Can Science Explain Everything? (And do we want that?)

Jan 12, 2014


Discussion by: Art&Ideas
We’re seeing these days massive progress in science – boosted by technological progress – from neuroscience to the search for the ultimate particle (Higgs Boson). So, I was wondering from a sort of philosophical point of view if just breaking down particles again and again into smaller bits can really help us make sense of the world.

Einstein once said “it would be possible to describe everything
scientifically, but it would make no sense. It would be a description
without meaning—as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation
of wave pressure.”

But with the new scientific areas… what do you think? Can neuroscience explain consciousness? Can the Higgs Boson explain our place in the universe? I found this video on the limits of science, but the panel seems diverse but it seems the agenda tends to be a bit anti-sciency and I haven’t been able to find a similar debate with the other point of view.

I just feel sometimes there is an undeniable sense of beauty in the mysteries of the world, the beauty of science is to keep digging and maybe we shouldn’t always find answers 🙂

79 comments on “Can Science Explain Everything? (And do we want that?)

  • 1
    QuestioningKat says:

    Hey ART AND IDEAS you’re missing the boat. Even if all the mysteries of the universe are discovered, we create our own meaning. We find personal importance and gratitude in whatever we deem as worthy, inspirational, beautiful, … Why shouldn’t we find answers? Is there some sort of fear that our lies will be exposed?



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  • Worrying about Science explaining everything is a bit like me worrying about every women in the world (3 billion) falling madly in love with me, leaving their current spouses (if they have one) and coming to spend their lives as part of my worldwide harem.
    Would be nice but is so far fetched that we can pretty much forget about.
    The fact that I only have one wife out of the 3 billion women in the world (allow me to ignore age for this thought experiment) also probably represents how much further we have to go in scientific knowledge (ie. we are 1/3000,000,000 of the way science explaining everything. Another problem is the capacity of our brains. Imagine how hard it would be teach a Chimpanzee basic algerbra and then imagine another creature which is as more intelligent than us as we are than a chimpanzee and you can start to get the feeling that there is probably a lot of knowledge to be had right in front of us but our brains do not have the capacity to take it in.



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  • In terms of a philosophical approach to life , i am really an empiricist and a materialist , 100% , and that does not wear heavy on my personality , in fact i have never being so free in my whole life,



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  • 7
    Alan4discussion says:

    @OP – Can Science Explain Everything?

    It probably can – if humans pursue and resource the investigations.

    There is no reason to think there is any barrier to developing investigative methodology in any particular areas.

    Einstein once said “it would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense.

    It would be a description without meaning—as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”

    The lack of “meaning”, is a combination of a lack of the inclusion of personal objectives (What do you want from the experience?), and the failure to include the neuroscience in the interactions with “wave pressure”.

    Einstein was probably right, insofar as individuals cannot objectively investigate and self-analyse their own subjective feelings, subconscious, and mental processes, – but that does not mean that others cannot make observations and then produce scientific results and analysis.



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  • 8
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    Hi Art,

    In the video you linked to everyone appears to agree that science cannot explain everything. I can see no clear reason to undermine their positions.

    [Is] just breaking down particles again and again into smaller bits really help[ing] us make sense of the World?

    This is a very unfair characterisation of science. Not only does such a statement assume that Particle Physics is science (all you other scientists [Cosmologists, Chemists, Biologists, Climatologists, Pharmacologists, Agriculturalists, etc. etc. … ] can go home now), it assumes that scientists are only engaged in the construction of physical models. That’s very dismissive, or a complete misunderstanding of what science does, or mischievous, or all three?

    Einstein once said “it would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense. It would be a description without meaning—as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”

    Einstein also said that any man who can drive a car while kissing a pretty girl, is not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. May I humbly suggest that to understand what science can explain – and the beauty of those explanations – you need to stop pretending you can do two things at once. The utility of science is only one reason people love it. They also enjoy its beauty for its own sake.

    Enjoying the beauty of science is possible because it not only explains – it opens new vistas, new ways to view our lives, our loves, our place in the cosmos.

    By-the-by, your description is incorrect. Particle physics has determined that the standard model consists of waves, not particles.

    Can neuroscience explain consciousness?

    That depends on your definition of consciousness. This definition problem is discussed in detail in the video that you linked to, and Stephen Law gave the best answer; When you’ve worked out what your objection / question / position is on why science might not be able to explain consciousness come back and tell us. Because, until you do, we have no intelligable question to answer.

    Can the Higgs Boson explain our place in the universe?

    Have you asked it? We do not have a map of the Cosmos. We live on a planet, as far as we know, in the outer spiral arm of a unremarkable galaxy which is just one of hundreds of billions of such galaxies. Our galactic home appears to contain many billions of stars like our Sun – so the probability seems to be that our planet is not unique in most, if not all, respects. Our place in the universe is therefore precarious: We are a highly vulnerable species living on a minuscule lifeboat in a vast space and our species’ time is likely to be very limited. I’m guessing that didn’t help? I tried, but your question was very broad. Forgive me for being forward, but I think you really need to ask a clearer question.

    I just feel sometimes there is an undeniable sense of beauty in the mysteries of the world …

    I don’t really understand that sentiment. I know of no-one who switches off the news programs and says: “Ah, now I can rejoice in the beauty of my ignorance”. I know of no-one who passes a museum saying: “I could never go in, the beauty of not knowing will be destroyed within me!” I can think of no reason to say to a Scientist: “Desist! The beauty and delight of being cavemen is being left ever further behind.”

    … the beauty of science is to keep digging and maybe we shouldn’t always find answers

    But if science is not to be allowed to unravel mysteries, what is it for?

    Peace.



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  • Well as on many of these topics Richard Dawkins has thought this through pretty well. In this case he wrote a whole book on the topic (actually two if we count The Wonder of the Universe). But the book I have in mind is Unweaving the Rainbow. I recommend that book over any panel, he really goes into the issue and shows quite convincingly how understanding the science behind something only adds to appreciating the beauty and wonder it doesn’t detract.

    As for your question about neurophysiology IMO, no by itself it won’t explain consciousness but combined with other disciplines such as cognitive science yes it probably will. But we are so very far from a coherent let alone complete explanation at this point I think it’s just speculation to say either way and not something that it makes much sense to be overly concerned about.



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  • 10
    secularjew says:

    Given our limitations and given how every answer we found has only led to new questions, I wouldn’t worry too much about running out of mysteries. Besides, science is interested in knowledge, and not in simply wallowing in some celestial sense of “heebie-jeebies.” In fact, that knowledge itself can be quite “wondrous.”

    I also think that you need to make a distinction between understanding how something works and our emotional and physical experience of that something. You can understand how sexual reproduction or love works, for example, but your experience of sex and love doesn’t really change.



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  • 11
    Alan4discussion says:

    As soon as this introduced the pseudo-scientist Rupert Sheldrake as “The Scientist Rupert Sheldrake”, any semblance of honest discussion went out of the window!

    Alfred Rupert Sheldrake is an English author,[3] lecturer, and researcher in the field of parapsychology,[4] best known for advocating his “morphic resonance” concept.
    Prior to this, he was a biochemist and cell biologist at Cambridge University from 1967 to 1973[3] and principal plant physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics until 1978.[5]
    Since leaving research biology, he has primarily worked on developing and defending morphic resonance in books, articles, and public appearances.

    So having left his scientific work on PLANTS, (Well known to quackologists and tree-huggers for their mental and psychological capabilities) he has discovered that money is to be made writing books for the gullible on parapsychology and peddling his invented pseudo-scientific jargon “morphic resonance”, citing his earlier expertise (on PLANT physiology) as a scientific badge for his pseudo-science!!!!



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  • 12
    Mr DArcy says:

    Art&Ideas:

    Can Science Explain Everything?

    Not yet, indeed much work is in progress, so maybe yes and perhaps no.

    (And do we want that?)

    Yes. (including the smell of fresh ground coffee and love ).



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  • 13
    rizvoid says:

    Interesting views…

    Perception -David Bohm

    I think what Bohm is saying is everything we know about the universe through science, or through mind, is only a relative truth. Like seeing a multidimensional object from one of its infinite aspects. One way of looking at things, not the only way.



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  • I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that nobody knows with any degree of confidence. There is insufficient data at the present time to answer this question yes or no with any confidence. Of course, this won’t in the least be cause for philosophers, professional and armchair, to not debate this question. Of course, I wouldn’t want them to not debate it. Because the fun and entertainment is to be found in the journey to find the answer, if one is there to be found, and not in the finding of the answer to this question.



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  • 15
    NoneOfTheAbove says:

    I just feel sometimes there is an undeniable sense of beauty in the mysteries of the world, the beauty of science is to keep digging and maybe we shouldn’t always find answers 🙂

    Of course there is, that’s undeniable. But that beauty is not really out there: it’s in our eyes, as they say.

    We look, and feel awe and fear and hope and curiosity, but this is all about us. And of course we want to know what the things we see are, and how they work, and sometimes we get to know a bit of it.

    But to understand why we see beauty it’s us we should study; and we do, but it is really difficult to have an unbiased view of ourselves, so we can’t really be sure that someday we’ll know.

    There’s no problem in all that.

    No amount of knowledge about cells, tissues, organs can diminish the beauty I see in people I love, nor understanding nuclear fusion makes a starry sky less majestic.

    In the same way, knowing how thirst works doesn’t stop us from needing water, and understanding what the beauty of mystery is (should we ever really manage to understand it) won’t stop us from looking and feeling awe, fear, hope and curiosity.



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  • 16
    steve_hopker says:

    I think in a limited way, yes and yes.

    Without wanting to sound difficult, but I wonder if ‘Can the Higgs Boson explain our place in the universe’ suggests you have an extremely broad brush approach to explanation.

    Admittedly my understanding of the HB is small, but I think it is thought to give mass? The HB is involved in the Higgs field interactions with particles that have mass (non-integer spin?) such that their chance of changing position is reduced – the less chance, the shorter the distance to the new position, so the slower the said particle changes position.

    This amounts to an explanation for mass (inertia). I don’t think it in any way amounts to an explanation of our place in the universe, except in a very literal sense of how readily we might have moved to our place (the inertia of the particles making up our bodies).

    Perhaps what I’m questioning is – what kind of explanation is being sought for the universe? One that goes beyond the universe? It is in this sense that science is limited – it cannot go outside the universe to ‘look in on it’ and give a grand explanation – not at least beyond the universe itself. What we might (and I think should) hope for is a full understanding from the inside – not a super-scale explanation, but working models that allow us to further develop energy production, chemistry, travel, medicine etc etc.

    Indeed, looking for explanations beyond the universe might be wanting to go beyond nature – ‘super/extra-natural’ explanations. I suspect the idea of such explanations owes more to religious models of the universe as being surrounded or surmounted by God(s).



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  • 17
    Zeuglodon says:

    I sure as heck want the answers. Ignorance is useless, bland, and can even be – in fact, usually is – dangerous. The fact that we will not obtain all the answers is a tragedy we have to accept, not some kind of benefit. The most apparent way it could be a benefit is if a malicious individual could use knowledge against others, but even then it’s just trading one bad thing (ignorance) for another (malice).



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  • Science can’t explain everything now, and perhaps never will, but it’s made excellent progress so far. Incredible insights and knowledge are added to the total on a daily basis. Perhaps it will never be able to explain love, but we know a lot more about physical attraction (once one of life’s little mysteries). We know more about the pitfalls of our perceptions and we are able to circumvent these by applying the scientific method to test claims.

    Should we want science to shed light on the nature of the universe? How could we not?



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  • In reply to #13 by rizvoid:

    Interesting views…

    Perception -David Bohm

    I think what Bohm is saying is everything we know about the universe through science, or through mind, is only a relative truth. Like seeing a multidimensional object from one of its infinite aspects. One way of looking at things, not the only way.

    The link to the Bohm video does not work for me. The following quote is one my favorites by Bohm (and may be the same as the video’s content):

    “Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.” -David Bohm



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  • 20
    rizvoid says:

    Yep. I think that’s more or less what Bohm is saying in that video. Maybe he is also saying that science at best can show us the universe from its various aspects, but never in its entirety. It can give us relative truths, but never the absolute truth. And he is implying there is indeed a thing called absolute truth or the essence. And this is not science’s shortcoming. It’s the way our mind works, and science is only a product of our mind. The mind analyzes objects by breaking them down into bits and pieces, but this is not how reality is in actuality. It’s just how we see reality through our minds. So, if this is what he is saying, then it is really easy to answer the question whether or not science can explain everything. The answer is NO.

    In reply to #19 by zbob:

    In reply to #13 by rizvoid:

    Interesting views…

    Perception -David Bohm

    I think what Bohm is saying is everything we know about the universe through science, or through mind, is only a relative truth. Like seeing a multidimensional object from one of its infinite aspects. One way of looking at th…



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  • 21
    aquilacane says:

    Can accounting account for everything?

    can screwdrivers turn every screw?

    Science is a process it doesn’t explain anything any more than accounting accounts for anything. We explain things, we use the scientific process; it is an observational method for understanding the natural world. Can we we observe everything? No we can not. There is a great deal the scientific process will not explain simply because we never observe it or its trail of evidence.



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  • 22
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #19 by zbob:

    In reply to #13 by rizvoid:

    The link to the Bohm video does not work for me.

    I just clicked and the link didn’t work for me either. I don’t know why. Maybe some formatting error. Here is the address:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mst3fOl5vH0

    It’s titled “David Bohm on Perception”. I think this clip comes from an interview called “Beyond Limits.” Around an hour long.



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  • A storm at sea has a savage beauty to it (maybe less so if you’re on a boat in the middle of it) Knowing the storm is a result of natural forces and not posieden or thor getting annoyed doesn’t lessen that, but knowing how to predict storms is of interest to those who make their living at sea,



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  • 24
    achromat666 says:

    The light of this line of questioning tends to paint words like beauty and mystery in a fairly peculiar way.

    First I think we should at least acknowledge that science actually does explain, and does so in a way that no other method even comes close in what science has achieved. Then, we readily admit we’re not even close to finding the answers to anything, so I’m not certain if this question has any immediate meaning or impact.

    What we consider to be current technology are things that would have been impossible centuries ago, but even those advances pale in comparison to some of the things that are possible down the road. But none of that will answer all questions, and it isn’t for lack of beauty or mystery. It’s lack of information and the ability to obtain it.

    We have a great deal of other mysteries to discover and certainly we have more beautiful things to find out about in our universe. As much as we uncovered, there is much to find yet.

    As a side note, I actually find the discoveries themselves to be quite beautiful and something that is mysterious is neither inherently good or beautiful in and of itself. It is simply not known.



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  • 25
    AwesomeFrog says:

    Science can explain s so much more than religion and prayer through no ideas in the advancement of medicine and mental health health treatment. Do the atheists here think those in rest homes or psych words have any standing or respect. Science will just change in different ways, like religion. But science will be convincing and effective. Thank you.



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  • 26
    Modesti says:

    If I were you (By Art&Ideas) I would ask myself Why do I need an explanation so much (if indeed you are not asking exactly that with this article;) ). I do not strive so much for explanations of life,… of what is a meaning of life, and similar. Why some people need analysis, in general? I do not mean you “per se”, I don’t even know You :). Humans are only (one sort of many) transformators of energy, like whole universe is, and we exist so that natural purpose of universe can reveal itself. 🙂 I am not interesting to know what is “ultimate particle”,… it does not improve my life in any way. 🙂



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  • 27
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    Gregory Chaitin argues there is a limit to what we can know, https://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~chaitin/sciamer3.html. Basically, theories are simple models of nature in terms of what we already know. Science tests its theories to destruction, till they break down, and then ‘fixes’ the old theory to get a new one which is likely more complex than the old (which is often still used in cases where it’s known to work). So for instance, Newton’s theory of motion and gravity will get you to the planets, but is unable to account for the precession of the perihelion of mercury, you need Einstein’s General Relativity to explain that. General Relativity is more complex than Newton. Once the theory is as complex as what it’s trying to model does it really explain it? Chaitin does a better job than I can, but that’s the gist of it, as I understand.



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  • Explaining everything (whatever everything may be) isn’t a goal. Frankly, I don’t care either way, nor even for an answer.

    philosophical point of view

    And there you go. “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”.



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  • 29
    Alan4discussion says:

    We’re seeing these days massive progress in science – boosted by technological progress – from neuroscience to the search for the ultimate particle (Higgs Boson).

    Because of the limitations of human capabilities and the length of human life-spans, individual scientists will be unable to cope with all knowledge and investigations.

    However, that is not is not the same as claiming the “science” cannot investigate particular areas with specialists making new discoveries. As I said earlier, I do not think there are any areas which are beyond scientific investigation in the longer term.

    The possible exception is incoherent questions from “theosophers” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/theosophers) which are too vague, circular, or meaningless, for a rational investigation.



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  • 30
    Ospreywing says:

    No, science cannot explain everything, and probably never will. Science can reveal “truths” about the physical universe, using empirical, experimental methods (the scientific method) with the help of mathematics, logic, models of natural phenomena, etc.

    But science cannot address religious questions unless those questions refer to natural phenomena, such as the origin of the universe and the nature of man. In my opinion, science can’t explain concepts such as God, soul, faith, ethics, and morality. How can science determine what is good and what is bad, what is beautiful and what is ugly? Those are personal value judgments that are not very amenable to the methods of science. Of course some thinkers, such as Sam Harris, would disagree with this assessment as applied to morality.

    Yes, it is possible to correlate specific subjective states with neural activity in certain (often widespread) areas of the brain. But does that constitute a real explanation of the subjective experience? A given brain area (population of neurons) usually participates in more than one function. And such areas are not labeled in terms of morality, or beauty, or any single aspect of consciousness and behavior.

    Much work is being devoted to bridging the gap between the physical brain and conscious experience. But that problem is extremely difficult to crack – how does physical, electrochemical brain activity give rise to nonphysical subjective experience and consciousness?



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  • 31
    Bildoon says:

    Science is making progress – since many decades more or less free from suppression by religions. Not every step in this progress necessarily adds to a better explanation what is yet, or has been unknown.
    But still, the area of what can be explained on a scientific ground increases all the time.

    I would answer your question in this way: if something cannot be explained scientifically, it cannot be explained at all! And we presumably all agree: religions explain nothing.

    In German, there is the following aphorism (forgive the quality of my translation):
    “The larger the island of knowledge in the sea of the unknown, the longer is the coastline of doubt.”

    I would add:
    Yes, but an area increases with quadratic order of magnitude, whereas its border only in a linear fashion. So, when your knowledge increases by, say, a factor of 16, the amount of doubt is only increased by a factor of 4!



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  • 32
    Markovich says:

    I am quite sure that neuroscience will eventually explain conscoiusness. But one thing that can never be explained is why anything at all exists or, same thing, why the totality of existence is what it is and not something else. If, for example, the God of the Christians exists and is the explanation of everything else, one thing he cannot do is account for his own existence.

    But there is no conflict between understanding things and standing in awe of their complexity and beauty.



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  • 33
    mohammad.sahid.524 says:

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  • 36
    Stafford Gordon says:

    Even if we never come to know everything I bet that the human insatiability for knowledge will never become diminished, and that is the most important thing.

    In any case, I expect that given the age of the universe, and how short a time it’s been since we fortuitously evolved, there is so much to discover that we’ll go extinct before there’s time to know everything.



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  • 37
    Stafford Gordon says:

    In reply to #1 by QuestioningKat:

    Hey ART AND IDEAS you’re missing the boat. Even if all the mysteries of the universe are discovered, we create our own meaning. We find personal importance and gratitude in whatever we deem as worthy, inspirational, beautiful, … Why shouldn’t we find answers? Is there some sort of fear that our li…

    Thanks; I missed that trick too!

    However, we do seem to have a propensity for making up bad stuff, like, you know what!



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  • 38
    Pinball1970 says:

    “the beauty of science is to keep digging and maybe we shouldn’t always find answers.”

    The interesting part about science for me is reading about the answers that have no connection to my current knowledge.
    Occasionally I am sure the scientists and physicists in particular are just as surprised as the rest of us.
    Something like Quantum entanglement is a crazy notion, it is completely counter intuitive and has not real reference point I can relate to.
    Spooky action at a distance is not my idea of answer but it is part of the picture the physicists have been building for us.
    The final picture may be only possible to describe with complex, abstract, mathematics so I don’t think we need worry too much when the picture is complete.

    That final picture will be just as muddy as total ignorance to all but a select few.



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  • 39
    ThisIsMe says:

    I think science can explain a lot of things. Consciousness can be described as a bunch of neurons and chemicals firing and reacting in the brain, but if you’re looking at things from a philosophical perspective… I don’t think so. We can explain what makes us feel sad or happy, but with regards to why people feel sadness and happiness at different things or have such radically variable personalities, explaining things in a strictly scientific way gets pretty dang hard.



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  • 40
    Thomas Hobbes says:

    It’s tautological. Something is called science if it provides reliable answers. So all reliable answers come from science. All else is either personal preference or plain nonsense.



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  • The problem of equivocation is not helping here. Science is basically three things and using the term without specifying can promote misunderstanding. The method of scientific inquiry, the body of scientific knowledge and the general endeavor that combines the two can each be called science. A statement about the limitations of scientific knowledge may be interpreted as a statement about scientific inquiry, or whatever combination. If we sense such a statement is in anyway true about one, we may conclude it is true of the others without even considering. As regards to this thread, these misunderstands are minor but certainly help to muddy the waters.

    Scientific inquiry is a type of philosophical inquiry. It deals with phenomena (objects and events) that may be observed/measured objectively. Basically the way it ends up working is that the better we understand things the better (more accurate) predictions we can make. This leads to decisions that are better informed as well as advances in our tools/technology. And often in looking for answers we just find better, more relevant questions. Breaking things down not only can but has helped us make sense of the world.

    With the Einstein quote who could counter-argue that if you come to the conclusion that your scientific explanation of everything makes no sense then you really haven’t included everything in your scientific explanation. The Beethoven symphony is a good example. If you explain it as a variation of wave pressure you are barely getting started. If we don’t consider the neurophysiology and neuro-pschologogical responses, the contextual subjective experience and the elegance of the patterns in the variation of the wave pressure then it really is just variations in wave patterns. A more likely problem would be that even with near perfect data collection the human mind may not be able to grasp the gestalt of it. Just as dogs or chimps can learn to understand a sizable vocabulary of a human language yet be be completely neurologically unprepared for some concepts such as sound as wave pressure, brain in a vat theory or relativity, we too may be similarly impeded but on a different scale.

    “Can neuroscience explain consciousness?”

    In many ways it has. Sure there are huge gaps. But our understanding of the correspondence between brain and mind only continues to strengthen. Age-old philosophical questions about the mind persist but not quite with the weight they have had in the past. Are the mind and the self nothing more than patterns produced by neurological activity? Alternate theories tend to lack empirical evidence and fall short philosophically as well. The question remains unanswered but the hypothesis is promising.

    “Can the Higgs Boson explain our place in the universe?”

    It’s not clear what is meant by “our place.” Is this a “meaning of life” question or something else? The Higgs Boson is more likely to tell us why we don’t fall off our place in the universe.

    Rupert Sheldrake and James Le Fanu are each promoting a narrative that they don’t really justify. They advance arguments from incredulity. They take the observation that our knowledge is incomplete in one area or another and conclude that materialism and science are necessarily inadequate. This is basically an immaterialism-of-the-gaps argument. Science may fall short. Or we may. But if a phenomenon is observable, even indirectly, any inquiry that is not essentially scientific is just speculation.

    Evolution has made puzzles, challenges and mysteries appealing to us. It shouldn’t be hard to see how curiosity (tempered by caution) can confer a selection advantage. It makes sense to be skeptical of everything including science. Not arbitrarily, mind you, but as a means to investigate the reliability of our methods of inquiry and the resulting knowledge. If we are at all interested in informed decision it is asinine to dismiss the best tool available (scientific inquiry) for understanding observable phenomenon.

    Oh, what about un-observable phenomenon? Well if a phenomenon is not observable, even indirectly, every idea we might have about such a phenomenon, including the reality and existence of the phenomenon, is either conceptual or speculation. Some things exist only as concepts, like Math and Logic. These are things we can think about and use but we could also argue that they are not something(s) that possess the attribute of existence.

    So the general endeavor of Science can not explain everything. Unfortunately, charlatans are only too happy to exploit the absoluteness of that statement in an attempt to validate their quackery. It’s a statement that’s easy to misunderstand. It’s probably more important to understand why it is that science can’t explain everything (what kind of things it is that science can’t explain) than it is to just recognize science can’t explain everything. I guess if someone wants to throw “Science can’t explain everything,” in your face you can always respond, “It’s especially bad at explaining things that don’t exist.”



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  • 42
    AllusiveAtheist says:

    The problem of equivocation is not helping here. Science is basically three things and using the term without specifying can promote misunderstanding. The method of scientific inquiry, the body of scientific knowledge and the general endeavor that combines the two can each be called science. A statement about the limitations of scientific knowledge may be interpreted as a statement about scientific inquiry, or whatever combination. If we sense such a statement is in anyway true about one, we may conclude it is true of the others without even considering. As regards to this thread, these misunderstands are minor but certainly help to muddy the waters.

    Scientific inquiry is a type of philosophical inquiry. It deals with phenomena (objects and events) that may be observed/measured objectively. Basically the way it ends up working is that the better we understand things the better (more accurate) predictions we can make. This leads to decisions that are better informed as well as advances in our tools/technology. And often in looking for answers we just find better, more relevant questions. Breaking things down not only can but has helped us make sense of the world.

    With the Einstein quote who could counter-argue that if you come to the conclusion that your scientific explanation of everything makes no sense then you really haven’t included everything in your scientific explanation. The Beethoven symphony is a good example. If you explain it as a variation of wave pressure you are barely getting started. If we don’t consider the neurophysiology and neuro-pschologogical responses, the contextual subjective experience and the elegance of the patterns in the variation of the wave pressure then it really is just variations in wave patterns. A more likely problem would be that even with near perfect data collection the human mind may not be able to grasp the gestalt of it. Just as dogs or chimps can learn to understand a sizable vocabulary of a human language yet be be completely neurologically unprepared for some concepts such as sound as wave pressure, brain in a vat theory or relativity, we too may be similarly impeded but on a different scale.

    “Can neuroscience explain consciousness?”

    In many ways it has. Sure there are huge gaps. But our understanding of the correspondence between brain and mind only continues to strengthen. Age-old philosophical questions about the mind persist but not quite with the weight they have had in the past. Are the mind and the self nothing more than patterns produced by neurological activity? Alternate theories tend to lack empirical evidence and fall short philosophically as well. The question remains unanswered but the hypothesis is promising.

    “Can the Higgs Boson explain our place in the universe?”

    It’s not clear what is meant by “our place.” Is this a “meaning of life” question or something else? The Higgs Boson is more likely to tell us why we don’t fall off our place in the universe.

    Rupert Sheldrake and James Le Fanu are each promoting a narrative that they don’t really justify. They advance arguments from incredulity. They take the observation that our knowledge is incomplete in one area or another and conclude that materialism and science are necessarily inadequate. This is basically an immaterialism-of-the-gaps argument. Science may fall short. Or we may. But if a phenomenon is observable, even indirectly, any inquiry that is not essentially scientific is just speculation.

    Evolution has made puzzles, challenges and mysteries appealing to us. It shouldn’t be hard to see how curiosity (tempered by caution) can confer a selection advantage. It makes sense to be skeptical of everything including science. Not arbitrarily, mind you, but as a means to investigate the reliability of our methods of inquiry and the resulting knowledge. If we are at all interested in informed decision it is asinine to dismiss the best tool available (scientific inquiry) for understanding observable phenomenon.

    Oh, what about un-observable phenomenon? Well if a phenomenon is not observable, even indirectly, every idea we might have about such a phenomenon, including the reality and existence of the phenomenon, is either conceptual or speculation. Some things exist only as concepts, like Math and Logic. These are things we can think about and use but we could also argue that they are not something(s) that possess the attribute of existence.

    So the general endeavor of Science can not explain everything. Unfortunately, charlatans are only too happy to exploit the absoluteness of that statement in an attempt to validate their quackery. It’s a statement that’s easy to misunderstand. It’s probably more important to understand why it is that science can’t explain everything (what kind of things it is that science can’t explain) than it is to just recognize science can’t explain everything. I guess if someone wants to throw “Science can’t explain everything,” in your face you can always respond, “It’s especially bad at explaining things that don’t exist.”



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  • 43
    Havefaith says:

    I try to post something but it has not being posted yet. Perhaps this will tie into my discussion. I was raised a theist but am very opened minded to other peoples views. I value discussion and input from others. I am not self centred as Richard Dawkins paint most theist to be in his book “The God Delusion”. I believe that science is a wonderful thing. It has developed many medical practises we use today. If it wasn’t for science there be no treatments for diabetes, cancer, and MS. How can we embrace Natural selection? How can we embraces creationism? Both are theories. I would argue that we shouldn’t embraces any of it, but keep an opened mind. There is perhaps limits to science. Just as there was limits to creationism. Many here would say there are more limits to creationism, but it stands to reason we don’t know where we came from. I think both science and creationism if debt with an open mind can help us find the answer to those questions.



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  • In reply to #41 by Havefaith:

    “Both are theories.”

    If you were to say, “Both are ideas,” you’d have a completely valid point. But there is a problem with calling creationism a theory, especially when comparing it to evolution or natural selection. Namely it’s the problem of equivocation: a fallacy caused by the double meaning of a word (from dictionary.com).

    You can certainly call creationism a theory if you mean it the same way Jack Frost is a theory for where snow comes from. In this sense “theory” merely means an attempted explanation. As such it might seem appropriate to call creationism a theory. But in scientific disciplines “theory” is a coherent, tested and generally accepted explanatory principle. Creationism does not offer a coherent, tested and generally accepted explanatory principle for the existence of modern man. However the theory of evolution by natural selection does exactly that… based on overwhelming evidence. It should also be pointed out that evolution itself is not the theoretical part. Evolution is the observable phenomenon that is explained by natural selection.

    Anyway my point is that it is dishonest to refer to creationism as theory. And you don’t seem like the kind of person that wants to be dishonest, even accidentally.



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  • 45
    AllusiveAtheist says:

    In reply to #41 by Havefaith:

    “Both are theories.”

    If you were to say, “Both are ideas,” you’d have a completely valid point. But there is a problem with calling creationism a theory, especially when comparing it to evolution or natural selection. Namely it’s the problem of equivocation: a fallacy caused by the double meaning of a word (from dictionary.com).

    You can certainly call creationism a theory if you mean it the same way Jack Frost is a theory for where snow comes from. In this sense “theory” merely means an attempted explanation. As such it might seem appropriate to call creationism a theory. But in scientific disciplines “theory” is a coherent, tested and generally accepted explanatory principle. Creationism does not offer a coherent, tested and generally accepted explanatory principle for the existence of modern man. However the theory of evolution by natural selection does exactly that… based on overwhelming evidence. It should also be pointed out that evolution itself is not the theoretical part. Evolution is the observable phenomenon that is explained by natural selection.

    Anyway my point is that it is dishonest to refer to creationism as theory. And you don’t seem like the kind of person that wants to be dishonest, even accidentally.



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  • 46
    Havefaith says:

    There have been documented proof for the theory of evolution just as there is documentated proof for the theory of evolution. The following website deal with both evolution and creationism. http://www.icr.org/article/177/ Creationism becomes a theory because it is assumed just like evolution is assumed. Both are judge by the ideas of men. A man wrote something down therefore we must believe it. This is nonsense. Charles Darwin was a man and not perfect. We can test his theories and maybe some of them are right but he still human. Read the book by Ian Taylor in the mind of men https://creationism.org/books/TaylorInMindsMen/index.htm



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  • In reply to #43 by Havefaith:

    “Creationism becomes a theory because it is assumed just like evolution is assumed.”

    It’s as though you are responding without having read what you’re responding to.

    “Theory” has a lay meaning which is the way you are using it. But as it is used in scientific terminology “theory” is not applied at will. In lay terms “creationism” is a theory. In scientific terms it is, at best, a hypothesis.

    Creationism is conjecture based on folklore. Evolution is a real phenomenon based on overwhelming evidence from many fields of study. Natural selection is predominant force in directing evolutionary developments, also very well evidenced. Creationism relies on wishful thinking, ignorance and incredulity.

    In order for creationism to be a theory in the scientific sense it would have to present testable hypotheses that support its likelihood and pass those tests. Educated creationists have known this and have come up empty. Creationism is not a scientific theory. Evolution by natural selection is.

    Calling creationism a theory exposes the unreliability of those calling it such. They don’t understand what a scientific theory is or are more interested in supporting their ideological position. Either way, calling creationism a theory immediately undermines credibility. It shows that you don’t know or perhaps don’t care about how things really work.

    If you care at all about accurately representing reality you would try to recognize that you are committing the fallacy of equivocation. From wikipedia: “Equivocation (“to call by the same name”) is classified as an informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). It generally occurs with polysemic words (words with multiple meanings).” But even after it was pointed out to you you continue to make the same “mistake.” Honest errors are easily forgivable (very scientific) but deliberate deceit is immoral.

    OMG that article you linked is a horrible joke. Most of the quote mining (references) are from the 1950s-60’s or from Slusher, Harold S., Institute for Creation Research. Even if they were taking the quotes in context (which would be a charitable assumption given the dishonesty of the rest of it) they still jump to conclusions that don’t follow from their premises. Most (if not all) of the anti-science claims have been refuted long ago, especially since the 1970s. What do you think it means that creations cling to demonstrably wrong claims? Why do they come up with new ones? They rely on the ignorance of believers. And who can blame them? There’s a lot of money to be made in telling people what they want to hear, especially in light of tithes and offerings.

    Claim 1: The Universe and the Solar System Were Suddenly Created.
    It’s kinda true for the universe but not true at all for the solar system. Stars and galaxies did not form in the beginning but coalesced over deep time. Our own planet didn’t show up for another 8+ billion years. This claim is far more wrong than it is right. The facts don’t point to creationism.

    Claim 2: II. Life Was Suddenly Created.
    They attempt to support this claim with “Life appears abruptly and in complex forms in the fossil record…” But that’s quite a leap. Earlier forms of life and proto-life have not been found in the fossil record. The earliest precambrian (precambrian constitutes the the first 88% of the Earth’s slowly developed history) fossils were bacteria, cyanobacteria. Would you expect simpler, and presumably smaller, organisms to fossilize and be recognizable 3.8 billion years later? We may eventually overcome this “gap” but it shouldn’t be surprising that it exists.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics in no way undermines the credibility of evolution nor natural selection. You can call the Sun, Earth Moon a closed system but the development of life and complex organisms isn’t even a drop in the bucket against the system’s overall move toward entropy. How is it creationists accept that the The Second Law of Thermodynamics allows the Sun to grow plants, which feed herbivores, which feed carnivores and those carnivores are able to increase complexity in growing up, expend great amounts of energy and even procreate based on the energy from the Sun, but they can’t understand how The Second Law of Thermodynamics allows the Sun’s energy to increase complexity through evolution? This is merely creationist bias.

    Claim 3: III. All Present Living Kinds of Animals and Plants Have Remained Fixed Since Creation, Other than Extinctions, and Genetic Variation in Originally Created Kinds Has Only Occurred within Narrow Limits.
    This is just poppycock. First it admits to microevolution which according to claim 2 is not possible. So, thank you. According to this claim modern humans should be present throughout the fossil record. But modern human fossils are not found older than 195,000 years old. There are of course fossils for older hominids that don’t exist anymore but that’s just coincidence right? Why are there no dog fossils from the Jurassic period? Why are there no bird fossils in the Cretaceous period? Why are there no fish in the Precambrian? What is it that limits microevolution even over the course of millions of generations? Claim 3 is remarkably, and probably deliberatly, ignorant.

    Claim 4: IV. Mutation and Natural Selection Are Insufficient To Have Brought About Any Emergence of Present Living Kinds from a Simple Primordial Organism.
    Again they acknowledge that large changes can happen over billions of years, so, thanks again. But they attempt to support the claim from a 1976 quote from a mathematician. But it’s not convincing at all as any calculation requires arbitrary numbers like mutation rate, time between generations and population sizes. This exercise has been run many times since 1967 and needless to say the validity of evolution by natural selection is sounder than ever.

    Claim 5: V. Man and Apes Have a Separate Ancestry.
    We have both separate and shared ancestry. The farther back you go, the wider the share. It’s well evidenced, well documented and easily googled.

    Claim 6: VI. The Earth’s Geologic Features Were Fashioned Largely by Rapid, Catastrophic Processes that Affected the Earth on a Global and Regional Scale (Catastrophism).
    This is only partially true. Catastrophic changes occur but slow developments over geological time are the norm. The assumptions that are drawn are unsound. Is this claim supposed to suggest that catastrophic changes support creationism?

    Claim 7: VII. The Inception of the Earth and of Living Kinds May Have Been Relatively Recent.
    This is just wrong. The citations are mostly out of date and plenty of it comes from error monger Slusher. How do they know the radiometric dating is wrong? Because they have alternate methods of determining age including alternate forms of radiometric dating. It’s like saying, you could be wrong, therefore you’re wrong, therefore creationism. But science is based on the idea that we can be wrong and seeks to disprove or verify. Creationism only seeks any information that appeals to bias, dismissing all else. And that’s a lot of dismissal.

    This whole article is deliberately misleading, based on out of date erroneous disinformation. It’s about as scientific as used car sales.



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  • 48
    AllusiveAtheist says:

    In reply to #43 by Havefaith:

    “Creationism becomes a theory because it is assumed just like evolution is assumed.”

    It’s as though you are responding without having read what you’re responding to.

    “Theory” has a lay meaning which is the way you are using it. But as it is used in scientific terminology “theory” is not applied at will. In lay terms “creationism” is a theory. In scientific terms it is, at best, a hypothesis.

    Creationism is conjecture based on folklore. Evolution is a real phenomenon based on overwhelming evidence from many fields of study. Natural selection is predominant force in directing evolutionary developments, also very well evidenced. Creationism relies on wishful thinking, ignorance and incredulity.

    In order for creationism to be a theory in the scientific sense it would have to present testable hypotheses that support its likelihood and pass those tests. Educated creationists have known this and have come up empty. Creationism is not a scientific theory. Evolution by natural selection is.

    Calling creationism a theory exposes the unreliability of those calling it such. They don’t understand what a scientific theory is or are more interested in supporting their ideological position. Either way, calling creationism a theory immediately undermines credibility. It shows that you don’t know or perhaps don’t care about how things really work.

    If you care at all about accurately representing reality you would try to recognize that you are committing the fallacy of equivocation. From wikipedia: “Equivocation (“to call by the same name”) is classified as an informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). It generally occurs with polysemic words (words with multiple meanings).” But even after it was pointed out to you you continue to make the same “mistake.” Honest errors are easily forgivable (very scientific) but deliberate deceit is immoral.

    OMG that article you linked is a horrible joke. Most of the quote mining (references) are from the 1950s-60’s or from Slusher, Harold S., Institute for Creation Research. Even if they were taking the quotes in context (which would be a charitable assumption given the dishonesty of the rest of it) they still jump to conclusions that don’t follow from their premises. Most (if not all) of the anti-science claims have been refuted long ago, especially since the 1970s. What do you think it means that creations cling to demonstrably wrong claims? Why do they come up with new ones? They rely on the ignorance of believers. And who can blame them? There’s a lot of money to be made in telling people what they want to hear, especially in light of tithes and offerings.

    Claim 1: The Universe and the Solar System Were Suddenly Created.
    It’s kinda true for the universe but not true at all for the solar system. Stars and galaxies did not form in the beginning but coalesced over deep time. Our own planet didn’t show up for another 8+ billion years. This claim is far more wrong than it is right. The facts don’t point to creationism.

    Claim 2: II. Life Was Suddenly Created.
    They attempt to support this claim with “Life appears abruptly and in complex forms in the fossil record…” But that’s quite a leap. Earlier forms of life and proto-life have not been found in the fossil record. The earliest precambrian (precambrian constitutes the the first 88% of the Earth’s slowly developed history) fossils were bacteria, cyanobacteria. Would you expect simpler, and presumably smaller, organisms to fossilize and be recognizable 3.8 billion years later? We may eventually overcome this “gap” but it shouldn’t be surprising that it exists.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics in no way undermines the credibility of evolution nor natural selection. You can call the Sun, Earth Moon a closed system but the development of life and complex organisms isn’t even a drop in the bucket against the system’s overall move toward entropy. How is it creationists accept that the The Second Law of Thermodynamics allows the Sun to grow plants, which feed herbivores, which feed carnivores and those carnivores are able to increase complexity in growing up, expend great amounts of energy and even procreate based on the energy from the Sun, but they can’t understand how The Second Law of Thermodynamics allows the Sun’s energy to increase complexity through evolution? This is merely creationist bias.

    Claim 3: III. All Present Living Kinds of Animals and Plants Have Remained Fixed Since Creation, Other than Extinctions, and Genetic Variation in Originally Created Kinds Has Only Occurred within Narrow Limits.
    This is just poppycock. First it admits to microevolution which according to claim 2 is not possible. So, thank you. According to this claim modern humans should be present throughout the fossil record. But modern human fossils are not found older than 195,000 years old. There are of course fossils for older hominids that don’t exist anymore but that’s just coincidence right? Why are there no dog fossils from the Jurassic period? Why are there no bird fossils in the Cretaceous period? Why are there no fish in the Precambrian? What is it that limits microevolution even over the course of millions of generations? Claim 3 is remarkably, and probably deliberatly, ignorant.

    Claim 4: IV. Mutation and Natural Selection Are Insufficient To Have Brought About Any Emergence of Present Living Kinds from a Simple Primordial Organism.
    Again they acknowledge that large changes can happen over billions of years, so, thanks again. But they attempt to support the claim from a 1976 quote from a mathematician. But it’s not convincing at all as any calculation requires arbitrary numbers like mutation rate, time between generations and population sizes. This exercise has been run many times since 1967 and needless to say the validity of evolution by natural selection is sounder than ever.

    Claim 5: V. Man and Apes Have a Separate Ancestry.
    We have both separate and shared ancestry. The farther back you go, the wider the share. It’s well evidenced, well documented and easily googled.

    Claim 6: VI. The Earth’s Geologic Features Were Fashioned Largely by Rapid, Catastrophic Processes that Affected the Earth on a Global and Regional Scale (Catastrophism).
    This is only partially true. Catastrophic changes occur but slow developments over geological time are the norm. The assumptions that are drawn are unsound. Is this claim supposed to suggest that catastrophic changes support creationism?

    Claim 7: VII. The Inception of the Earth and of Living Kinds May Have Been Relatively Recent.
    This is just wrong. The citations are mostly out of date and plenty of it comes from error monger Slusher. How do they know the radiometric dating is wrong? Because they have alternate methods of determining age including alternate forms of radiometric dating. It’s like saying, you could be wrong, therefore you’re wrong, therefore creationism. But science is based on the idea that we can be wrong and seeks to disprove or verify. Creationism only seeks any information that appeals to bias, dismissing all else. And that’s a lot of dismissal.

    This whole article is deliberately misleading, based on out of date erroneous disinformation. It’s about as scientific as used car sales.



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  • 49
    Markovich says:

    Nothing can possibly explain why anything exists at all, or why what exists is what it is and not something else. Neither religion nor science can answer these pseudo-questions (pseudo in the sense that they can have no possible answer), which nevertheless will always appear as mysteries to our intellects. Existence is the great, unanswerable riddle, to which even God, if He exists, does not know the answer.



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  • 50
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #45 by Markovich:

    Nothing can possibly explain why anthing exists at all, or why what exists is what it is and not something else. Neither religion or science can answer these pseudo-questions (pseudo in the sense that they can have no possible answer), which nevertheless appear as mysteries to our intellects.

    It all depends on how you frame the question. I think you can make a case that physics may eventually give us a pretty good answer as to why there is something rather than nothing. Krauss’s book A Universe From Nothing dealt with that, come to think of it I think the tag line for the book was “Why there is something rather than nothing”



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  • 52
    Markovich says:

    @RedDog

    No, it does not depend on how you frame the question. The book you cite assumed the laws of quantum physics. There is no reason why those should apply. If, hypothetically, Those explain All Else, nothing can explain Them. And likewise with God. If He exists, he cannot know why He exists. It is not possible to reach outisde the Set of All Things That Exist and find the explanation of that Set. You see? No amount of science, and no amount of religion, can explain All Things That Exist. It must always be a mystery. Or more precisely, it must always be what seems to be a question, but is not really a question since it cannot possibly have an answer. It is a pseudo-question which, to our intellects, appears as a mystery.



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  • 53
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #48 by Markovich:

    @RedDog

    No, it does not depend on how you frame the question. The book you cite assumed the laws of quantum physics. There is no reason why those should apply. If, hypothetically, Those explain All Else, nothing can explain Them. And likewise with God. If He exists, he cannot know why He exist…

    Now who can argue with that? Thank you Gabby Johnson and I hope you kids reading at home can take the time to savor a true example of authentic Internet gibberish.



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  • 54
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #49 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #48 by Markovich:

    @RedDog

    No, it does not depend on how you frame the question. The book you cite assumed the laws of quantum physics. There is no reason why those should apply. If, hypothetically, Those explain All Else, nothing can explain Them. And likewise with God. If He exis…

    I answered with reasonable words. If you have anything worth saying, you should rejoin with the same, not with mockery.

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws instead of others, or perhaps no laws at all, apply? Do you have an answer for that?

    My case is that the explaination of all things does not and cannot exist, no matter “how you frame the question.” What is your case?

    Not everything that you fail to understand is gibberish.



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  • 55
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    In reply to #49 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #48 by Markovich:

    @RedDog

    I answered with reasonable words. If you have anything worth saying, you should rejoin with the same, not with mockery.

    Well, I confess to being a total hypocrite here and I felt a little bad after leaving such a flippant reply but I couldn’t help it. Sometimes when I read something that strikes me as just incoherent I can’t help but think of that great scene in Blazing Saddles. But I acknowledge being a hypocrite because usually I’m the one telling people that mocking is not the way that intelligent people have discussions. But frankly, I just had no response to what you said, it just seemed like nonsense to me and I won’t even bother explaining why it seemed like nonsense because if you could write it you obviously didn’t think it was nonsense and the gap between us is obviously so far that nothing I say will matter.



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  • 56
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws instead of others, or perhaps no laws at all, apply? Do you have an answer for that?

    Well, as usual, I should read the whole reply before starting my manic typing. Because I can reply to what you said fairly easily. And my answer is simple: you don’t understand science. The goal of science is not “to explain everything” that is ridiculous no scientist in his right mind would ever take on such an enormous and vaguely defined undertaking. The goal of science, and I would say anything that qualifies to really be called knowledge, is to ask well defined questions and then seek out the answers to those questions.

    Getting back to the our original discussion, and this is were framing is critical, I certainly agree it’s possible to frame questions such as “why is there something rather than nothing?” in a way that can’t be answered, that are just metaphysical mumbo jumbo. My original point was though that physics may give us a reasonable answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” Of course that question will need to be framed in the language of physics and almost certainly won’t satisfy people who want to define things like “nothing” so vaguely that no answer is possible.

    My case is that the explaination of all things does not and cannot exist, no matter “how you frame the question.” What is your case?

    We are in violent agreement. I never meant to imply that an “explaination of all things” was possible nor that Krauss’s book was such an explanation.



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  • 57
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws instead of others, or perhaps no laws at all, apply? Do you hav…

    I do not know why you would assume that I think it is a goal of science to explain everything. And to proceed on that basis to say that I do not understand what science is is insulting. I merely said that to explain everything is something that science certainly cannot do. To say that is entirely valid in this thread, if you will notice the thread topic.

    Since they have no possible answer, the questions like “Why does something exist rather than nothing?” and its cousin, “Why is existence what it is, and not somethng else?” are not really questions. I think it is a grave over-simplification, however, to sweep them away with the bald assertion that they are metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. They very much seem to be questions, and many people have struggled, fruitlessly in my opinion, to answer them.

    You now say, “I never meant to imply that an “explaination of all things” was possible nor that Krauss’s book was such an explanation.” But before you said, “It depends on how you frame the question… I think you can make a case that physics may eventually give us a pretty good answer as to why there is something rather than nothing.” So it was impossilble for me to discern that we were in agreement on this point and, in fact, it is difficult now for me to discern that.



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  • 58
    Steven007 says:

    In reading this exchange between you and Red Dog I was reminded of a series of questions and answers put to Richard Dawkins a few years ago. This may flesh out Red Dog’s position a bit better, though I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong:

    Interviewer: What about the old adage that science deals with the “how” questions and religion deals with the “why” questions?

    Richard Dawkins: I think that’s remarkably stupid, if I may say so. What on earth is a “why” question? There are “why” questions that mean something in a Darwinian world. We say, why do birds have wings? To fly with. And that’s a Darwinian translation of the evolutionary process whereby the birds that had wings survived better than the birds without. They don’t mean that, though. They mean “why” in a deliberate, purposeful sense. So when you say religion deals with “why” questions, that begs the entire question that we’re arguing about. Those of us who don’t believe in religion — supernatural religion — would say there is no such thing as a “why” question in that sense. Now, the mere fact that you can frame an English sentence beginning with the word “why” does not mean that English sentence should receive an answer. I could say, why are unicorns hollow? That appears to mean something, but it doesn’t deserve an answer.

    I: But it seems to me the big “why” questions are, why are we here? And what is our purpose in life?

    RD: It’s not a question that deserves an answer.

    I: Well, I think most people would say those questions are central to the way we think about our lives. Those are the big existential questions, but they are also questions that go beyond science.

    RD: If you mean, what is the purpose of the existence of the universe, then I’m saying that is quite simply begging the question. If you happen to be religious, you think that’s a meaningful question. But the mere fact that you can phrase it as an English sentence doesn’t mean it deserves an answer. Those of us who don’t believe in a god will say that is as illegitimate as the question, why are unicorns hollow? It just shouldn’t be put. It’s not a proper question to put. It doesn’t deserve an answer.

    I: I don’t understand that. Doesn’t every person wonder about that? Isn’t that a core question, what are we doing in this world? Doesn’t everyone struggle with that?

    RD: There are core questions like, how did the universe begin? Where do the laws of physics come from? Where does life come from? Why, after billions of years, did life originate on this planet and then start evolving? Those are all perfectly legitimate questions to which science can give answers, if not now, then we hope in the future. There may be some very, very deep questions, perhaps even where do the laws of physics come from, that science will never answer. That is perfectly possible. I am hopeful, along with some physicists, that science will one day answer that question. But even if it doesn’t — even if there are some supremely deep questions to which science can never answer — what on earth makes you think that religion can answer those questions?

    In reply to #53 by Markovich:

    In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws instead of others, or perhaps no l…



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  • 59
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #54 by Steven007:

    This may flesh out Red Dog’s position a bit better, though I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong:

    LOL. I guess I’ve been doing a good job of getting over my inherent shyness and fear of offending people. I liked that quote from Dawkins a lot.



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  • 60
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #53 by Markovich:

    In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws instead of others, or perhaps no l…

    OK. Let’s start again. And I acknowledge I was a jerk in some of my replies and I apologize for that.

    So we both agree that “explaining everything” is not a reasonable thing to expect from science.

    The point I was trying to make earlier is that if we frame the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” correctly then that question may have an answer as described by Krauss in A Universe from Nothing. To do that we will have to start using scientific definitions. By “nothing” we don’t mean a complete absence of absolutely everything but (and I’m venturing over my head into physics here but I think I get the very basics of Krauss’s argument) we mean the empty space that existed before the Big Bang, that even empty space devoid of matter and energy has quantum foam that can lead to the Big Bang.

    If you want to reply that Krauss’s definition isn’t really “nothing” then OK, call it nothing1 and say it’s a physics term that has a specific meaning. My assertion is that understanding how nothing1 can lead to the Big Bang is a pretty mind blowing concept and at least to me seems like it’s making progress on some very basic questions about the origin of the universe and “where we came from”.

    And my problem with a lot of philosophy is that it seems more interested in finding reasons not to expand our knowledge rather than in the expansion. So coming up with lots of academic type arguments about what “nothing” really is or giving a list of all the questions we can’t answer just seems boring and pointless to me. Not because I think it’s wrong but because I think it’s so obviously true. And also because there is so much at the edge of what we do know, there are so many questions that we can form meaningfully and don’t have full answers for.



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  • 61
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #56 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #53 by Markovich:

    In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #50 by Markovich:

    What I said, again, is that the book you cite takes as given the laws of quantum physics. If, hypothetically, those laws explain everything else, what expains those laws? Why, in other words, do those laws ins…

    All right, thank you for that. It seems we agree about the fundamental point I was trying to make. I agree with you also that Kraus may be right that if we start with the laws of quantum physics (I am also ignorant of the precise forumulation of this), it is probably not remarkable that the Big Bang sprang out of it. Something can indeed come from “nothing” if that term is understood in a certain sense. One thing that confuses me about Kraus’ argument is that, since time is a property of matter and matter presumably did not exist before the Big Bang, time itself began wtih the Big Bang. Since therefore, the Big Bang had no antecedants, how can it have a cause? Perhaps this confusion, which in any case is not strictly relevant to the point I am trying to make about the limits of explanation, results from my ignorance of quantum physics.

    To me it often seems that the orlgin of the Cosmos in an initial, unexplainable singularity is just a specific manifestation of the unexplainability of the set of all things. The latter principle would hold even if Hoyle’s steady state idea were true, and indeed even if the whole of Christian cosmology were true since, in that case, God could not explain his own existence.

    I think that a large part of the value of Philosophy is that helps to recognize what questions can possibly be asked, as here. That the set of all existing things cannot possibly be explained is a philosophical result, not a scientific one. It nevertheless sweeps away centuries of confusion. The principle that the set of all existing things must have no explanation also shows that if God is contained in that set and created everything else in it, this does not solve the unanswerable riddle of existence.



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  • In reply to #57 by Markovich:

    “One thing that confuses me about Kraus’ argument is that, since time is a property of matter and matter presumably did not exist before the Big Bang, time itself began wtih the Big Bang.”

    Time as we know it. It is possible that time existed as we currently experience it, with some difference, with extreme differences or not at all before (or outside) the universe. It’s counter-intuitive but it is even possible that cause and effect would be meaningless in such an environment.

    Perhaps the matter of the singularity originated in something like a focus, coalescence or implosion of a preposterously huge amount of energy. Perhaps the universe was the beginning of everything or perhaps it is just a confined emergent property of larger inaccessible realty. This is all highly speculative. My point is, while we prefer simpler answers we should not assume that the questions we are asking adequately allow for the scope of genuine answers.



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  • 63
    AllusiveAtheist says:

    In reply to #57 by Markovich:

    “One thing that confuses me about Kraus’ argument is that, since time is a property of matter and matter presumably did not exist before the Big Bang, time itself began wtih the Big Bang.”

    Time as we know it. It is possible that time existed as we currently experience it, with some difference, with extreme differences or not at all before (or outside) the universe. It’s counter-intuitive but it is even possible that cause and effect would be meaningless in such an environment.

    Perhaps the matter of the singularity originated in something like a focus, coalescence or implosion of a preposterously huge amount of energy. Perhaps the universe was the beginning of everything or perhaps it is just a confined emergent property of larger inaccessible realty. This is all highly speculative. My point is, while we prefer simpler answers we should not assume that the questions we are asking adequately allow for the scope of genuine answers.



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  • 64
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #58 by Akaei:

    In reply to #57 by Markovich:

    “One thing that confuses me about Kraus’ argument is that, since time is a property of matter and matter presumably did not exist before the Big Bang, time itself began wtih the Big Bang.”

    Time as we know it. It is possible that time existed as we currently experienc…

    Well, our entire understanding of time is that it is a property of matter, and that it originated with the Big Bang. “Time before the Big Bang,” and “larger, inaccessible reality” like God to Laplace, are hypotheses of which we have no current need. It is difficult indeed to conceive of what is meant by these locutions.

    But if, for the sake of argument, there exists a “larger, inaccessible reality” from which this smaller, accessible reality sprang, this merely plays a God-like role in the explanation of experienced reality. Like God, it requires an explanation itself. If the Set of All Existing Things happens to contain either God or your “larger, inaccessible reality”, or both, it remains true that that set itself cannot be explained.

    Since in any case we must concede that the Set of All Existing Things cannot possibly be explained, it is folly to posit imaginary entities so as to explain the physical Cosmos; folly in the sense that these imaginary things, even if they existed and did explain the physical Cosmos as some sort of sub-set of a larger reality, would not solve the riddle of existence. Since something must be taken as a “brute fact,” and since we must include in that anything known to exist, simplest is to take the physical Cosmos (which is the totality of what is KNOWN to exist) as the great, unexplained, “brute fact.”

    This is particularly true since infinitely many imaginary entities just might explain the Cosmos.



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  • 65
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #54 by Steven007:

    In reading this exchange between you and Red Dog I was reminded of a series of questions and answers put to Richard Dawkins a few years ago. This may flesh out Red Dog’s position a bit better, though I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong:

    Interviewer: What about the old adage that science deals wi…

    Yes, I am saying that there are locutions that seem to be questions but which have no possible answer. Having no possible answer, they cannot be answered either by science, religion, astrology, mathematics or anything else.

    I do not agree at all with Dawkins, however, that “Why does what exists exist?” does not DESERVE an answer. Why should anyone agree with such a normative formulation? It can only be said that this question does not HAVE an answer, and so is useless to entertain.



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  • 66
    Steven007 says:

    I’m not in love with some of his language there and his verbiage of “It’s not a question that deserves an answer” is too dogmatic for my taste, though I’m pretty sure I know where’s he’s going there, and agree, though he could have been more graceful.

    I think you’ll agree that the interviewer did a good job of getting him to elaborate on his answer. Had he not fleshed it out more, which he did, it would have been a poor answer to me, especially for general public consumption, but the interviewer had him elaborate on that point and he did so to my satisfaction.

    In reply to #60 by Markovich:

    In reply to #54 by Steven007:

    In reading this exchange between you and Red Dog I was reminded of a series of questions and answers put to Richard Dawkins a few years ago. This may flesh out Red Dog’s position a bit better, though I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong:

    Interviewer: What about the…



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  • 67
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #61 by Steven007:

    I’m not in love with some of his language there and his verbiage of “It’s not a question that deserves an answer” is too dogmatic for my taste, though I’m pretty sure I know where’s he’s going there, and agree, though he could have been more graceful.

    I think you’ll agree that the interviewer did a…

    I hope it is permissible in this forum to say that, frankly, I do not care very much about the ideas of Richard Dawkins one way or the other. I don’t see them as contributing a great deal to the debate between atheism and religion. I very much doubt his suggestion that there is such a thing as a propensity toward religion, let alone that it is an adaptive trait. This is off-topic, so I will not elaborate.



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  • 68
    keyplayer88 says:

    The Higgs Boson is not the ‘ultimate particle’, because the Standard Model is not yet complete. A significant particle certainly, vindicating the SM thus far, but posing further questions and suggesting new as yet undiscovered particles, the graviton and super symmetric partners for instance. These are postulated as solutions for problems that still exist in the model. As was the Higgs itself when proposed.

    It is still not clear what time is. It is not universally constant. It is linked to space in Space Time, suggesting they are related.

    What are the options for existence or non existence? Eternal nothing, meaning void, no stuff, no time, no space. How does no space work? Does that imply an infinitesimally small point surrounded by what, more nothing? What is more nothing? Ultimately these are questions beyond human brains. Myself I don’t see that ‘something’, a universe is any less convincing than absolutely nothing, zilch, no space, no time, no extent.

    To me a universe existing is infinitely more likely, probable, than ‘nothing’ at all, making a creator quite superfluous. Trying to explain complete absence would be as difficult as trying to explain what god is.

    Of course there are still many unknowns, like opening a deviously wrapped birthday present, it is possible to keep speculating about what is inside while opening it, but until the contents are revealed it remains speculation.

    So the ‘how did it start’ question, interesting though it is, still remains a speculation, the perfect religious question. Only by using science to peel away the unknowns will such profound questions be answered.

    Curiosity might kill the cat, it may also provide the cat with dinner.



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  • 69
    Markovich says:

    @keyplayer88:

    You say, “To me a universe existing is infinitely more likely, probable, than ‘nothing’ at all, making a creator quite superfluous.” I fail to see how “likelihood” and “probability” can apply to a non-repeatable event, still less to a non-event. To estimate probabilty we need data on repeated trials.

    You may say, “Existence is probable, therefore no God.” Someone else may say, “Existence is improbable, therefore God.” There is no formal difference between these arguments, nor is it possible to say which is right about the “probability” of existence.

    The Universe exists, the only question is, what to make of it.



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  • 70
    keyplayer88 says:

    In reply to #64 by Markovich:

    @keyplayer88:

    You say, “To me a universe existing is infinitely more likely, probable, than ‘nothing’ at all, making a creator quite superfluous.” I fail to see how “likelihood” and “probability” can apply to a non-repeatable event, still less to a non-event. To estimate probabilty we need data o…

    The point I make is that there are two possibilities, existence or non existence. Unless there is a speculated semi existence implied? Why is a universe existing, space and time, any less believable, reasonable, than the concept of absolute nothing. How does absolutely nothing sit more reasonably with the mind than the universe we see. Either condition is unfathomable that is what I meant by probable.

    Who says it is a non repeatable event?

    Who says that non events have nothing to do with probability. Probability is about events either happening or not happening, otherwise probability would always be 1. Bound to happen. The probability of tossing a heads is about 1/2 not because you threw it many times but because it IS 1/2.



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  • 71
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #65 by keyplayer88:

    Why is a universe existing, space and time, any less believable, reasonable, than the concept of absolute nothing. How does absolutely nothing sit more reasonably with the mind than the universe we see.

    I did not say that existence is less reasonable, believeable, whatever, than nothingness, or that it sits less reasonably with the mind. YOU said that it is “more probable.” I say that since there have not been repeated trials, there is no basis for such an assertion. In fact there is no basis that this is an “outcome” to which probability applies at all.

    You can build a conceptual model in which the probability of throwing heads “IS” 1/2, but to know that in fact, with any given coin, the probability of throwing heads is not statistically different from 1/2 at some given level of confidence, you must engage in repeated trails.

    You can build a conceptual model in which the probability of the existence of the universe is 1, 0, or 1/15. That does not mean that the existence of the universe is something that is actually subject to probabilty, WHICH IS YOUR CLAIM. To me it seems that the existence of the Cosmos is a brute fact, not subject to repeated trials, and hence a fact that has nothing to do with probability except in the sort of nonsensical, tortured locutions that seem to characterize your posts on this subject.

    Maybe you would care to explain how the existence of the universe, or its non-existence, could be a repeatable event. Until you do, I will regard your “Who says not” interrogatories as so much nonsense.

    Please recall, it is YOU who asserted that existence is more probable than non-existence. So you, not I, have the burden of proof as to that.



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  • 72
    keyplayer88 says:

    In reply to #66 by Markovich:

    In reply to #65 by keyplayer88:

    In reply to #64 by Markovich:

    @keyplayer88:

    You say, “To me a universe existing is infinitely more likely, probable, than ‘nothing’ at all, making a creator quite superfluous.” I fail to see how “likelihood” and “probability” can apply to a non-repeatable event, s…

    You take my use of the term probable far too literally, I meant from a human perspective rationalising such an event. Maybe you have a better word for ‘how human beings might rationalise the existence or non existence of a cosmos’? Maybe you prefer the more vague ‘reasonable’. Please don’t try to misrepresent what I said.

    The actual probability of an event has nothing to do with measuring its probability or carrying out trials on it, not least to the universe. The probability of an event actually happening is dependent on the system, not whether somebody measured it. Tossing heads has probability about 1/2 because it is about 1/2, (1 in 2) not because it was trialled. I see no connection with not trialling something and its actual probability.



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  • 73
    Markovich says:

    You take my use of the term probable far too literally, I meant from a human perspective rationalising such an event. Maybe you have a better word for ‘how human beings might rationalise the existence or non existence of a cosmos’? Maybe you prefer the more vague ‘reasonable’. Please don’t try to misrepresent what I said.

    Why would you suppose that I am trying to misrepresent your meaning? I can only proceed on the basis of your words. You started out talking about probability and you’ve continued to talk about it. So is it not fair to reply on the subject of probability?

    I cannot imagine how we could know that existence is more “reasonable” than nothingness, or that one form of existence (so long as it is logically consistent) could be said to be more “reasonable” than another. All we know is that the Cosmos of our experience DOES exist. I do not see how the notion of reasonableness can apply to the entirety of existence, any more than the notion of probability can. My argument is that the Cosmos, or whatever is the entirety of existence, is a brute fact and cannot be “rationalized,” as you put it.

    Neither you nor anyone else is entitled to leap from a purely conceptual model of probability, such as that a coin’s chance of coming up heads is 1/2, or that the probability of the existence of the Cosmos is 12/19 (“call it hell, call it heaven, it’s a probable twelve to seven”), to any claims about the ACTUAL probability of any given coin coming up heads or the existence of the ACTUAL universe. You seem to be unable to understand this distinction, which expresses the difference between mere imagination and science. You perhaps are confused by the circumstance that most tossed coins do, in fact, have about a fifty percent chance of coming up heads. But that claim is supported by a vast human experience tossing coins, not upon a Cosmic edict that heads has a chance of 1/2,



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  • 74
    keyplayer88 says:

    In reply to #68 by Markovich:

    You take my use of the term probable far too literally, I meant from a human perspective rationalising such an event. Maybe you have a better word for ‘how human beings might rationalise the existence or non existence of a cosmos’? Maybe you prefer the more vague ‘reasonable’. Please don’t try to mi…

    I cannot imagine how we could know that existence is more “reasonable” than nothingness,

    Its called my opinion. It was stated as a speculation, my view, not a fact, so when you say ‘know’ you misquote me, you misrepresent what I said. Which was, ‘to me’ in my view not, ‘it is’. If you are going to challenge people then do them the service of quoting them accurately.

    The point you seem to continually miss is, why is complete ‘absence’ any less profound than the idea of ‘existence’.
    A point that seems to continually evade you, and has led you to some bizarre discussion about probability.

    Are you going to the pub?. Probably. Oh no, he mentioned probability. You’ll set him off.

    Neither you nor anyone else is entitled to leap from a purely conceptual model of probability, such as that a coin’s chance of coming up heads is 1/2, or that the probability of the existence of the Cosmos is 12/19 (“call it hell, call it heaven, it’s a probable twelve to seven”), to any claims about the ACTUAL probability of any given coin coming up heads or the existence of the ACTUAL universe. You seem to be unable to understand this distinction, which expresses the difference between mere imagination and science. You perhaps are confused by the circumstance that most tossed coins do, in fact, have about a fifty percent chance of coming up heads. But that claim is supported by a vast human experience tossing coins, not upon a Cosmic edict that heads has a chance of 1/2,

    None of this bears any relation at all to what I said. The coin analogy had nothing whatsoever to do with my original remark, and which you now falsely associate with my original comments. They were to correct you about probability being inherent, not due to measurement. Your now linking them to my original comment is to falsify my statement, I will trouble you not to do this.

    You continue to misrepresent my comments and attempt to read into them biases of your own making.

    Your responses about probability were in error, so I corrected you. Probability is inherent and not dependent on measurements, as implied in your earlier response. Please stop inferring absolutes when none were intended.

    I am cognisant with logic systems and do not need you schooling me about probability.



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  • 75
    Markovich says:

    In reply to #69 by keyplayer88:

    In reply to #68 by Markovich:

    You take my use of the term probable far too literally, I meant from a human perspective rationalising such an event. Maybe you have a better word for ‘how human beings might rationalise the existence or non existence of a cosmos’? Maybe you prefer the more vague ‘reas…

    Well, there is so much evasion and shape-shifing in this that I doubt the utility of any reply. Let us leave it to any reasonable person who reads our discussion to decide which of us has argued better.



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  • Einstein also said “… all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.” (A. Einstein: Creator and Rebel, 1973, London, Hart-Davis, p vii)

    The formidable character of the present day science is not due to science itself, but its application. Science and technology are two completely different endeavors. The same E=mc^2 can be used to produce electricity or to create nuclear bombs. Technology is driven by social forces, which could make it monstrous. And if we stop science because the social forces impel us to do it, we plunge into a new kind of dark ages, as the Romans’ emphasis on technology and their neglect of science plunged us in the Dark Ages 2200 years ago. Here is an interesting article on science and technology that sheds some light on the importance of differentiating between them.



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  • 77
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #71 by Sam H:

    And if we stop science because the social forces impel us to do it, we plunge into a new kind of dark ages, as the Romans’ emphasis on technology and their neglect of science plunged us in the Dark Ages 2200 years ago

    What in the world are you talking about? How did the Romans emphasize technology and neglect science? Science didn’t really exist back then so I can’t see how it’s fair to claim anyone neglected it but to the extent that things like organized learning, scholarship, crafts, engineering, the precursors of science at least I think the Romans supported all those things quite a bit, as has just about any nation that has risen to the status of an empire has.

    The causes for the dark ages are complex and I don’t know much about that period in history anyway but from what I know it seems completely unfounded to blame them on the Romans. If anything it was the collapse of the order of the Roman empire and the spread of what Nietzsche called the slave religion of Christianity that caused the dark ages.



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  • In reply to #72 by Red Dog:

    >

    What in the world are you talking about? How did the Romans emphasize technology and neglect science? Science didn’t really exist back then.

    Science indeed existed back then. Before Roman ideology, there was Greek ideology which emphasized science tremendously. Astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, and later physics (in the works of Archimedes) were all sciences developed almost exclusively by Greeks between around 350 BCE and 200 BCE. The Roman soldier who killed Archimedes, also killed science. Cicero, the Roman statesman, orator, and educator summarized the Roman attitude toward science very well:

    the investigation of nature seeks to find out either things which nobody can know or things which nobody needs to know.

    It was in this kind of atmosphere that colosseums — marvels of technology — were built for brutal entertainment, and in which “holy men” jumped from heights and immolated themselves believing that they would survive! It was also Cicero’s attitude toward science which encouraged superstition, including Christianity.

    And when Renaissance science came to be, it started from where the Greeks left off. [Link removed by moderator]



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  • 79
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #73 by Sam H:

    Science indeed existed back then. Before Roman ideology, there was Greek ideology which emphasized science tremendously. Astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, and later physics (in the works of Archimedes) were all sciences developed almost exclusively by Greeks between around 350 BCE and 200 BCE.

    There was no such thing as the scientific method. The idea that you advance knowledge by defining theories about the world and then testing and revising those theories. There was the academic approach of Aristotle but in that framework you never bothered to test your hypotheses in the world. There wasn’t even really the idea of an hypothesis, the idea was that if you used the rules of reason correctly you deduced the truth. The actual scientific method didn’t come until a long time after the Dark Ages with the Enlightenment.



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