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Some Questions for Atheists and Fellow “free-thinkers”…

Hooray for the “free thinkers” and skeptics. Kudos to those who put reason above faith. And, Halleluiah to the scientific way of thinking. But wait, you say: Halleluiah means literally “Praise ye Jehovah” – a reference to a deity. So why can’t we praise an unknown possibly non-existent entity? After all, we are free thinkers.

I hope that you will take a few minutes and engage in some free-thinking with me as I ask but a few questions. I promise that I will not use the words God, faith, or Bible. Indeed, it my intent to stick entirely to “science” – the objective pursuit of “truth” in order to produce a “Halleluiah” moment. I won’t offer any conclusions or opinions; I will simply state the scientific premise, the current state of our scientific (objective) knowledge, and the logical question which arises there from. Brace yourself…

1. Our best evidence shows that the Universe started as non-equilibrium/asymmetrical quantum event aptly described as a “naked singularity”. We have no idea what triggered this event, in what context this event occurred, or what processes might have existed prior to its inception. ?? Is there any evidence or proof that this event was NOT caused by some “intelligent” purposeful entity? (If you have some, the entire scientific community would love to hear about it).

2. Since the inception moment (aka “the Big Bang”), the Universe has continuously unfolded in a consistent (although not perfectly consistent) manner and it continues to unfold in a similar manner. We have no idea where the Universe’s original information, material (energy), or processes came from, but their results are what we study via “science”. ?? Are there any known effects for which we are certain there is no cause? (If you know of one, stop here. You have proven the existence of a deity – it is you).

3. The “unfolding” of the Universe has resulted in the complexity that we deem “reality” and this reality has certain properties which we observe and measure. We have no idea why these properties exist although we can trace their origin back to certain inception conditions. ?? If every known effect has a cause, then is it logical to accept that the existence of the inception properties of the Universe had a cause?

4. The inception conditions included a sizeable set of “laws” which govern the manner in which our Universe has unfolded and these laws have an inherent logic which science deals with as “mathematics”. To date, we have grasped the fundamentals of these laws and when expressed in their simplest form, they fill volumes. ?? What are the odds of such ordered complexity emerging “spontaneously” (as in without a purposeful and intelligent cause)? 

5. Along with those “laws”, the Universe began with other specific inception conditions which we deem “constants”. These constants have no inherent logic, no known pre-conditional cause, and are not logically “random”. Most appear to be “infinite” in that they include greater complexity than the Universe itself (as in the values  of [1], ℮[2], and h \,[3]). ?? Which finite systems can produce an infinite number of infinities? And, how long would it take them to do so?

6. Along with “laws” and “constants”, the inception conditions included specific and well known “rules” (a different meaning than “laws” as above) such as the “rules of dynamics” and the “rules of relativity”. These rules express qualities and interrelationships which appear to permeate the Universe and control or limit the unfolding process. We understand these rules within our system of logic and coherence and reject rules that are either inconsistent or contradictory. ?? Is this not an obvious acknowledgement of an inherent logic which we would deem “intelligent”?

7. Along with the “laws”, “constants”, and “rules”, the inception conditions included structural components we call “dimensions”. The dimensions are both distinct and integrated with three of them specifying spacial relationships and a fourth giving the Universe its temporal relationships. These are so closely integrated that we refer to them as space-time and they exists as a continuum across the Universe but not throughout the Universe. ?? How is it that the dimensions of the Universe continue to confound us with their simplicity? (The best we can figure, the Universe should have more dimensions).

8. Along with the “laws”, “constants”, “rules”, and “dimensions”, the inception conditions included  “principles” or underlying “forces” which impel or constrict the unfolding. One group of these “principles” we term the “fundamental forces” (e.g. gravity, electro-magnetic, and nuclear) and another we broadly define as “evolution”. These principles give the Universe structure and direction. (For example, evolution gives us our “time arrow”). ?? How complex of a structure can you imagine emerging “spontaneously” or “randomly” before you would conclude that it wasn’t “accidental”? (If you set a deck of playing cards on a table and they leaped to form a “house of cards”, would you think “Ah, another act of random spontaneity at work?)

9. When viewed together and over time, we observe a number of clear patterns in the inception conditions, the most obvious of which are inexplicable balances and imbalances, symmetries and non-symmetries, and orderliness and chaos. In other words, some things are balanced in very precise ways and some things are imbalanced in very specific ways; some things are astoundingly symmetrical and some things lack symmetry for no apparent reason; and in some places orderliness emerges against a backdrop of prevalent disorder. (In the next section, we will focus of these more). The “second law of thermodynamics” predicts the prevalence of disorder and yet the Universe is full or orderliness without a known cause. Even more difficult to explain is that orderliness emerges exactly as needed to create the complex structures of the Universe. ?? One house of cards emerging randomly is an oddity; a billion billion billion of them is a pattern – don’t you think?

10. Most scientific breakthroughs in our history come from our “discovery” of some process which underlies the unfolding of some previously unexplained ordered result. (We don’t seem to need an explanation for the emergence of chaos). The existence of some “natural processes” naturally leads us to think that we will eventually find a natural process which explains every emergence of orderliness. ?? Will we eventually discover a natural process which explains the emergence of natural processes? (And so on?)

11. In the beginning (or at least soon after the beginning of the Universe) there was a hot mass of energy that was expanding. ?? Into what was it expanding and where did that “space” come from?

12. The hot mass started to “cool” as it spread out. ?? What caused it to spread in violation of the law of gravity?

13. Its “symmetry” broke?  ?? OK, who broke the symmetry (Just kidding)? Luckily, and it matters a lot, matter prevailed over anti-matter. (Actually we don’t know whether ours’ is the matter Universe or the anti-matter Universe – we simply picked the name we liked). Even if there is a balance, somehow matter and anti-matter separated instead of annihilating each other. And, even if there’s still a bunch of anti-matter out there, it just happens to have the same gravity as matter. (How convenient!) ?? In a truly random system, pockets of orderliness can emerge for short periods and yet in the Universe they emerge as semi-permanent structures. Why? How? (I know that unanswered questions prove nothing, but we are compelled to accept there are some really BIG unanswered questions given the level of knowledge we have).

14. Among the most profound patterns we observe in the unfolding of the Universe are those that we deem “emergent properties”. Somehow, the pure energy of the early Universe coalesces into a host of discrete quantum particles (perhaps hundreds of different types)[4]. Each of these different quantum particles has its own set of properties which nicely fit into categories (quarks, lepton, bosons, mesons, and the like).  Our ability to discern the patterns which lead to categories of quantum particles is a scientific acknowledgement of an underlying orderliness. ?? When we state that a scientific result is “natural”, how does that differ from saying it was “created by Nature” – merely another name for some creative deity?

15. Quantum particles interact in strikingly complex and interrelated ways to provide the Universe with matter. The basic building-blocks of matter are sub-atomic particles which come into existence as if by “magic”. Actually, we know that they are formed through different interactions of quantum particles under the specific rules that were part of the initial conditions. Thus, it takes the complex array of quantum particles interacting under the specific rules that were built into the Universe combined with very accurate physical constants (such as the conductance quantum, the magnetic flux quantum, and the nuclear magneton constant)  to permit the formation of electrons, neutrons, and protons. Then it takes some additional “magic” along with very precise physical constants (such electron charge, electron mass, Fermi coupling constant, fine-structure constant, proton mass, Rydberg constant, and others) to allow the formation of atoms. ?? So, even if we’re willing to simply pass off the unknown “magical” aspects of the process, how does one overcome the basic probabilities which make the “odds” against all these exact rules, precise constants, and essential interactions occurring randomly about the same as winning the lottery every day for a million days in a row? (If your answer is, “that’s just the way it is”, then you should take up religion because that’s often their silly answer).

16. In processes which remain a mystery, but have some reasonable scientific explanations, atoms coalesced out of the primordial soup of energy; not just some atoms, but most of the very specific atoms which make up our periodic table. We know about valences, electron orbits, pairing principles, and much about atomic structure which explains their wonderful structure and function. ?? But how can we explain the very fact that they are organized “periodically” – in a structure behind the structure which just happens to provide the ideal properties for “chemistry”?

17. ?? And what about the easily overlooked complexity inherent in atoms acting as liquids, solids, or gases (or other exotic states). While we have a good grasp on why they take on a particular state, how do we explain the very existence of such states? (Oh yes, it just happens that way).

18. The properties of atoms are exactly what are needed to allow for the creation of more complex and useful structures – molecules. And, of course, that’s exactly what happens: in places where conditions allow, atoms combine into a myriad of forms with their own emergent properties. We rather take these properties for granted, but the reality is that molecules exhibit properties for which we have no explanation, especially those which we call “organic compounds”. Most surprising is that molecules “figured out” how to do things that we can’t do, and that we can’t make them do. It’s not that there’s “magic” involved (or maybe there is), it’s that we aren’t struck by the fact that there exists this underlying complexity and orderliness that allows innate objects to achieve things that we “intelligent” beings can’t figure out. ?? In the computing world, we developed the “Turing test” to measure artificial intelligence, but in the scientific world we haven’t created the “Deity test” to measure when something cannot be explained without external intelligent effort (“will”). What measures, methods, and processes would rationally be involved in such a test?

19. Molecules figured out how to replicate themselves and replicating molecules figured out how to organize themselves into cooperative forms. At some point, self-replicating/self-organizing molecules began to reproduce their entire structure, began to take in energy from outside sources, and began to respond to their surrounds and as a result of these combined abilities, they began to gather into more and more complex forms. We understand much about the mechanisms which underlie these transformational steps – enough to recognize that mechanisms themselves fall short of explaining how it happens. More so, something even more profound happens that is so radical and different that we have to call it “non-physical”. Evident within the behavior of these systems, we observe a new order of complexity which is generally termed “life”. The transformation to life involves processes which evade scientific analysis because there are aspects to life which we cannot measure – even though we are capable of measuring physical forces and processes at the sub-atomic level. Again, this in itself may be proof of nothing more than our lack of intelligence. ?? But, what is now evident is that there is a level of ordered complexity beyond the physical necessary to explain transcendental and emergent properties such as “life”. At what point do we begin to grasp that there are other things going on in reality which are infinite, pre-existing, intelligent in both cause and effect, and far beyond our understanding?

20. Living organisms manifest amazing properties as individuals during their lives. Collectively, they exhibit even more amazing properties over time as they change and die. Through a variety of processes (such as mutation, natural selection, and selective breeding), living organisms evolve such that types differentiate and differentiated types adapt to better fit their environments. Of course, we call this large-scale process “evolution” and scientifically box it into a handy package of over-simplified biological mechanisms. We also know that there is much more to the reality of evolution (as below), but find it scientifically inconvenient to deal with things like punctuated disequilibrium, transcendental attributes, and extra-genetic transfer of characteristics. Evolution best describes the larger, more obvious, and most prevalent observation we have made about the Universe: something working “behind the scenes” continuously moves certain change in the specific direction of ordered complexity. (Contrary to the opposing “force” which continuously moves certain change in the opposite direction – “entropy”). We have developed a conception of evolution based upon a narrow and misleading view and that pre-conception has blinded us to its larger meaning. Evolution is compelling evidence for the existence of underlying purpose behind the creation of the Universe. ?? Purpose is universally recognized as proof of intelligent life; if evolution reflects purpose (as the evidence clearly indicates), what life accounts for it?

21. Speaking of intelligent life, evolution has brought living organisms on Earth into a new transcendental realm: beings capable of grasping their origins, the processes of the Universe, and the likelihood of some creative purpose underlying those. These beings are not only self-aware, they are aware of awareness and aware of the purpose for their awareness (in a few cases). Such awareness is yet another example of emergent ordered complexity. In this case, the transcendental nature of the process is evident in two primary forms: cultural evolution and meta-biological transformation (next section). The progression toward ordered complexity continues outside individuals as human culture evolves independently of human beings. While still dependent upon beings, human culture has transcended (evolved) into a “living” creation which displays transformation beyond physical change. The advent of cultural intelligence and its independent evolution reflects a different order of non-physical change and transformation which resists scientific exploration. For now, the only instrumentation available to study this phenomenon is the human mind. ?? It is the very nature of transcendental evolution which compels us to imagine something greater than ourselves which purposefully created this reality. As some have suggested, the Universe has become self-aware through us. Which is more likely, that such is the result of an incredible series of magical coincidences and improbabilities or that some unknown entity created the necessary initial conditions intended to accomplish the very result which makes the most sense to us, and purposefully set up the mechanisms necessary to allow such to evolve?

22. The human spirit (as a transcendental emergent property of mind) remains the most complex and ordered creation known to exist in the Universe (although it has evolved to the point where it knows that something greater caused it to evolve). While tied to physical evolution and physical being, the human spirit exists as a non-physical human attribute which is evolving on its own. Although our only direct evidence for this is within ourselves (raising the possibility of self delusion), it has produced results not otherwise explainable (such as conscience, moral awareness, and altruism[5]). The continuation of evolution must be based upon non-physical advancement of ordered complexity either through cultural advancement, spiritual advancement, or both. ?? Now that humans grasp the process of evolution and its direction, what higher purpose could we define than using our awareness and abilities to further it?

23. “Proof” comes in many forms, none of them equating with certainty. Indeed, our intelligence and awareness teaches us that it is unethical to be certain. Therefore, our acceptance of proof is not the same as claiming certainty. When we assess evidence, we express it in terms of probabilities – one thing can be far more likely than another. If we flip a certain coin a million times and exactly half the time it comes up “heads”, we can accept with confidence that it is controlled by “random” processes. Conversely, if we flip a coin a million times and every time it comes up heads, we can be fairly certain that randomness is not at work. We can eliminate randomness as the source for our reality since the probabilities are so massively against such[6]. We can attribute the result to unknown and immeasurable “forces” – an idea that might have seemed reasonable when we thought the world was flat (as much as it seemed reasonable to attribute it to some anthropomorphic super-being).  But the probabilities lie elsewhere and so we are compelled to reassess an ancient notion – that the Universe was created and has a purpose. ?? If you can imagine a universe without cause and without purpose, then you can imagine life without meaning. If you choose to accept that life has no meaning, what justification can you offer for the energy you consume, the waste you create, and the harm that you cause?

24. The idea of a creative entity purposefully causing the origin of the Universe underlies most major religions. Unfortunately, such theistic religions invariably associate dogmatic ideas with their deity instead of simply accepting what can be observed, verified, and logically assessed. Intelligent free-thinking people reject religious thought corrupted by superstition and subjective speculation and have, in turn, sometimes rejected theism altogether. Obviously, there is no need to associate the creative entity of the Universe with any religious clutter; this “Creator” can be (and should be) the subject of science, objective perception, and rational analysis and our first conclusion must be that our methods and means are currently as inadequate as our intelligence in this endeavor. ?? Can you honestly assert that you have given the Creative entity option the full focus of scientific and rational analysis?

25. Occam’s razor (and the related K.I.S.S. principle) are not axiomatic, but serve to guide analysis. In science, we favor “elegant solutions” over mere functional solutions. We are “blessed” to see reality with greater depth and insight than those who are less informed. And yet, we find it easy to reject the inherent beauty and incipient logic which is continuously and consistently revealed through scientific exploration. We create rather absurd circular and needlessly complex theories to explain reality so that we can avoid the simplest and most elegant solution: a Creator. ?? Are you really a free-thinker if you reject objective evidence merely because it leads to a conclusion which opposes your beliefs (or lack thereof)?

Atheism rejects both the scientific and philosophical basis for a deity under the presupposition that theistic belief is derived solely from supernatural and superstitious conceptions. Atheists also tend to oppose the necessary implications of a theistic belief; if there is/was a Creator entity, it necessarily changes one’s world-view. Belief enters the picture when we begin the discussion regarding those implications – but no longer is it the basis for acknowledging the most elegant and objective conclusion: that the Universe has clear direction and rational purpose best explained by a Creator entity (a “deity”)[7].

Our inability to discuss theism and atheism on a rational level has created confusion and more. We have a similar problem in separating God from religion. I particularly appreciate the work of Austin Cline (a presenter or “guide”at about.com) in explaining semantic difficulties we should resolve before using terms like “belief”, “disbelief”, and “denial”[8] or even  understanding how nuisances of language may greatly affect the discussion[9]. We need to press the “reset button” in both our approach to gathering information, our use of terms, and the development of conceptions (pre-conceptions) regarding a Creator entity. Then, once we have fully explored the available objective and logical “evidence”, we can begin a useful discussion regarding beliefs and rational conceptualizations.

I hope that all “free thinkers” out there, whether atheists or theists, will join me in this honest, important, and respectful undertaking. To this, I say Halleluiah!

RVW (15 March, 2011)

[1] Currently, we have computed the decimal expansion of π at over 5 trillion digits.

[2] As either Euler’s constant or as elemental charge.

[3] Planck’s constant enumerating the relation between the energy and frequency.

[4] For those readers who are not physicists or keeping up, might I recommend the following reference regarding elementary particles… http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/ast123/lectures/lec07.html.

[5] I would add our level of creativity, but its source is less certain.

[6] There are many sources which detail these odds, but “odds” can be deceptive. One can always argue that there is some unknown force at work which negates the “odds”. But here, it is the existence of just such a force that is at issue.

[7] The common definition of a deity might include “Supreme Being” and “ruler of the world”. These reflect part of the difficulty in discussing atheism, since any theist notion which includes either of these definitions lies outside of the objective realm. A better definition of deity would be: “The entity which caused the creation of the Universe which we perceive.” We might hold such an entity as a “being” and believe it to be “supreme”. We certainly have no indication that any deity “rules the world”.

[8] See “Belief, Disbelief, and Denial: Disbelief is Not the Same as Denial” by Austin Cline at http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/BeliefDisbelief.htm

[9] See “Not Believing vs. Believing Not - The Difference Between Disbelief and Denial” by Austin Cline at http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/DisbeliefDenial.htm.



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