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Thoughts on God/Purpose

Posted by TheThorn 
Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 13, 2015 03:49PM
Hi again to those who were here when I posted last. I had an interesting debate on beliefs on facebook the other day, which sprung off discussion of whether evolution dispensed with the notion of God.

Thought I would share some of my points here since I always did such a horrible job of explaining my position on this forum in the past:


I don't think you have to dispense with the notion of God or a purpose to the universe to accept evolution. It's really just a refining of the same question.

Before we asked 'how and why was the world/we created?' now we can refine the question to 'how and why were these physical laws created?'

Certainly we live in a universe with a number of physical laws which allow and enable life to develop, and for us to evolve into thinking, conscious beings. We can theorise that there was no intention anywhere for that to happen - or we can argue that this is meaningful.

I can’t agree that science has ended the discussion around God. It's simply ruled out some wrong answers previously provided by existing religions.

Before going any further we need to establish what I mean when I say ‘God’. It’s not a useful word as covers too many different ideas and is has too many different connotations to be useful in a discussion. Boiling it down – if we suggest that there is some purpose to the universe, to life and so on, this is indistinguishable to me to the concept of God/Gods.

Really I use the word as a short hand umbrella term to refer to any philosophy besides "life developed simply as an unintended side effect of meaningless physical laws which exist just because". Perhaps I should just use the word "purpose" rather than "God". It has less connotations and confusion, but it's certainly vaguer. Discussing this topic within the confines of an English language that evolved alongside the then-unquestionable Christian religion is not easy.

Ignoring the fine details, there are really two positions with differing levels of agnosticism between them:

Position A - "The universe exists because it just does. Life is just an unintended side effect of meaningless physical laws"

Position B - "The universe has meaning, and life within it exists for a purpose"

Strong atheists – i.e. people who positively say that there is no God, will often squirm and hide behind the idea that they have a lack of belief and not a belief and therefore have no position to justify. That’s not the case though. To say there is no God is very much a positive belief in a meaningless universe. This position A is distinct from position B in that it only comes in one flavour. Meaningless and random is meaningless and random.

Position B could mean a multitude of things. It could signify a belief in God "personalities" like those in Abrahamic, Hindu and Greco/Roman religions. It could relate to more ethereal and intangible concepts like those expressed in Eastern Religions. It could relate to western/eastern “new age” ideas. It could even be entirely agnostic in its conclusions, and just exist as a belief that there is a purpose to life without claiming it is knowable (closest to my own position).

Ultimately I fall on the B side simply because I find the probability that something meaningful can come from meaninglessness hard to swallow.

I think it’s valuable to remind ourselves that we are ultimately just pieces of the universe. We tend to think of ourselves on the outside, looking in like intrepid explorers of something we are separate to. But we are every bit as much a part of the universe as dust under our feet or a star in space. Yet here we are - small parts of a massive universe - thinking, feeling, aware that we exist, and able to perceive other parts of this universe that we are a part of.

Position A and Position B deal with this knowledge in two very different ways. Position A says that it is plausible, indeed likely, that this is down to happenstance. The universe and the physical laws that govern are as they are and for no purpose. That they combine to create the conditions for the development of conscious creatures is a happy accident. It was just a random confluence of meaningless factors that - hey presto - created meaningful creatures.

Position B, conversely, takes the position that this is too far a stretch. The laws of the universe do not allow the development of these creatures by "happy accident", they are there specifically (or in part) there to do to just that.

So my position is less of a belief, and more of a weighing up of options. One option - Position A - I find close to implausible. I accept it may be possible, but it stretches my credulity to snapping point. Say I left a bowl of jelly beans on a table and came back in the room and the bowl was on the floor and the beans scattered. That could be an accident, a gust of wind, a pet, whatever. If those beans spell out "Hi how are you?" on the floor do I believe any of those possibilities are true? Now it is possible of course that they just randomly fell in that arrangement. It's certainly not impossible. But it's ridiculous. Someone obviously did that. That is the same way I feel about position A.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 13, 2015 04:16PM
Well said points, Thorn.

Welcome back! smiling bouncing smiley

Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 14, 2015 04:49AM
Good to hear from you again, Thorn!

I would classify myself as a strong atheist. That is I don't believe in the gods in same the way that I don't believe in unicorns. Have I searched every nook and cranny of the universe to be sure that no unicorn is hiding somewhere? Of course not. But the overwhelming lack of evidence is enough to convince me that their possible existence is so remote that it's a negligible possibility.

As for the universe having meaning, let me start with myself. I believe my life has meaning. I may have not made a difference to people's lives in a George Bailey sort of way. But my wife and I have raised two happy and healthy kids. My wife of 33 years seems to be happy with me. I have friends who I care about and who care about me. My business, SelectSmart.com, generates income for me and others. I have done favors for and helped people who I know well and some that I don't. Years after the fact, I have been thanked and given credit for helping people with their careers and other aspects of their lives. Most people probably can make similar claims about themselves. That we all make life a little better for each succeeding generation is how and why society progresses.

In a more general sense, animals, plants and other life forms are all part of the ecosystem. Nonlife forms such as the oceans, the rivers, the terrain, the weather, the sun, the moon, etc. are obviously essential our existence. Everything in the universe to varying degrees matters. That it matters, to me means that the universe has meaning.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/14/2015 04:59AM by Curt Anderson.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 14, 2015 12:53PM
"Meaning," (or "purpose" ) in terms of the big picture is a dead end concept. When discussing "what is" ... there simply is no meaning. If you think there is some sort of meaning to the universe, its because you're doing the same thing that anyone who believes in a god or a higher power is doing — you're applying a different set of rules for discerning what is real and what is not. You're making special exceptions.

"Meaning" is an illusion created by humans. When you understand that, then it's easy to see how "meaning" can come from "meaninglessness." It's just a flickering of human synapses.

Now, it's helpful for us to use that illusion on a day to day basis. In fact, it's essential for structuring and navigating our lives, for communicating with others. So in a relative sense, the concept of "meaning" or "purpose" is useful. But in an absolute sense, it's simply not reflective of reality.

_____________________

Thorn - is the the jelly bean thing some sort of nod toward intelligent design? Didn't fully get where you were going there.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 14, 2015 01:57PM
Good to “see” you both again as well Ponderer and Curt. :smileys with beer

Curt,

I think it’s useful to make a distinction between a specific detailed myth and the fundamental metaphysical question of whether the universe/life/existence is purposeful or meaningless.

Strong atheists tend to be very well-rehearsed, ready and able to provide their stock arguments to counter religious points of views. My stance is not religious, and those arguments are non sequitur in response.

It’s easy to say:

“I don’t believe in Yahweh/Allah/Odin/Ra like I don’t believe in Unicorns”

- since we are referring in both cases to specific “characters” the existence of whom is not supported by any evidence.

But if we say:

“I believe the natural physical laws which govern the universe exist simply because they do, and that they combine to create the conditions for the development of conscious creatures for no reason; a random confluence of meaningless factors leading to the development of meaningful creatures – like I don’t believe in unicorns”

- it doesn't work. It comes across like one of those auto-response emails to an enquiry.

I agree with you that our lives have meaning, and I agree with you that we create this meaning ourselves through our own thoughts, emotions, actions, and connections with other people, and that this process requires no overseeing by a God figure.

My point is that our ability to do this, the existence of life itself, that as part of the natural physical laws of the universe this happens, suggests purpose. The idea that meaning comes from meaninglessness is similar to the idea that a bowl of jelly beans could be knocked over and land in such a way so as to randomly spell out your own name, seems a little wacky.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/14/2015 07:03PM by TheThorn.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 14, 2015 01:58PM
Quote
Navy2711
"Meaning," (or "purpose" ) in terms of the big picture is a dead end concept. When discussing "what is" ... there simply is no meaning. If you think there is some sort of meaning to the universe, its because you're doing the same thing that anyone who believes in a god or a higher power is doing — you're applying a different set of rules for discerning what is real and what is not. You're making special exceptions.

"Meaning" is an illusion created by humans. When you understand that, then it's easy to see how "meaning" can come from "meaninglessness." It's just a flickering of human synapses.

Now, it's helpful for us to use that illusion on a day to day basis. In fact, it's essential for structuring and navigating our lives, for communicating with others. So in a relative sense, the concept of "meaning" or "purpose" is useful. But in an absolute sense, it's simply not reflective of reality.

_____________________

Thorn - is the the jelly bean thing some sort of nod toward intelligent design? Didn't fully get where you were going there.

Hi Navy,
Sorry I was writing my previous post while you added yours. I think I covered a response to your post in my reply to Curt though. If you have further questions, do ask.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 15, 2015 03:11AM
Thorn,

1. "I believe the natural physical laws which govern the universe exist simply because they do, and that they combine to create the conditions for the development of conscious creatures for no reason."

Although a strong atheist may say such a thing because it's a handy way of verbalizing the concept in our English language, it's not really accurate. The underlined words make the statement contradictory. The universe is not a certain way because of anything, because there is no because. It simply is. "Why"s and "because"es are human manufactured illusions. If you want to understand the strong atheist position, start with "The universe is the way it is." When your mind naturally begins to produce further thoughts/questions that involve "why"s, simply stop and go no further, recognizing that those "why"s are being produced by your mind, which is predispositioned to find and solve problems, even when they don't exist.

2. Could you maybe clarify what your overall position is? Are you saying that there is some underlying cause to the universe? If so, can you give some detail about ... it?
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 15, 2015 09:30AM
Navy,

1. Happy to take whatever re-phrasing you wish. Regardless of the words you choose to describe it, strong atheists harbour faith in a positive belief regarding the nature of the universe.

2. My position falls somewhere in the broad range of agnostic positions. There is pure agnosticism that accepts we don't know and sees no reason to think about it, but there are a lot of more nuanced positions within the spectrum as well.

There are agnostics who know we don't know, but consider it likely there is no purpose. Then there are agnostics who know we don't know, but consider it likely that there is a purpose. I fall in the latter camp.

Within that camp there are agnostics who consider that while we do not know what this purpose is - we might one day, and those that consider that it is unlikely we ever will. I probably lean towards the latter camp again.

One belief I strongly hold is that faith-based positive beliefs are irrational and serve little purpose but to divide people.

Be it Strong Atheism, Religions, ad hoc Spiritual Philosophies or whatever flavour a person chooses - pretending to know the answers and butting heads with all the other people pretending to know different answers is not sensible or helpful.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/15/2015 01:26PM by TheThorn.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 15, 2015 10:11PM
Thorn,

"Happy to take whatever re-phrasing you wish."

1a. Not sure what that means. What does "happy to take" mean? 1b. It wasn't a re-phrasing, it was a correction. The strong atheists' view of the universe does not include "purpose" at all.

Still not sure of your position, so let me tell you mine, and you say what you disagree with:

The universe started, as best we can tell, back at the Big Bang. There is currently no direct evidence supporting any claims that there was a purpose behind this beginning, that there was any sort of aware/intelligent force involved.

Through completely natural, physics-based processes, matter arranged itself into forms which we call life. This life, including humans, and our large, complex brains, is simply an arrangement of molecules which acts differently, in a more complex manner, than other arrangements of molecules like clouds and dirt. There is no evidence of souls or other forces involved.

What we call "awareness" is simply our experience of our brains doing what they do. Our "awareness" is the firing of our neurons, and nothing more. Again, no souls or other mystical forces involved. No evidence of anything that cannot be detected by scientific instrumentation. (Which, of course, would be a contradiction anyway.)

What we call "meaning" is an arrangment of thought and emotion, more complex than "I like pop-tarts," perhaps, but not any more substantial in terms of the big picture. When we say that, for instance, our relationship with our spouse gives our lives meaning, we are saying that it brings up within us thoughts and emotions. One such thought might be, "I feel compelled to take actions that are in the best interest of my spouse," or "Without my spouse, I would feel less motivated to have an active, engaged lifestyle." While these thoughts have a significant practical application to our daily lives, they do not point to the existence of any object or force outside the chemical functioning of our brains.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 16, 2015 12:28AM
Position A and Position B deal with this knowledge in two very different ways. Position A says that it is plausible, indeed likely, that this is down to happenstance. The universe and the physical laws that govern are as they are and for no purpose. That they combine to create the conditions for the development of conscious creatures is a happy accident. It was just a random confluence of meaningless factors that - hey presto - created meaningful creatures.

Position B, conversely, takes the position that this is too far a stretch. The laws of the universe do not allow the development of these creatures by "happy accident", they are there specifically (or in part) there to do to just that.


Position C. I don't know.

This isn't a discussion that has any known factors, hence meaningless to claim 'it is likely or unlikely'. So yeah, Thorn good to point out these are unjustified metaphysical stances...

And to get a bit technical here... The universe is what I would say 'What we know exists'. That is, what do our observations tell us. Reality.

The cosmos is what I would call 'the whole of being' and as I have said in the past any explanation for the cosmos yields nonsense. The cosmos would include all known reality ie the universe, physical laws, logical laws, and any unknown reality like God, or a parallel universe, or whatever has 'being'.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 16, 2015 10:53AM
Quote
tuk22
Position A and Position B deal with this knowledge in two very different ways. Position A says that it is plausible, indeed likely, that this is down to happenstance. The universe and the physical laws that govern are as they are and for no purpose. That they combine to create the conditions for the development of conscious creatures is a happy accident. It was just a random confluence of meaningless factors that - hey presto - created meaningful creatures.

Position B, conversely, takes the position that this is too far a stretch. The laws of the universe do not allow the development of these creatures by "happy accident", they are there specifically (or in part) there to do to just that.


Position C. I don't know.

Quote
TheThorn
Ignoring the fine details, there are really two positions with differing levels of agnosticism between them:

Position A - "The universe exists because it just does. Life is just an unintended side effect of meaningless physical laws"

Position B - "The universe has meaning, and life within it exists for a purpose"

In bold.

Quote
tuk22
]This isn't a discussion that has any known factors, hence meaningless to claim 'it is likely or unlikely'. So yeah, Thorn good to point out these are unjustified metaphysical stances...

Sure we can't know anything, but of course we can logically think about these things and make personal judgements as to what we find likely and unlikely

Quote
tuk22
]And to get a bit technical here... The universe is what I would say 'What we know exists'. That is, what do our observations tell us. Reality.

The cosmos is what I would call 'the whole of being' and as I have said in the past any explanation for the cosmos yields nonsense. The cosmos would include all known reality ie the universe, physical laws, logical laws, and any unknown reality like God, or a parallel universe, or whatever has 'being'.

I'm not too bothered which words we use. The Universe does basically mean all things, so I use it to describe what we know exists, all that we don't know and the fabric of being itself. Happy to use "cosmos" if that's preferred.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 19, 2015 05:16PM
TheThorn wrote: Before we asked 'how and why was the world/we created?' now we can refine the question to 'how and why were these physical laws created?'

Are you referring to ex nihilo creation (creation from nothing)? If so, then how did you arrive at the belief that the world was "created" in that sense in the first place since none of us have any experience of such a thing? Maybe I'm mistaken here but you seem to just take such a wholly extraordinary event's occurrence for granted. Why?

Our experience tells us only that things already exist and that these already-existing-things are sometimes re-shaped or re-formed to fabricate other things. But none of us has ever experienced the creation of something totally new out of nothingness. After all, pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat is a magician's trick. It's not something that any of us believes really occurs.

So, anyway, I'm just curious about why you seem to assume, without evidence or experience, that such an event actually happened?
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 19, 2015 06:06PM
Quote
Dick
TheThorn wrote: Before we asked 'how and why was the world/we created?' now we can refine the question to 'how and why were these physical laws created?'

Are you referring to ex nihilo creation (creation from nothing)? If so, then how did you arrive at the belief that the world was "created" in that sense in the first place since none of us have any experience of such a thing? Maybe I'm mistaken here but you seem to just take such a wholly extraordinary event's occurrence for granted. Why?

Our experience tells us only that things already exist and that these already-existing-things are sometimes re-shaped or re-formed to fabricate other things. But none of us has ever experienced the creation of something totally new out of nothingness. After all, pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat is a magician's trick. It's not something that any of us believes really occurs.

So, anyway, I'm just curious about why you seem to assume, without evidence or experience, that such an event actually happened?

It's impossible for the human mind to comprehend a point before anything existed. It's also impossible for the human mind to comprehend things having always existed.

People have gone mad trying, so it's best to just accept that we don't understand it and leave it at that.

My point is simply to say that the natural physical laws of the universe combine to allow small parts of the universe to develop that can perceive, feel, think, create and have meaning. This leads me to consider that there is a reason for this. I don't consider it likely that this is the end result of happenstance.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 20, 2015 02:26AM
" ... the natural physical laws of the universe combine to allow small parts of the universe to develop that can perceive, feel, think, create and have meaning. This leads me to consider that there is a reason for this." - Thorn

Feeling, thinking, creating, and feeling that things have meaning are simply the goings on of the human brain. They are the firing of electrical impulses in our physical human brain. That's it. They give us no indication that there is any sort of higher power or creating force or anything mystical whatsoever.

Do the mundane things in life lead you to consider that they might be suggestive of a higher power or creating force or some great Meaning Behind It All? Does the fact that you sometimes feel sad mean that the universe is sad? Does the fact that you prefer vanilla over chocolate mean that there must be a Creator who prefers vanilla over chocolate? "No, of course not," you say. "Those things are just my feelings, thoughts and preferences."

Well, it's the same thing for the higher functions of our brain, the things that sometimes seem powerful and mystical to us. An example is your sense of "meaning." The idea that your life, or anyone else's life, has "meaning," is just a thought in your head. It's just something that the chemicals in your brain are doing.

There is simply no logical connection between ...

1. "Thinking, feeling beings exist."

...and ...

2. "There is a reason for this."
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 20, 2015 09:21AM
Quote
Navy2711
" ... the natural physical laws of the universe combine to allow small parts of the universe to develop that can perceive, feel, think, create and have meaning. This leads me to consider that there is a reason for this." - Thorn

Feeling, thinking, creating, and feeling that things have meaning are simply the goings on of the human brain. They are the firing of electrical impulses in our physical human brain. That's it. They give us no indication that there is any sort of higher power or creating force or anything mystical whatsoever.

Do the mundane things in life lead you to consider that they might be suggestive of a higher power or creating force or some great Meaning Behind It All? Does the fact that you sometimes feel sad mean that the universe is sad? Does the fact that you prefer vanilla over chocolate mean that there must be a Creator who prefers vanilla over chocolate? "No, of course not," you say. "Those things are just my feelings, thoughts and preferences."

Well, it's the same thing for the higher functions of our brain, the things that sometimes seem powerful and mystical to us. An example is your sense of "meaning." The idea that your life, or anyone else's life, has "meaning," is just a thought in your head. It's just something that the chemicals in your brain are doing.

The human being, and its brain, are parts of the universe. We aren't just looking in on it like some passive spectator.

My brains ability to create meaning through those firing synapses, are as much an expression of the natural laws of the universe as gravity is.

Quote

There is simply no logical connection between ...

1. "Thinking, feeling beings exist."

...and ...

2. "There is a reason for this."

There is also no logical connection between:

1. “Thinking, feeling beings exist.”

~and~

2. “This occurred by happenstance via a confluence of the meaningless physical laws of a purposeless universe.”

All we can do is weigh up which seems more likely to us.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/20/2015 10:47AM by TheThorn.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 21, 2015 11:24AM
Hi Navy,
Sorry, I just read through this thread again and noticed I had completely missed this post from you. Will respond now:

Quote

"Happy to take whatever re-phrasing you wish."

1a. Not sure what that means. What does "happy to take" mean? 1b. It wasn't a re-phrasing, it was a correction. The strong atheists' view of the universe does not include "purpose" at all.

It was a rephrasing. I did not intend to imply any purpose on the atheist side and was trying my best within the constraints of the English language to express that. Like I said – use which ever words you like. Atheism = belief in meaninglessness, Theism = belief in purpose, Agnosticism = belief in nothing unknown, but may have opinions about what they find likely.

Quote

Still not sure of your position, so let me tell you mine, and you say what you disagree with:

The universe started, as best we can tell, back at the Big Bang. There is currently no direct evidence supporting any claims that there was a purpose behind this beginning, that there was any sort of aware/intelligent force involved.

Through completely natural, physics-based processes, matter arranged itself into forms which we call life. This life, including humans, and our large, complex brains, is simply an arrangement of molecules which acts differently, in a more complex manner, than other arrangements of molecules like clouds and dirt. There is no evidence of souls or other forces involved.

What we call "awareness" is simply our experience of our brains doing what they do. Our "awareness" is the firing of our neurons, and nothing more. Again, no souls or other mystical forces involved. No evidence of anything that cannot be detected by scientific instrumentation. (Which, of course, would be a contradiction anyway.)

What we call "meaning" is an arrangement of thought and emotion, more complex than "I like pop-tarts," perhaps, but not any more substantial in terms of the big picture. When we say that, for instance, our relationship with our spouse gives our lives meaning, we are saying that it brings up within us thoughts and emotions. One such thought might be, "I feel compelled to take actions that are in the best interest of my spouse," or "Without my spouse, I would feel less motivated to have an active, engaged lifestyle." While these thoughts have a significant practical application to our daily lives, they do not point to the existence of any object or force outside the chemical functioning of our brains.

I don’t completely disagree with any of this. You are talking “hows” here, whereas I am concerned with “whys”.

What I do find likely is that all the physical laws which govern everything you wrote about exist for the purpose of life. What that purpose is, we clearly do not know.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 26, 2015 04:27PM
I take it that TheThorn doesn't believe in the scientific theory of the universe, for example: that the universe began to expand from a singularity somewhere between 12-13 billion years ago; that the theory of evolution best accounts for the existence of species; that if things continue as is, the earth will be swallowed by its sun in about 5 billion years; etc.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 26, 2015 05:34PM
It seems illogical to conclude that from what Thorn has written.
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 26, 2015 05:45PM
Quote
Dick
I take it that TheThorn doesn't believe in the scientific theory of the universe, for example: that the universe began to expand from a singularity somewhere between 12-13 billion years ago; that the theory of evolution best accounts for the existence of species; that if things continue as is, the earth will be swallowed by its sun in about 5 billion years; etc.

Um... Why would you think that?
Re: Thoughts on God/Purpose
January 26, 2015 07:22PM
That's not exactly a denial of my claim. So I'll ask you directly -- do you believe the scientific theory of the universe, including the 3 examples of it that I listed previously, is largely accurate as far as we today have reason to believe?
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