Theism vs. Agnosticism vs. Atheism

This thread is a continuation of a discussion begun at:

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2012/09/07/obama-and-romney-on-gw/

and then moved to:

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2012/01/18/the-stoats-burrow/

and then moved to here.  :)

The discussion that was started there has be thinking and so I will jot down my thoughts for later consumption if the need arises.  I owe PaulB on the other thread an answer to the following question:

If God intervenes in some not entirely random way, that changes things. How could those changes not be detectable?

Consider the following scenario:

  1. Someone asks you to pick a number between 0 and 10.
  2. You decide on the number 5.
  3. At that instant in time the state of the universe, Sx, is such that your memory contains the number 5.
  4. At that same instant God suspends time as perceived by you within the natural universe.
  5. God alters the state of the universe to a new state, Sy, as follows:
    • In Sy your memory instead contains the number 2
    • He adjusts whatever else is required so that your thought processes would have otherwise picked the number 2
    • He adjusts whatever else is required in Sy such that the natural laws of the universe have not been violated by the change.  This will necessarily imply changing the entire history of the universe back in time to its very beginning.
  6. God resumes time.
  7. You respond that you are thinking of the number 2.

I argue that in this scenario God has intervened and that his intervention is undetectable.  In order to detect the change you would need to retain information about Sx to compare against Sy and you have no means of retaining that information.  Your memory is inherently bound to the current state of the universe at any instant in time.  If that state is changed instantaneously from Sx to Sy your memory will necessarily be altered to match, and your memory of any historical events or observations will likewise have been changed to be consistent with Sy.  This is unavoidable under the constraints mentioned above.

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5 Comments on “Theism vs. Agnosticism vs. Atheism”

  1. GoRight says:

    Marco: I base that calculation on the many ways that theists claim god intervenes in the world.

    I have the following issues with the above statement:

    (1) I do not understand how an enumeration of the many ways that theists claim god intervenes in the world can be utilized to yield an estimated probability that there is no god. Please provide a brief example of what such a calculation would look like.

    For example, simply assume that the theists only make some limited number of such claims, e.g. A, B, C, D, and E. Please explain how you are using A, B, C, D, and E to estimate the probability that God does not exist.

    (2) You seem to be assuming that you can detect the occurrence of any such interventions which we will discuss further in a follow-on post with PaulB. If I can show that it COULD be possible for God to intervene without you being able to detect such intervention then your claim would become faith based (i.e. you simply believe it because you want to not because there is a rational basis for it). Let us follow-up on that point.

    Marco: Note also that things like “no school prayer” is not an atheist view, but a view held by many people regardless of their religious affiliation.

    The fact that others may also hold that view is not really important here. What is important is that atheists DO hold that view. The other thing that is important is that atheists are acting on that view in an attempt to impose their views on others.

    Here is a quick google search to establish that atheists are actively using the force of government to limit the ability of the theists to practice their preferred religious beliefs:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=atheist+sue+school+prayer

    As someone who has no horse in this race I see the situation as follows:

    (1) Theists want to pray before class.
    (2) Theists do NOT demand that atheists participate, so the theists are being accommodating of the atheist’s beliefs.

    (A) Atheists want to NOT pray before class.
    (B) Atheists sue to use the force of government to prevent theists from practicing their beliefs before class, so the atheists are NOT being accommodating of the theists beliefs.

    So, of the two I judge the atheists as being the more controlling of the two groups. In both cases as we have already discussed the practices being advocated by each are based on their own arbitrary faith based beliefs.

    This same characteristic is common for all of the legal actions being taking by the atheists, for example removing various religious displays like nativity scenes, minorah, etc. In all such cases the atheists get their desired state at the expense of others being able to follow their beliefs.

    So no, I don’t think that your characterization of the situation vis-a-vis the impacts the atheists have on others is accurate or defensible. Such is my opinion anyway.

    PaulB: Your point will require longer to addres than I have currently. To have such a discussion we will have to agree on some common framework of understanding on a number of variable such as the fundamental characteristics of a natural universe, the nature of the beings that arise within such a universe, the limits of perception for such beings, etc. Let me think a bit to try and find a concise example that I believe you may accept. I will follow-up later.

  2. PaulB says:

    I’ll accept that a God could if she chose move Mount Everest a mile to the right and make it seem to everyone that Everest had always been there. But the sort of intervention theists speak of is more along the lines of saving good people, or people who are prayed for, from bad outcomes. That would create a detectable effect.

  3. GoRight says:

    OK. So let us explore that a bit. How is “saving a good person” substantively different from changing “5″ to “2″ or moving Mount Everest? If you can accept that Everest could be moved without detection why can you not accept a good person being moved two feet to the right out of the path of a moving car?

    Or if you are talking more about personality traits, I would argue that people’s personalities are largely a function of their life’s experiences. So if our memories can be reconfigured at the whim of a deity without our taking note of the transformation why not just alter the person’s life experiences sufficiently to garner the desired result?

    Can you give me an example of the way you believe such changes would be detectable?

  4. PaulB says:

    Suppose God decided to intervene to support the health of popes. We would be able to detect that popes tend to exceed their life expectancy, as observed at the date of their election.

  5. GoRight says:

    By this argument doesn’t every statistically significant difference between any two random variables become evidence that you know the mind of a God? And to provide proof of their connection to God all any religion has to do is to construe an alignment between their religion and any such difference?

    For example, if the Christians began saying that God will identify his chosen people by surrounding them with images of Christ on a cross would you accept a statistically significant difference between the number of such images in the homes of Christians vs. the rest of the population as being evidence of a Christian God?

    Or how about if the Pope started preaching that he had received information from God that Japanese women are the most favored people on Earth and then the Pope started finding ways to construe an alignment between Christianity and that group?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

    (assuming for the sake of this discussion that the longevity of Japanese Women documented above is actually statistically significant)


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