Lately, I've debated a lot of people here about the validity of saying that a particular model of reality is superior to another. Many of you are wont to claim that religious ideas are non-sense or at least less sense than non-religious ideas, or scientific ideas (I distinguish the two because atheists are not always scientists). The reason I bother to debate this point at all is not even to assert a model of my own, but to illustrate that no idea should really be considered more or less realistic than another until we are certain that we have a model that accurately represents reality. Completely accurately. To me, anything less than complete accuracy is equivalent to complete inaccuracy. But a lot of you seem to disagree with that concept, so I wanted to explain it as a seperate post than the ones in which it has come up.


In several of my attempts to explain this, I have used an analogy of infinite numbers, saying that claiming something is almost correct is akin to saying a number is almost infinite. Anyone who has enough experience in math to have encountered infinite numbers knows that it is ludicrous to claim that a finite number is close to infinity. Any finite number, no matter how large, is still infinitely far from infinity. But using that analogy has not always made my point clear (or maybe it has and people still just disagree with me, lol).


I have also tried explaining by pointing to ideas like chaos theory, which enables computers to simulate complex models with billions or even trillions of interracting parts. Things like galaxy formations, baclkhole simulations, and models of the Big Bang are made using chaos theory. I use it as an example because the math of chaos theory illustrates that very tiny, seemingly insignificant differences in the input algorithms can produce vast differences in the output model because of the number of parts involved and the number of interractions occuring. I recently watched an attempt at simulating the beginnings of the universe, and the programmers were having trouble finding parameters that would actually produce a universe like our own. With only very minor adjustments to parameters like the number of protons, neutrons and electrons in the universe, hugely different sequences would be produced by the computers. Most of them simply did not create anything like the universe we observe until the programmers tweaked it to within very small margins, at which point galaxies began to emerge from the simulation that were similar to what we see when we look through a telescope. Yet, if you used the math from any of their failed attempts to try to measure something on the human scale, you would have gotten results accurate to degrees far exceeding anything that most of us ever need to measure. Just like Newtonian mechanics produces very accurate measurements (enough to launch a shuttle to the moon and bring it back), and is thus still taught in classrooms all the way up to college-level physics. And yet, scientists abandoned Newtonian mechanics over a century ago, in favor of relativistic and quantum mechanics. And in the future, the models we use today will likely be abandoned for some model that has even more accurate predictions.


The differences will seem tiny: right now, scientific models can predict the results of experiments to within tens-of-thousandths of degrees of accuracy. And the next model might only increase that to hundreds-of-thousandth of degrees. Newtonian mechanics was is accurate to within thousandths of degrees, a difference of just a few decimal places, yet the overall picture that it paints of reality is staggeringly different than the picture painted by relativistic and quantum mechanics. So, it cannot be said that Newton came "close" to describing reality. If you plugged Newtonian math into the simulators trying to produce models of the Big Bang, you would get results that were so totally alien that you wouldn't even recognize it as a universe. There would be no galaxies, no stars or planets, and certainly no humans. And because our current models do not produce 100% accurate results in experiments, they cannot be said to be close to describing reality either. Until the results are perfect, they are all still infinitely far away.


This is why I frequently challenge my fellow atheists here for saying that the ideas of theists are inferior to our own, or that they are deserving of ridicule and mockery. They are no further from the truth than our models, and for all we know, they may be just a small tweak away from being correct. When you are driving down a road that's a million miles long, a tiny turn of the wheel in your first mile will put you waaaaaaaay off track by the end. Perhaps that is what has happened to the ideas of theists. Many religions are thousands of years old. Perhaps in the beginning, they only took that one, small wrong turn away from accurately describing reality, but have now gone so far off course that the mistake seems huge to all of us looking at them today. But perhaps our theories have also taken a wrong turn here or there, and we only do not see it because the road is younger under our feet.


So unless you have a model of reality, be it science or your own unique model, that predicts everything that happens perfectly all the time, your ideas are just as far off as every other person who has ever walked the Earth. Your ideas may seem pretty close most of the time, but if you could extend your predictions far enough into the future, you would very likely find yourself way off course. I implore you all to keep this in mind the next time you want to ridicule a theist for believing something that you don't. We should not become the new oppressors of ideas, just because our ideas are newer. We should not now become the group that is so certain of itself that we disregard the opinions of others, or we are just as bad as those who do it in the name of God, or Allah, or Xenu.


Am I making sense to anyone?

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Comment by John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 8:49pm

Glen, yes that idea violates my point? To say that one is more or less correct is ludicrous. It was intended to be funny. Apparently I'm not funny.


Occams razor doesnt work there because whether you think a God made all this or you think it came to exist without a god, you'd still be left wanting that explanation of how it came to be at all. If we say its god, then we have to ask 'who made god?' If we say there's no god, we still have to ask 'then what made the universe?' Both are pretty much the same question, especially if a person defines god as 'all of existence,' which most theists seem to. I suspect that neither question would ever be answerable, or that the answer to both is 'an uncaused cause,' so the scale that is Occam's razor would hang as heavily on both sides.


I can't agree that theist scientist is an oxymoron. There are many scientists who are theists. How do you figure that ascribing to science makes it impossible to believe in god? Grace has given a nice example of theistic scientists. Are you saying that all those Mormons don't really believe in god or that they don't really believe science works to explain the way the universe works?

Comment by Frankie Dapper on May 29, 2011 at 6:43pm


Kant is more fun than . . .

You said the universe is infinite if it digresses endlessly. Can it go in the other direction and be without borders?

Comment by Frankie Dapper on May 29, 2011 at 6:41pm


Occam's razor, the atheist. More correct? Doesn't that idea violate your point. Theist scientist is oxymoronic.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 29, 2011 at 6:41pm
Actually, I grew up in a very moderate Methodist church and with a couple of exceptions, most of the theists I have known were very nice and not obnoxious.  However. going to war and living in the South convinced me either there was no god or god was a real sob.  It's a lot easier believing there is no god than there is a god who is a complete and total jerk.  With the exception of the whole god and jesus thing and their stand on gays, I still strongly identify with my Methodist roots.  Plus most Methodists also believe science is a the best way to explain the mysteries of the universe.  There is no god/science conflict in the way I was raised.  We believed god did it, science explained how.
Comment by John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 5:46pm

Glen, an atheist scientist and a theist scientist walk into a bar. Both of them say "OW!" They, both being scientists, have the same explanation in mind for why that hurt so much. The atheist states all the anatomical reasons that science has uncovered and ends his explanation with "and that's just the way it all is." The theist states all the same anatomical reasons and ends his explanation with "and that's just the way god made it."


Which of them is more correct?

Comment by John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 5:41pm
I think I love this woman. Sam, you take the words right out of my mouth.
Comment by samhita on May 29, 2011 at 5:37pm

Jared, math is not an example of a priori reasoning. It is an example of abstract reasoning, which is mentally isolating certain qualia of observation. Observation is still required for mathematics to be abstracted, which makes it a posteriori reasoning. According to current philosophy, there is no such thing as a priori reasoning. The reasoning behind this is that all thought is derived of experience. After all, what could you think about if you had never experienced anything at. No experience of time, space, or any stimuli at all. What could you think about? Any irrefutable answer to that question would be an example of a priori reasoning, but to my knowledge no one has ever provided an answer. And yes, I have read Kant and the German idealists. Their ideas are refutable and have been refuted.


Also, how does one measure the value of an idea? What is the measureing stick used to do this? If we knew some absolute truths of reality, we could use those absolutes as a measuring stick, but we do not have any. It's like trying to assert that the Earth is spinning. We commonly say that it is, but relative to what? Relative to the sun? Sure, but is the sun an absolute, unmoving point of space that could be used to guage the absolute value of the earth's rotational velocity? Nope.


Ideas can only be assigned relative values, no absolute values. If I'm building a car, Newtonian and quantum mechanics have about the same relative value. If I'm building a particle accelerator, quantum mechanics has a greater value relative to that endeavor. Your example of the earth is also an isolated situation, but we're not talking about isolated situations here, we're talking about models that describe, or fail to describe, all of reality. And there is no relative valuation in that situation because "all of reality" is an absolute. A model either does or does not describe all of reality.


Lol, I like the nudist comment, but if your frame of reference is that of an ultra-conservative islamic extremist, a nipple slip is just as bad as being a nudist. You'd probably get stoned to death for either one.

Comment by John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 5:03pm

Heh heh, that was almost a nice trick, Jared, but I don't agree that its a model. Models explain things and make predictions. Ackowledging that nothing has been explained is not the same as giving an explanation.


It's like the old parable of Socrates and the Sophist. A sophist asserts to socrates that it's impossible to know anything for sure. Socrates replies "Are you sure?" The parable has been used for at least centuries, if not millenia, to explain why skepticism is a self-defeating proposition, but in my mind it ultimately fails because all the sophist had to say to Socrates in return was "How could I be?" And lacking any explanation, the sophists can be comfortably left with his uncertainty.


To say that one is uncertain, that one has no explanations, and that one is making no predictions is the anti-thesis of what it is to propose a model. Those who disagree are those who are proposing models, and models, not the lack thereof, are what require explanations.

Comment by Jared Lardo on May 29, 2011 at 3:44pm

I've gone and read the discussion, and I've found what I believe to be the essence of John C.'s post: "I am saying that no model is superior to another unless it can be proven absolutely true."


I might be wrong about this next bit, but it's just too tempting in case I'm right:

That's a model.  By its own standards, it has to be proven absolutely right to even be better than models that allow various levels of superiority.  By the very fact that there are people that disagree with it (and taking into account that people become convinced by absolute proof), there must not be absolute proof of this model.  As such, this model is, by its own standards just as good as multiple-levels-of-quality models.  As such, there is no reason for me not to use one of them.  Hey, how about if I go do that now?  I think I will.


Going over to the model I was using earlier, I see that this model of yours is less good than mine; so I'm not going to use yours.



Comment by Frankie Dapper on May 29, 2011 at 3:33pm

Deism is the most "reasonable" religious position and one step removed from atheism. Deism is a reaction against popery and corruption, not a clear blue sky rational basis position, rather a reform of  superstition  if you will. And any eastern religion which posits reincarnation is silly, silly. And to the extent Buddhism is closer to philosophy than religion it escapes the wrath of Khan.

 I say truth falls anywhere. It is not aesthetic, unlike the designed lie.

My statement is not necessarily inconsistent with science or philosophy.

My statement is anathema to Islam and Christianity. Cant be so. It is all in this here

Koran and bible. But empiricism and scientific evidence is to the contrary-fuck you, pay me. Does not make sense based on all reasonable interpretation-fuck you, pay me.

It makes no sense to equate theism and atheism. Theism is infinitely stupid self-serving certainty. Atheism says nothing to answer ultimate questions. The only certainty is that the theists are full of shit. I am as certain of that as I can be.

So I am going to walk right into that queue reading my racing form doping the late pick 4 with nary a trepidation for the outcome. And the fundamentalist will have a bomb strapped on his back. Either way the fundamentalist wins.

The approach is radically at odds between science/atheism and western theism. The former aspires to truth. The latter proclaims it lacking all possibility of finding it. Now that my friend is the epitome of ignorance.



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