When the philosophy undergraduates discover god...

This is my very first post on here so be very, very kind.  Maybe even sycophantic if you have it in you… ;-)

I've decided to post this in order to avoid having a drawn out and painful discussion with the original author of a Christian apology which, like arguing with a drunk teenager, is largely pointless and always entirely depressing.

The post in question was from someone called Templestream, a guy who was trolling on Atheist Revolution.  His theory was the typical drivel and claimed to ‘prove’ god’s existence based on several asserted premises which essentially came down to:  Logic relies on certain rules, some philosophers think that the Quantum Mechanics break some of these rules (specifically identity), you can’t explain Near Death Experiences logically, religion can, therefore god exists.

If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, the article can be found here: http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-phy...

The thing that grates with me is the dressing up in jargony philosophical language and scientific words, which is an ever increasing trait in religionist barrel scraping as they attempt to save face as the tolerance for their nonsense declines.  He’s even taken the trouble to produce lots of references and sources for his points, so that the innocent reader might be tricked in to thinking any of it holds water.

As you will have noticed from other religionists’ posts, quantum mechanics is the new catch-all for proving that the atheists can’t be certain about things, just as radiation and relativity were before them.  The philosophers around at the time of these discoveries all mused about ‘the profound philosophical implications’ of the latest theory on the block.  They also tend to throw in the usual ‘Theory X fails because it can’t answer the important questions like “why is there something rather than nothing” etc blah blah’.

These bloggers can be easily identified by their childlike understanding of things like scientific theories.  Templestream for example get his understanding of QM from “The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (SEP)”, not the best source for what most physicists find a challenging subject.  He then starts wittering on about the physical and logical implications of the theory and claiming that logic is undermined by it, because someone else thought it.  So the standard MO for a bible literalist then; it was in a book I like therefore it is true.

My physicist friend tells me that as it stands, QM helps you picture an electron moving through space about as well as Newton’s theory of gravity tells you what gravity is or how it works.  Both are mathematical tools that produce accurate predictions of experimental observations given certain inputs.  They work very well, but they aren’t complete and to think that a bedroom blogger has spotted that there is some implication that means everyone in the scientific community is wasting their time when they could be praying, is farfetched to say the least. 

The philosophical implications go only so far as adjusting philosophy; surely nature doesn’t care that we now understand how one variable changes with another, or how well we can predict the impact location(s) of whatever a ‘particle’ turns out to be.  The SEP also manages ten and a half thousand words on philosophical implications of General and Special Relativity, where as in fact the impact of special relativity doesn’t go much further than accepting the fact that it’s impossible to tell whether you’re moving uniformly at a constant velocity or standing still; general relativity does the same with acceleration and gravity.  There’s no great mystery, that’s just how it appears, as far as is understood today.  This makes some adjustments to prior assumptions, but there’s no change to reality just because we now know. 

Much of it is counter intuitive and maybe that’s why the religious philosophy student tries so hard to highlight contradictions in anything other than the biblical version of reality.  But then even if it were all wrong, it wouldn’t mean that any other theory is automatically better; that we should look again at the “Yeah, God did it” hypothesis.

The whole Near Death Experience thing is bizarre also.  After Death Experience would be worth hearing about.  The dreams of a pensioner during a car crash are no doubt fun but that others have similar experiences shows only that our brains are the same model and that they appear to react in the same way in similar circumstances; what you would expect from the product of evolution and shared ancestry.

Anyhoo, rant over.  I still haven’t decided whether to ever join in on the ‘philosophical proof’ arguments; their authors are so bought in to their own work that I doubt a mere ape such as I could convince them of anything except what a miserable sinner I must be, not to truly ‘see’.



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Comment by Cheryl Kerkin on July 31, 2011 at 7:20pm
I'll just add that the juddering thump down to earth does enable a great sense of humour. I find. Among all of us.
Comment by Cheryl Kerkin on July 31, 2011 at 7:07pm
Europe is secular out of cultural habit right now. Perhaps not least because in Britain (and some other European countries) our period of 'empire' is over but still within objective view. We are painfully learning our place in the world. This last century has belonged to America.

As someone pointed out, the USA has a culture founded on 'belief'. Which isn't meant to be completely disparaging. Those traits have created a people who believe they can succeed, 'reach the sky', make the world as they wish it to be. This can be very beneficial. It can create people who never give up, who see possibility and silver linings and 'the American Dream' when everything is collapsing around them. Then you can go on Oprah, or if nothing has worked, Jerry Springer.

The belief that anything is possible for everyone gives a sense of hope and importance to the individual. Sadly it can also lead to the 'belief' that your country knows what's best for others. Britain has done this too but perhaps more cynically, without quite as much belief that we know what's best for others, more a greedy plundering of another country's resources. Britain is empirical. We 'make do and mend'. We don't 'get ideas above our station'. It's a bit grey really. But it facilitates us with an ability to face the world as it is and make that our starting point.

There are only two countries in the world with a written secular constitution. Ironically that's the USA and India.

I agree that all scientific advances will feed into the dismantling of irrationality and neurology holds out some hope.

But it's amazing how people determined to hang onto their personal metaphysical world view will turn those discoveries to their advantage.

In the 60's and 70's didn't people simply pop a pill and discover themselves to be at the centre of some universal 'scheme'? Opening the doors to perception? No matter you could give these pills to a dog and they too would have some sort of 'transcendental dog experience'. No, even though we knew it was caused by chemicals acting on our brains, our natural solipsism came bounding into view, desperate for it's validation of there being a greater scheme to things within which we were central .

Worryingly I think neurology will be very subject to this kind of distortion - more than we think. I mean, if the thousands of pieces of evidence proving evolution to be a fact aren't enough, and after all this time we still have to argue about it and actually fight to reverse the inroads of 'intelligent design' in the school curriculum, heck, I don't know what it will take to keep us on track.

The constant presence of people like us and what we think is the most powerful thing. I do really believe that. We stay visible, don't go away, and those religious nutjobs will have to keep explaining themselves. The inroads will be slow and incremental. As the IRA used to say...(bad example!!)...keep the faith!! Yeah, really bad example.
Comment by Darren Taggart on July 31, 2011 at 1:58pm
Oh god I hope you're wrong Cheryl! Although whatever these people think, it clearly isn't because of a deep understanding of QM, membranes or string theory. They're always looking for gaps for Jesus or god or whoever to hide in!

All the more fun for us though, eh? X
Comment by Cheryl Kerkin on July 31, 2011 at 12:57pm
I'd love to think Greg was right but I'm not so sure. I think religion is going to be very hard to dislodge. Especially when the physics theories bouncing around now are so opaque and exotic that you can batten anything onto them and we can find some quantum theory that makes a sort of case for agnosticism.  At best.  Even Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens best friend goes down that road.
Comment by Darren Taggart on July 31, 2011 at 9:26am
Don't get me started on buddhists Glen!
Comment by Frankie Dapper on July 30, 2011 at 11:05pm

The deluded use and misuse science when it is convenient, that is when it supports their preconceived cartoon world view.

I have observed the same phenomenon among eastern religious believers regarding the cyclical universe fitting in with the idea of reincarnation and endless cycles. Big bang, expand, contract, repeat.  More recently science seems to indicate the contraction is not occuring.

In their defense, it is hard for any of us to abandon our cherished beliefs.

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