no proof that there is any deterministic causation anywhere, in the sense that any event is 100% inevitable. Obviously, some causal events have extremely high probabilities, having been demonstrated over and over, but there is no way of knowing whether it is merely well above 99% or it is actually 100%. The so-called "hidden variables" argument may paradoxically allow determinism to survive in psychology even if it becomes untenable in physics. Here is the issue. If we know everything (mass, velocity, etc.) about a tiny particle, we can predict with certainty where it will go. Every so often, empirical observation shows that it fails to go there. Is this because nature is indeterminate? Or is it because there are hidden variables affecting it, other than the variables we know?

I.e. in psychology it is fairly easy to always assume hidden variables when a person's behavior does not conform to predictions, because there are endless additional things that possibly could be known about an individual. But with a tiny subatomic particle, there is not much else that could be known, and indeed, the set of variables known to physics does not have any room for mysterious 'other variables.'

Imagination in that there is more to discover. As I mentioned, scientific findings can have theories that are set because there are no other possible venues to take. Unless someone has the imagination to go a bit further and explore more of the world than just particles (see, we agree there also ;)) then we can find that answer, perhaps in our lifetimes or not. But long after we are gone someone somewhere will probably seek more answers.

Were they fine spearing each other? probably not, but it cannot possibly be worse than people nuking each other and/or polluting the water that both friend and foe alike will find the need eventually to drink from.

And is it characteristically human to forgive? if it can be found across the world to other humans cultures and beliefs some of whom may not believe in a god, than I could say that yes, it is a common thread of humanity. But going back to our spearing friends, considering how the land is being ravaged by outsiders would make one wonder if they really had good probable cause to fear outsiders. Unless of course, you think the world is not important enough to maintain as there is, in your opinion, another better world awaiting you.

I wasn't suggesting that having this imaginary friend of yours was harmful. I don't think you are seeing past the fact that I do not accept your fantasy for anything else than what I feel it to be.

Imaginary friends in childhood can be beneficial to a point but it still does not make them less of a fantasy. How can I be sure that we will have a renaissance of thought on how we treat the world and not destroy it more so than it already has been? I cannot be. Not any more than you could be sure that all of your loved ones will not go to hell. I also cannot be sure that we will be swept away by angels or any other such thing when that time comes.

But a renaissance we once had. And it made people aware of such things as 'rights' and so forth, radical things for that time, the very things that led people to the enlightenment age. Granted, a lot of those concepts went to the wayside when people stopped focusing on humans and more on products and other things that were not already found in nature. But I do in fact see a concern for that now, from the religious and non religious.

Again, you say 'eat drink and be merry' with the assumption that this is how I live my life. And with your religious ideals that would not surprise me one bit. You can have all the doubts in the world about how my life works for me or if it will at all, but ultimately that is beyond your hands anyways. The only thing that you have control over is how your world is shaped by your preconceived notions of how those who do not believe in your god live their lives and how they affect you.

Folks like me will be working with the earth and helping people place value in the part that they partake in the world and to not see themselves as separate from the world they are systematically destroying. Seeing these things directly as I have could hardly make me blind to what is happening. It is something I have ample record of and instead of standing in a church I am waist deep in the muck working for change to occur. Again, I do not speak for all non believers as you do not speak for all Christians, I am sure, but I do know this from my own tireless research and work. Most in fact are not so much blind as ignorant of what is happening right at this moment in these regions of the world that are systematically being wiped off of the map.


Zoe, again I fear I have touched a nerve or offended you. Truly, when I said, "I seriously doubt that (eat, drink, and be merry) will work out for you." I was assuming that you are too deep and sensitive a person for that to work. I admit that "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" was not what you said. You said, "You can enjoy the hayride as much as the next person but eventually you have to vacate your seat to someone else." I can see that isn't exactly the same but, it seems to me, very close. Am I wrong? Seriously, help me see how I'm wrong.

To the nature of quantum mechanics, I'll just say that no one blames an electron for its actions no matter how random they might be. Not even Schrodinger would really blame quantum effects for killing his cat! He would blame the GUY who built the box and put his cat into it. Right?

Perhaps we should let this discussion die for a while. Your call. But I'll leave you with a few questions. Nate Saint and his friends refused to defend themselves against the Waodani. Were they wrong? Their refusal to act caused a great deal of loss and suffering for their loved ones. Was that wise? What reason does an atheist give for being altruistic? Is it just a matter of degree? Would you say, "Be altruistic up to a point of making yourself happy, but don't get too carried away in making others happy if it will cost too much"? For a lot of people, maybe most people, altruism does not equal happiness. You see, when I try on some atheist shoes and walk a bit in them, all I can see is that my life must be all about me. If atheism is true then I am all that I've got. Can you help me see what I'm missing?


No, again, no nerves struck nor any offense as I have been down this road countless times before.

Let's review my early life a bit here to understand something: I have heard the theistic argument countless times and I understand how it is a held view that unless someone accepts (insert god of choice here) a person will lead a life of wanton abandon and reckless gorging of the things that are good and pleasurable in life. It is the selling point for believing in 'Something' that is not only greater than ourselves but perfect in every way beyond our imagining.

Also, that to reject said ideal of god or gods makes for a miserable, hateful, angry person. Are there atheists like this? Absolutely. In fact many of the first atheists I met were non believers precisely because they knew it was offending someone somewhere and were not smart enough, or brave enough unfortunately to put into words what they were doing or feeling. Needless to say, I parted company with these folks.

I am not getting any nerves struck as I see that you disagree with my point of view and are dissecting it as well as rejecting it, not me personally. I really like the way you express your thoughts and admire your intelligence and am quite fond of you, despite not having met you nor agreeing with your point of view.

My point with physics was, (and PLEASE do keep in mind that I am not a physicist) is that yes, some of them, a great number in fact, like to throw that word 'determinism' out there but that is not necessarily the case with all of the sciences nor with all scientific findings. My own focus on science has been in the Psychology department, as well as the Anthropology department. Many Psychologists That I have met defend determinism thinking that they are defending the notion of causality itself. These folks think that since science studies causes, that if we abandon causation, we cannot do science. But these fears are irrelevant. Everyone believes in causes. The important difference I find is between probabilistic causation and deterministic causation.

This discussion has taken us far, maybe not as far as either of us wanted, nor expected, but far enough, I agree. Now to your question. Was it wise for Mr Saint and his friends to not defend themselves? maybe not wise in so much as intelligent. Self defense may not have changed the outcome. It may have in fact, made things worse for any other groups of people (like myself) showing up that were wanting to actually help the natives. The Huaorani were notoriously violent, even by the standards of their neighbors, and this may be for a variety of reasons, as a lot of tribes were and still are apprehensive about having anything to do with white folks (harbingers of disease and death for not submitting to their god) prior to 1956. But I will skip that history lesson.

But in showing forgiveness it was actually wise and a step in the right direction for the cycle of violence to be broken. I understand that you find this particular to your faith and to religion in general and that may have some connections, but I can think of a few religions who do not claim any one god who practice this ideal quite successfully. (think Taoism, and Buddhism)

What reason does an atheist give for being altruistic? well, in helping others in the world we help ourselves as well. We are interconnected and frankly I never really understood this until I arrived at the Amazon. So yes, my fascination with the Amazon and its inhabitants stems initially from this fact alone.

Altruism does not equate total happiness for some because of the dread of the end. Or dreading being alone, but to those few people who accept that solitude truly, for their own reasons, there really is no dread. I can see why that is missing for you as that is not something that would possibly bring you comfort at all. It also did not bring some of your ancestors comfort either when they knew even less about psychology, physics, or Jesus Christ. Understandable.

It is troublesome for my family to see that I do not accept this ideal that you share with them, and as accepting and loving of me as they are, I found it pointless to sit in a pew and sing hymns and listen from a book that I did not find connecting to any reality that I knew of. My family seemed to sense this about me from day one. Being the gentle folks that they are, did not try to force me to continue and allowed me to venture far away. Other folks who think and feel the way I do have not had the same fortune.

I may very well be a deep and sensitive person but I also do not feel that I over sentimentalize certain things, and one of those was that aside from the other folks in this world, I DO feel alone. Not in feelings of loneliness but of solitude. And no amount of cajoling, dismay, threats, attacks on my character or intelligence have made me feel any different.

Is that my own limited perception making me feel this way? perhaps.
Is that my fault? probably not.
Is it wrong for me to be honest about feeling this way? absolutely not.

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