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Any attempt at understanding humanity must include an explanation of the hold that supernatural belief continues to have on most of the human race.
Thought, without the data on
which to structure that thought, leads nowhere.
When people start using science to argue for their specific beliefs and delusions, to try to claim that they're supported by science, then scientists at least have to speak up and say, "You're welcome to your delusions, but don't say that they're supported by science."
A scenario is suggested by which the universe and its laws could have arisen naturally from "nothing." Current cosmology suggests that no laws of physics were violated in bringing the universe into existence. The laws of physics themselves are shown to correspond to what one would expect if the universe appeared from nothing. There is something rather than nothing because something is more stable.
Scientific evidence for God's
existence is being claimed today by theists, many of whom carry respectable scientific
or philosophical credentials. "He" who is neither a "she" nor an "it" supposedly answers
prayers and otherwise dramatically affects the outcome of events. If these
consequences are as significant as believers say, then the effects should be detectable in
properly controlled experiments.
Scientists have practical reasons for wishing that religion and science be kept separate. They can see nothing but trouble ... if they venture into the deeply divisive issue of religion -- especially when their results tend to support a highly unpopular, atheistic conclusion.
People are entitled to their opinions, but when the opinion is in disagreement with the data -- with the facts -- when that opinion does not stand up under critical or rational scrutiny, I think we have a right to point that out. We shouldn't be stepping on anybody's toes when we do that. If they're going to be spouting off nonsense, then we should say that -- not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of scientific fact. When someone says science says something, and science doesn't say something ("It doesn't say that! That's a misrepresentation of what science says."), then I think we can state that. And if it ruffles some feathers, so what? I just don't see the basis for arguing that creationism has equal standing with evolution.
From this experience, I have learned what science asks of us when we claim the
existence of an extraordinary new phenomenon. It requires much, including years of
hard work, uncompromising honesty, and willingness to accept failure. I can quickly
recognize fallacious logic or faulty experimental procedure when I read a paper that
purports to observe something that goes beyond existing knowledge. I am dubious
and suspicious whenever an important result has been obtained too easily or too
quickly, and reported in the media before it has run the gamut of critical review by
disinterested, knowledgeable parties.
If it looks like God does not exist, quacks like God does not exist, then there is a good chance he does not....
"Where did all the matter come from?"
We are only devoted to science as the best means humans have developed, so far, for arriving at an approximation to the truth about objective reality -- whatever that truth may be. We are not closed minded against psi, religion, alternative medicine, or any paranormal claims nor prejudiced against any individual adherent. Show us the evidence and we will consider it, but only steadfastly insisting on the same rules that we would apply to evidence for a new particle or a new drug. In particular, we refuse to agree to adopting new criteria ... just for the benefit of researchers in a field of study that cannot seem to get significant results any other way.
I am not one of those who think that science has nothing to say
about ultimate origins. I will try to show that it has a lot to say, although what it does
say is not always directly subject to the empirical testing that characterizes conventional
scientific statements. Nevertheless, we have theories of physics and cosmology that are
already well-established by their success in meeting the challenge of severe empirical
testing against existing data. We have every right to logically extrapolate those theories
into the gaps where empirical data are currently not available, and may indeed never be. Those extrapolations can turn out to be misdirected, so they should not be treated
as scientifically established facts. At the very least, however, they can serve to develop
possible scenarios by which the gaps in current knowledge might plausibly be filled by
natural explanations, thus refuting any assertions that a supernatural explanation is
required by the data.
I do not think science has to make any apologies. It looks at the world and tells it like it is. And we all live longer, better lives because of this dispassionate view. Sure, it commands awe and provides inspiration. Still, I would rather be operated on by a surgeon who sees me as an assemblage of atoms than one who lovingly tries to manipulate what he or she imagines are my vital energy fields.
While science continually uncovers new mysteries, it has removed much of what
was once regarded as deeply mysterious. Although we certainly do not know the exact
nature of every component of the universe, the basic principles of physics seem to
apply out to the farthest horizon visible to us today.
Altnerative explanations are always welcome in science, if they are better and explain more. Alternative explanations that explain
The battle over the validity of evolution has been publicly posed as a scientific one.
However, you will find little sign of it in scientific journals, where such quarrels as exist
are over details, not the basic concept.... Evolution has proved so useful as
a paradigm for the origin and structure of life that it constitutes the foundation of the
sciences of biology and medicine.
In the United States, the new creationist movement has convinced many people
and their political servants that scientists are being unfair in not supporting the teaching
of alternatives to evolution in science classes. They say it is censorship to exclude
intelligent design from those classes. The usual argument raised against teaching
intelligent design is that it unconstitutionally promotes religion. Design promoters,
however, insist that they have no particular designer in mind. No one believes them,
but skilled lawyers arguing for the cause of impartiality on their behalf could probably
prevail in court. In any case, a better argument exists: Intelligent design theory, as
currently formulated by its leading proponents, should not be taught in science classes
because it is provably wrong.
People have a hard time imagining how the universe can possibly have come about by
anything other than a miracle, a violation of natural law. The intuition being expressed
here is at least twofold: First, it is widely believed that something cannot come from
nothing, where that "something" refers to the substance of the universe -- its matter and
energy -- and "nothing" can be interpreted in this context as a state of zero energy and
mass. Second, it is also widely believed that the way in which the substance of the
universe seems to be structured in an orderly fashion, rather than simply being
randomly distributed, could not have happened except by design.
To most theistic believers, human life can have no meaning in a universe without
God. Quite sincerely, and with understandable yearning for a meaning to their
existence, they reject the possibility of no God. In their minds, only a purposeful
universe based on God is possible and science can do nothing else but support this
The argument from design rests on the notion that everything, but God, must
come from something. However, once you agree that it is logically possible for an
entity to exist that was not itself created, namely God, then that entity can just as well
be the universe itself. Indeed, this is a more economical possibility, not requiring the
additional hypothesis of a supernatural power outside the universe....
The argument from design stands or falls on whether it can be demonstrated
that some aspect of the universe such as its origin or biological life could not
have come about naturally. The burden of proof is ... on the supernaturalist to demonstrate that
something from outside nature must be introduced to explain the data.
In short, evolution is as close to being a scientific fact as is possible for any
theory, given that science is open-ended and no one can predict with certainty what
may change in the future. The prospect that evolution by natural selection, at least as a
broad mechanism, will be overthrown in the future is about as likely as the prospect of
finding out some day that the Earth is really flat. Unfortunately, those who regard
these scientific facts as a threat to faith have chosen to distort and misrepresent them to
It was not that I thought I was smarter. I had simply explored science and found
what seemed to me a far more powerful authority. And, I did not steal or murder
because I thought they were wrong, not because I feared damnation.
Define self-awareness and tell me what it is about it that requires
something more than a material explanation. I do not accept the
burden of explaining all phenomena, real or imagined. If you think
more than matter is required for this thing you call self-awareness,
which you have not defined, then you have the burden of showing why.
Any strategy that attempts to reinforce faith by undermining science is also doomed to failure. Showing that some scientific theory is wrong will not prove that the religious alternative is correct by default. When the sun was shown not to be the center
of the universe, as Copernicus had proposed, the Earth was not moved back to that
singular position in the cosmos. If Darwinian evolution is proved wrong, biologists will
not develop a new theory based on the hypothesis that each species was created
separately by God 6,000 years ago.
The belief in supernatural forces remains to this day a yoke on the neck of humanity, but at least Thales made it possible, for those of us who wish it, to be free of that yoke.
But, as we have seen, movement does not require a mover, and modern quantum mechanics has shown that not all effects require a cause. And even if they did, why would the Prime Mover need to be a supernatural anthropomorphic deity such as the Judaeo-Christian God? Why could it not just as well be the material universe itself?
Most people in Bayonne, like folks in similar towns across the country, had little
education and could neither verbalize nor intellectualize their problems very well. They
just suffered them. They listened eagerly when the priests promised them everlasting
life in paradise, where they would be reunited with their departed love ones, but this
was not enough when the suffering and guilt were unbearable.
And, yet again, because I can predict the line of criticism that this book will generate, I need to make it clear up-front that I am not claiming that the absence of evidence eliminates all possibilities for a god to exist in every conceivable form. And, I am not evaluating all the theological and philosophical arguments for or against God. I am simply evaluating the scientific arguments and claimed scientific evidence for a deity according to the same criteria that science applies to any extraordinary claim. I conclude that, so far, they fail to meet the test.
Fifteen years of skepticism has done more for me than 20 years of
force-fed religion and 30 years of indifference in between.
The Subtle Fulmination of the Encircled Sea
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