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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1500355
by Golden
Rated: E · Interview · Philosophy · #1500355
A conversation between an atheist and a theist.
“God is History.”
“No he’s not. He created the world; he oversees it and directs everything.”
“Isn’t that more than any one man can do?”
“He’s not a man. He’s an all powerful, omniscient being.”
“You don’t know that; why do you need him, anyway?”
“Well, how else could you explain the way the world works. “
“Simple determinism does it for me: just set the world rolling and leave it alone; matter attracts matter, charges attract and repel. The whole world starts to move forward before your very eyes as if by clockwork; there’s no need for a god to oversee it or direct events as you say.”
“Okay then, assuming the world could just work on its own, who created it in the first place.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one; I don’t know.”
“That’s where God fits in, you see. He created the world.”
“So who created him then?”
“What do you mean? He’s God. He’s always been there.”
“Okay, that’s my argument as well then: nothing created the Universe; it’s always just been there.”
“That doesn’t hold water with me; the Universe is expanding: take time back far enough, and it all comes from an explosion, a single point, the Big Bang. So what was there before that?”
“I don’t know: maybe nothing; maybe an implosion before the explosion; or maybe because we can’t see the edge of Universe, it’s always been expanding; it may be infinite. One thing I do know, though: you can’t explain the Universe by setting up another entity to create it; you give yourself a whole new problem that way: who created the creator? Maybe there’s a Grand god, and a whole line of his ancestors back to the beginning of time.”
“But God lives outside time.”
“Well, that’s very convenient, isn’t it?”

“Listen; forget about the beginning of the world for a minute. Whose decision is it when you say you don’t believe in God?”
“Mine, of course. I decide what I believe.”
“So you have free will; how do you explain that in your mechanistic, deterministic world?”
“That’s a good point.”
“Finally, some progress!”
“So perhaps we don’t have free will at all. Perhaps we’re all just dancing some dance, moving through the motions, living the life laid down for us. Perhaps everything is pre-destined.”
“Now you know that’s not true. Look inside yourself: you make your own decisions and you know it.”
“I’m not so sure about that. I have no evidence I’m actually making my own choices. And how would I know if I were not. I’m not exactly in a position to be objective about it, am I?”
“But how about your consciousness. You’re aware of your mind. You know you exist, don’t you.”
“Well, I suppose it would be possible to argue that this is all a dream, that we don’t really exist, or that my consciousness is merely an illusion, but as it happens, I do believe I am aware, that I have consciousness. So what?”
“Well, you have the same problem with consciousness as with free will. You’re aware of your surroundings and even if what you perceive is an illusion, you have the option of changing things: if you did not, the illusion would be shattered, and you would no longer believe that you had free will; in fact, you would know that you hadn’t.”
“Look, this is how I think about consciousness. Our mind is made of very small parts, neurons. We cannot see them. They interact with each other on a very small scale. And at that scale, the world just doesn’t work as our common sense says it should.”
“You’ve lost me already.”
“Okay, look at is this way. I hold a coin in my left hand like this. I close both my hands. Now, where is the coin?”
“In your left hand of course.”
“Correct. That’s your common sense speaking. But our Universe does not operate according to common sense at the scale of neurons in our brain.”
“So?”
“Well, if this time you pretend that my hands are a couple of neurons: my left hand picks up the coin, and then I close my hands; in other words, I’m not conscious of the coin any more. Now, tell me where it is.”
“You’re going to tell me it’s disappeared up your sleeve, aren’t you?”
“No, it’s stranger than that, actually. The moment I close my hands, there gradually starts to be a chance that the coin is actually in the other hand. And as time goes on, that chance becomes higher and higher, so that eventually the coin is equally likely to be in either hand.”
“So which hand is it in?”
“It’s not actually in either of them until you open your hands and have a look. The act of looking suddenly makes the coin definitely be in one hand or the other. Before that, it was in some way in both.”
“That all sounds very strange, but I’m not sure I see the point. How can that explain consciousness or free will?”
“Well, the point is that we cannot understand what the current state of the Universe is, so we can’t predict how it will progress.”
“Doesn’t that kind of screw up your deterministic Universe argument?”
“I suppose it does, but it also makes room for a subconscious, the hidden workings of our brain that our consciousness does not see, the part of our brain that is not simply deterministic, but can be in many states at the same time. It’s not until our consciousness looks at it or asks it a question, that our subconscious responds, and by responding, it makes a decision, it flips to a certain state, the coin moves either to one hand or the other. And that decision is what we call free will.”
“You mean free will is just a roll of the dice in the end? You’re saying the Universe isn’t deterministic, it’s just random.”
“No, I’m not saying quite that. On very small scales, events may be completely random, but those random events tend, in the vast majority of cases, to even themselves out: as far as we’re concerned, most natural events are fairly predictable. Of course, there are also tipping points or catastrophic events, where minor random happenings can cause major unexpected incidents at some later time, so the randomness does amplify to all scales throughout the Universe. But in addition to these random tipping points, there are also engineered amplifiers, machines that can take these microscopic random events and purposefully amplify them, not to create more randomness, but to instead create a pattern, to create order.”
“Aha. You say engineered. Who then engineered them? That’s an argument for God if ever I heard one.”
“I’m afraid not. That’s where natural selection comes in. Using a process of trial and error, discarding the designs that do not work, natural selection engineers plants, animals, and even us to amplify that randomness and create order, enabling us to work, to operate in our environment, seemingly making order out of chaos and choosing how to do it using what we call free will.”

“So how do you explain religion then, its popularity, the fact that most religions have broadly similar ideas? That can’t just be a coincidence. Too many people believe in God for you to think that there’s nothing behind it.”
“That’s easily explained through a process similar to natural selection: ideas that work get passed on; ideas that don’t, won’t. We are the environment for our ideas. They have to work for us to survive, and so they’re constantly evolving, changing to fit in with our needs. However, ideas are a little more insidious than natural organisms: they can change randomly, but individuals can also purposefully change them for their own ends. And that’s what makes religion man-made. Created and modified through the ages by a few for their own ends; then refined or dropped by the many, depending on whether they’re useful.”
“You seem to be treating ideas almost like living creatures.”
“I am.”
“And giving them a god in the process: a creator and nurturer.”
“I suppose I am in a way, yes.”
“So it’s okay for ideas to have a god, because we know how that works, but it’s not okay for us to have a god, because you can’t see him or prove he exists.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“We shouldn’t dismiss the existence of God simply because we can’t prove it. After all, I’m sure an idea couldn’t prove that it had a creator either. It would be beyond its capability.”
“Yes, you have a point. The existence of God has not been proved or disproved: if it had been, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. My problem is not so much with the concept of God, but with the man-made idea of religion: it’s evolved over time, filling in the gaps that science has not yet rationalised, making unfounded statements with utmost authority on subjects that cannot be proved one way or the other, and retreating where science is subsequently able to refute its arguments by proof.”
“You’re right: religion is man-made in many ways. It makes statements about things that cannot at the time be proved one way or the other. And it presents those statements as matters of belief. But, you know, in a lot of ways, religion is more honest than either science or mathematics.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Listen me out. Mathematics itself is based on a set of axioms or statements that we hold to be true and science is based on many more: but there is no one set of axioms that is known simply just to be true; there is no firm foundation for mathematics. The axioms on which mathematics is based are chosen because, in our experience, they seem to work. And if the axioms were to change, then all of mathematics and with it science would change. It’s down to common sense, to use your argument. The axioms on which mathematics is founded are based on common sense and as you’ve said, the world in which we live does not necessarily abide by our laws of common sense. So mathematics is based on a set of unproven and probably false statements.”
“Sounds like mathematics and religion have more similarities than might be expected.”
“Except that religion presents itself possibly more honestly as a belief structure, whereas mathematics presents itself as a provable framework.”
“Perhaps, then, it is too early to consign God to history.”

© Copyright 2008 Golden (jgutai at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1500355