I believe in God, Her name is Mother Nature.
Is there randomness in nature?
Perform this simple experiment. Flip a coin. Will the result be heads or tails? Who knows? The result is entirely random, right?
No. You placed the coin on your thumb with the head or tail face showing. The flick of your thumb caused the coin to twirl at a set rate and fly through the air at a particular arc. The wind was just so and its bombardment with airborne particles just so that it landed on the ground on a particular edge. The velocity from the fall caused it to roll for a bit before winding down to reveal the face that will always provide these same exact results given all of the same physical conditions should you repeat this experiment forever.
So, here’s the deal. Either the universe is just an unfolding from the Big Bang (or the moment of creation) with some guises of randomness like our coin-flipping example, or randomness must be built into the system.
If randomness is not built into the system, then if a particular god knows and controls everything, then theists would have to admit their god and universe was predeterminist. For Christians, this is Calvinism. Calvinists ameliorate discomfort of living in a predetermined universe by simply presuming that they are part of the group that is saved. Now one can ask, “If everything is predetermined, what does it matter if I believe in God and follow him or not?” Well, basically, if you continue to serve God, you continue to assure yourself that you are part of the saved group.
But can’t God use randomness? Well, it depends on your theology. If God is omniscient and all powerful, no. If God knows everything, then there is no randomness. If God employs randomness, then he is not in control and is not all powerful.
For the atheist, these are much more mute points and academic. For all intents and purposes, we humans have evolved and interpret life as if it contained randomness. Consider any coin toss. We are not aware of the predetermined outcome set by the thumb flick and all the physical factors acting on the coin. We operate as if randomness existed even if it doesn’t. I don’t see how a theist can operate that way.
Now, I’d like to discuss the Calvinism debate through the lens of quantum physics, but I’d also like to discuss this question: Can evolution and meaning occur without randomness?
Read Montague's Why choose this book? combines topics such as computational neuroscience, reinforcement learning, mind/brain, brain imaging, physics, evolution, perception, and a range of behaviors including addiction, trust, and regret to begin to describe how organisms assign value to available choices and make decisions. For it’s breadth, it is a very accessible read. I found what took me time getting through the book was continually pausing to consider the implications of what was just presented. He substantiates his writing with many references for further study.
Montague makes a materialist statement on page 222: “...But the unsettling point, and perhaps the one not to write home about, derives from the unnerving message about meaning at the heart of my book: All meaning is physical.” He also presents Stephen Hawking’s quote from A Brief History of Time: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” Montague never answers this question, but argues that for the brain to have evolved to become a valuation machine, then it must be composed of (and have a history of) submachines which also encode value.
He does not touch on spirituality or mention God, but by this assessment, a theist could say that “God is in the details” and I am curious to hear what the theists say about this statement. Can it lead to anything other than predetermined Calvinism? Alternatively, the concept of “value” for the atheist materialist may not be so difficult from an evolutionary perspective when value is simply a measure of success of the survivors surviving. The difficulty for the materialist to provide evidence against God is that documenting all the values that go into a decision from the sub-atomic to brain level is impossible. Oh well, it still makes for interesting modeling work and conversation!
Labels: Computational neuroscience
When asking "Will my dog go to heaven?", Russ assured me that God had Noah save two of every creature, therefore animals were important to God and worthy of salvation. He then brought up the subject of all the kids and pre-born children living inside the wombs of their wicked mothers who were drowned at the flood.
Tsunamis and other natural events kill innocents. Many Christians do not see these as acts of God, per se. A lot of natural phenomenon are just operating, well, naturally, in this world created by God and corrupted by evil. Whatever.
This does not apply with Noah's flood, however. That was God deliberately stepping in and cleaning up the riff raff, killing unborn children and wiping out all the other animals in the process. Perhaps my dog won't be saved if God was so callous with the thousands of other dogs that were not selected to be on Noah's boat....
Now, a seemingly more fair obliteration would have been to have the flood waters put Noah and family on one continent and all evil-doers on another. Then, through natural means also brought on by their own sinfulness, all the evil-doers would become sterile and die off. Same effect, but no terrified drowning. Anyway, that's what I'd do as a God of love. It would also help my people's case for fighting Darwinists later from having to explain diversification of life forms in just 4000 years, but that's just me.
Christianity requires that to be saved, one must accept Jesus as his/her saviour.
In my upbringing, the salvation of those who never heard the word of Christ such as aborted fetuses, people born before Jesus’ time, and remote tribes; or individuals mentally incapable of making such a commitment were/will be judged differently. Fine. All will be revealed, right? But what about animals?
Other animals have thinking abilities and can make choices, though not nearly as adequately as we humans. Still, we speak of them as having personalities and I would say they have souls. (See In dog's image for more details).
Isaiah 11:6-9 indicate that animals will be in heaven. (See this heavenly picture). Perhaps those verses are metaphorical. Still, I want to know, will my dog go to heaven?
That is, does he have an eternal soul? If he does, what happens to that soul when he dies? If he goes to heaven, what will be the form of his spirit? What will be the form of mine? Will our spirits be equal in terms of what we continue to experience and learn? If he has been deemed to have chased too many cats and scared away too many proselytizers at my door that could have otherwise saved me, will he go to hell? Will he be in limbo?
Are these not ridiculous questions?
Yes and no. I suppose it depends on who you ask. What we are really asking is what it means to be alive and human and how that is different from the rest of the natural and living world. To atheists these are ridiculous questions. When my dog dies, just like it was before he was born, his spirit will cease to exist. It's the way it is with all of us. Fine. Next topic.
All theologies are constructed from perceptions of the natural and living world. Unsurprisingly, many theologies are human-centric. Judeo-Christian theologies are built around the human condition, first delineating what it means to be alive and human apart from the rest of the natural and living world and from there, God’s role toward humanity and the remainder of the living and natural world can also be defined.
Well, that’s the goal anyway. Given other living creatures, is there a theology out there that is justifiable in any way?
Let’s consider the question of other animals’ salvation. Let’s say that my dog goes to heaven and that I don’t. How is that in any way fair? I’d have been much better off being a dog or to have never existed. Let’s say he goes to hell. How is that in any way fair to him? What did he do wrong? Let’s say he just stays in limbo. You might as well send him to hell unless there are frisbees in limbo. Oh, but wait, then that would be heaven.
You can probably also see where this slippery slope is leading. If my dog has an eternal soul, then so do other critters including rats, snakes, bugs, and even each of the trillion E-coli bacterium that leave my gut and get flushed down the toilet every day. Think of the massive genocide I’m performing with each SWOOSH! The way out of this conundrum is to simply believe that my dog’s soul is not eternal.
Okay, so let’s just say that when he’s gone he’s gone. That also opens up a can of worms. First of all, we can ask “Why is he even here?” What’s the meaning of life for my dog? Why would God create him for some blip in time and then let him disappear? Is it to test me in some way? Is he just a gift from God? I suppose Genesis 1:26 can be interpreted that way, but it still seems pretty unfair. A little too human-centric for my tastes, literally, if animals are also here so that we can eat them as promoted in this link by Answers in Genesis.
Now, the “E” word, evolution, does not muck up this muddiness really any further. There was a moment when pre-humans transcended from having a temporal soul to an eternal soul. If you want to believe in a literal, hand-crafted-from-dirt Adam and Eve, it’s this same moment that discriminates us from the other animals. What is peculiar is that it seems that the moment we realized our mortality is the same moment we became immortal. It was at this moment that we also realized there was a God that we chose evil which severed the relationship. Hence, the need for salvation.
Huh? Theists, help me out here.
I've taken the definition of faith from Wiktionary as "Mental acceptance of and confidence in a claim as truth without proof supporting the claim." Faith should therefore come with a lot of cognitive dissonance. However, in the lives of believers, this faith is what they hold onto when the pieces don't fit. It's completely counterintuitive and frustratingly irrational to non-believers.
Our vocal atheist commentor, Psiloiordinary, keeps begging the theists to explain what on earth is wrong with Leprechaunism. If you believe in Leprechauns and spot one, just keep your eye on him and let him lead you to his pot of gold. Easy peasy. Why not have faith in Leprechauns?
Psiloiordinary, like most atheists, including myself with examples such as my Fire-breathing gods post, have attempted to use the rational argument for other gods to challenge the theists. The Richard Dawkins quote, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." (From the essay, "The Great Convergence" p. 150, of the book "The Devil's Chaplain") whimsically tries to do the same thing. However, to the Christian, we're talking apples and oranges with these other religions.
Here's what Christianity says, "You are alive and I am the God of Life (Jeremiah 1:5). I made the world (Genesis 1:1). All that you see is an expression of Me. I Am (Exodus 3:13-15). Believe this and have eternal life, but expect to be persecuted for your beliefs (Matthew 5). Ah, but don't worry, those that persecute you will get theirs in the end (Deuteronomy 30:1-10, Matthew 25:46, etc.). Keep believing and you'll get the prize (Revelation 22:12-14)."
What do we all want? We want to live. We want love. We want justice. We want to know why things are the way they are. Leprechaunism potentially gets you a nice pot o' gold, but you know that even if you spot that little green dwarf, he's going to try and dupe you.
On the other hand, Christianity purports explanations for the origin of life, a purpose for one's life, and even an eternal life. It says God is love and proclaims that we can love more purely as believers. It says justice will be served. It says that behind life's wonderful, mundane, random, and terrible things, there is a God who will reveal all things in time. The only catch is that we have to have faith, but with all of these proclamations, and with the threats if we don't have faith, is believing really that hard?
Christianity has enough answers embedded in it while promising what we want to hear. Am I alive? Check. Is the world too big for my head to deal with so I can deduce that there is a God? Check. Do I feel love? Check. Did that non-Christian (I know by the Darwin Fish on his car) just cut me off? Check. Such continual affirmations provide proof of God's existence and validate the chosen path. What's more, Christianity acknowledges that faith is difficult. It's like HDL fat. It may sound like a bad thing, but really you want to have it! Not only when we are told that faith is par for the course can cognitive dissonance dissipate, but there is also the prediction that one can be persecuted for these beliefs. By generally keeping things prophetic, Christianity outlines expectations so that believers can look for "signs" and find them. In this way, faith not only eliminates cognitive dissonance, but when believers imagine a life without faith, then that, ironically, provides them cognitive dissonance!