Let me begin this discussion by saying that I have always been an atheist (even when I didn't know the word), but live in South Carolina where no belief in any god is just not done. That doesn't deeply affect me since I'm not much of a social critter -- pretty much a hermit. But I have friends, most of whom attend the local Unitarian church, who seem to be atheists by intent and action, yet are default deists socially. You know, the 'spiritual but not religious' thing.
One thing that I've noticed is that three of the men, which is about a quarter of the whole group, want to discuss and seem to agree with the concept of no gods only when their wives are not present. As you might imagine, this leads to interesting social dynamics, depending on who happens to be in the discussion group at the time. One thing that I refuse to be is dishonest, and so I say the same things no matter what the makeup of the bunch around the campfire. Hell, the wives are as much my friends as the guys are, and I'm not about to go playing one role or another depending on which of them is listening.
I do generally get more push-back from the women. One of them might say something like, "Your views are reductionist, and you're ignoring an important part of reality by insisting on a wholly materialistic description". Here one of the men might chime in and say, "Yes, 'God' is the Tao -- it's all that we know and all that we don't know". I'd reply, "That's nihilistic relativism. If you want to have a god then it exists or it doesn't -- else what's the point? If it has no characteristics or all characteristics then what's the difference between having a god and not having one? Can we at least agree that God is something we imagine for our own purposes"?
The response, delivered with a knowing look, might be, "No, God imagines us". Okay, anyone want another beer?
"An important part of reality"?!? Does she mean a part which is utterly imagined, has no demonstrable substance or means of corroboration, but that we're supposed to accept just because it feels good or something? HORSE MANURE. If she wants to put stock in subjective experiences or the proposition of "realities" which have no objective expression, she can go ahead all she wants ... but if she wants to presume or presuppose that I have to agree with her, she can take a flying leap for all of me.
And I'd love a beer ... make mine a Killian's, please.
(Playing devil's advocate here and trying to imagine her response) You admit that you don't know everything, and that perhaps you cant, right? So, all that you know and of all that you accept that others know constitutes part but not necessarily all of reality, right? Well, I choose to believe that the ununderstood, perhaps ununderstandable parts of reality may be significant. And so I can't accept your reductionist, materialistic view as all that matters.
I'm sure that I didn't do her justice in that vignette. After all, for the full effect you would have to be listening to that tripe while looking into her green eyes and with the memory of how her shoulder muscles look when she's paddling a kayak upstream. It is indeed a complex world.
Okay, I can play that game:
"Significant" in what way? Certainly, there is a great deal of reality which is not yet known, but which is certainly knowable. Physicists like Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss are pursuing our understanding of this reality vigorously, both at the sub-nuclear level and the galactic. What they are NOT doing is dealing in imagined possibilities which cannot be described, are not repeatable and cannot be falsified. They deal in what is ... and in so doing expand our grasp of this reality in real, understandable and sometimes practically applicable ways.
Further, I submit that it is extremely unlikely that humankind will uncover a phenomenon which utterly frustrates our ability to analyze and comprehend it. To date, every new challenge to our understanding has eventually yielded a reliable descriptor for that challenge. Anything which might once have been considered "supernatural" has been recognized as anything but. Sometimes the answers are unexpected and do not play well with common sense, but when the answer obtains time and time again and is consistent and reliable. Dr. Richard Feynman positively reveled in the idea that he didn't know something ... with the unspoken yet clearly understood postscript: "YET!" His and other minds like his yearn for the next great puzzle, the daunting quandary, the riddle which dares us to solve it. And solve them we do.
Find something that is supposedly beyond understanding. Once you have, wave it in front of someone expert in that field ... then GET OUT OF THE WAY! There isn't a knot that's been discovered yet which would qualify as Gordian; I suspect there never will be.
[And while we're at it, her green eyes and deltoids are non-operators to me. If she wants to indulge in woo, she can have fun with it all she wants. That still doesn't mean that I have to buy into such bilge.]
Excellent response Loren, and very much along the lines of what I'd say (though I can't seem to ignore her eyes and delts). Let me try to come up with what might be her reply (this is fun in a perverse way). My imagined version of her reply is in italics below. I don't agree with all of it, but find it hard to refute.
Whatever was superstition, once rationally explained, ceases to be superstition. It's either provably real or provably nonsense. But when it isn't yet rationally explained, and you must admit that much is as yet not, Then you must, or at least should if you're interested in reality, accede that any future understanding of reality will possibly if not probably include things that are not yet deemed such. Quantum physics seemed ridiculous to most of the great thinkers who hadn't thought of it yet, and yet, on rigorous inspection, it seems to be consistent with what we currently accept as reality.
And so, unlike Einstein who at first rejected quantum theory, I choose not to reject out of hand an idea just because it may seem ridiculous at first, second or third glance. Of course I choose with the faculties at my disposal what weight I give to such ideas, and toss out many more than I keep. But requiring absolute provability as a bar that all phenomena must cross to be admitted is to run the very great risk of missing something important. Most woo-woo is easily recognized as ridiculous, and most science is rigorously proved, but that quite large realm between the ridiculous and the proved includes not only things that will later be shown ridiculous, but also things that will be proved. And so it is a mistake to automatically dismiss all that is not yet proved.
I don't think that anything exists beyond understanding, though perhaps beyond the senses of humans as currently configured. I'd like to have a T-shirt with that one pivotal closing word Feynman uttered -- "YET".
I'll leave my simple rebuttal to my favorite author:
If you've got the truth, you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn't prove it. Show people.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
You have interesting friends. They are more philosophical than I can understand. Bless their hearts.
'Tis true, and a bunch of hillbillies all, like me.
My mother's family were tenant farmers, living in one- or two- room houses with dirt floors. Granddad raised steers who followed him like puppies, and he cried when he sold them. He shot squirrels and rabbits for is family's meat. Turnips and potatoes were the main source of home grown vegetables, with tomatoes as a great luxury.
I won't say they were all honest and well meaning people. There was abuse and violence amidst the poverty. But the ones I remember were kind, earthy, funny, without guile or hidden agenda that I could see.
My own journey has taken me thousands of miles, half a century, and through a strange maze of experiences. But that "hillbilly" has a lot of good to it.
My mother's family were tenant farmers during Southern reconstruction. My Father's line were essentially hunter-gatherers not far removed from the Neolithic. By the time I was 10 years old I was hunting every day with my ten dollar .22 rifle for just about the only meat we had.
Religion, specifically Southern Baptism, was their baseline and anything outside its strict tenets was considered illegitimate. Dad's mother got 'illegitimately' knocked up by a boy with a one-way ticket to WW1. She was shunned by her church & family and spent the rest of her long life (she died aged 104) in a lonely shack on a mountain. Mom's father was born in 1888 with the profound social disadvantage of looking like a full-blood Cherokee 50 years after Andy Jackson had supposedly got rid of all of them. He spent his life with a "c" for "colored" beside his name on official documents, and that had profound repercussions in the 20th century South.
My parents were thankfully not strongly religious. Dad was an outspoken atheist, calling it hillbilly superstition, while Mom was a nominal Baptist, rejecting the magic stuff but appreciating the social aspects of religion. They got me the hell out of this profound trough of ignorance and superstition when I was an infant, to settle in Colorado, We moved back to the South when I was still very young, and eventually returned to the tenant farmer - hunter/gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors. But by then I was immune to religion, and just watched it play out among my kin and neighbors.