Thursday, April 19, 2007

God Can Learn from Nobel

When most people here the name Nobel, they think of the Nobel Prize. There are actually six Nobel Prizes given out annually for outstanding achievement, in physics, chemistry, medicine/physiology, literature, economics, and the most famous – peace. The Nobel Prize is funded by the will of Alfred Nobel who made his fortune as the inventor of dynamite. Concerned about his legacy, he created the prize to acknowledge positive accomplishments and to leave behind a legacy beyond that of a “merchant of death”.

Many people responded to my first post with what I labeled the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” defense. Here is where God can take a look at what Mr. Nobel did. Dynamite is not intrinsically good or bad. It just is. Dynamite can be used to blast through a mountain and establish a tunnel that may save people a lot of time (good). It can also be used to blow people up (bad). Nobel realized the destructive capability of his invention and wanted to encourage people to do good things with the proceeds.

God allegedly created the world and allegedly commanded his prophets to worship Him. The arguments I’ve seen come back to me is that religion isn’t bad, it’s being manipulated to do bad things. I’ve said, consistently, that God created religion and religion is His responsibility. Seems to me that it is very much like dynamite. The good side is treat other people the way you want to be treated and whatnot. The bad side is kill those who don’t agree with you.

OK God, I’m talking to you now. You need to set up an annual contest to reward humanity for outstanding achievement. Take some responsibility for your religion! Otherwise your legacy turns into this (brought to my attention by my friend, The Kiwi):

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070418/wl_nm/turkey_attack_dc_1

Of course, I don’t believe God exists (and if He does he is evil). If you want to turn to the Bible for reasons God would never follow Nobel’s example, look no further than Genesis 11 aka The Tower of Babel (great blog by the way). Turns out if you read the story, this wasn’t God punishing man’s pride. It was about God preventing us from working together and progressing as a culture. Seems like God doesn’t want us to advance as a species. He likes us ignorant and fighting against each other.

32 comments:

MasterJediDan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MasterJediDan said...

The real reason that God changed people's languages at the tower of Babel was because they were all bent upon disobeying Him. But, however, if He hadn't done that, wouldn't we all be under one nation today, and one dictatorship? Languages aside, life would kinda suck if we were all just one big nation. We would all be under a dictator and then people would revolt against him/her and different nations would still form. But coming back to the languages, (and I'm not sure who here believes in evolution or something similar) how did they all form if the Tower of Babel is just another story?

zestycrustacean said...

Masterjedidan (cool screenname, by the way), I refer you, as a starting place, to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_language. It has some interesting stuff on the origins of language. Essentially, it would seem that there was no original language from which all others derive but that different hunter-gatherer clans developed their own rudimentary languages. These languages would have spread like wildfire due to the advantage they conferred on those groups that could use them. The many languages we see today are the complex results of the intermingling and modification of those languages over the millenia.

Panchovilla said...

Languages are evolving and being more flexible, just look at English all of the words if not most of them are derived from other languages, such as latin. Geography has a lot to do with language and words, will the Alaskan native tribes have more words for snow than an African tribe where it never snows?

David Wilhite said...

Maybe I'm missing some sarcasm here, but I'm gonna respond to the post as is. Would you really want a God who gave rewards for 'good behavior'? If you read the gospels, the Pharisees seemed to buy into this kind of God. And they're repulsive to me (and God). Just a bunch of goodie-goodies making up their own rules, thinking that God is looking down pleased with them. And anyway, Jesus said they were just whitewashed tombs, performing 'good deeds' on the outside when their hearts were filthy.

By the way, I'm thankful for your thoughts. It's nice to enter in to thoughtful conversation with someone who has a different worldview than myself.

Warren said...

I wholly agree with the portion of this post about the Tower of Babel story. The first time I read that the only thing I could think was, "Man, God sure is an ass." The story really makes no sense at all. Why would we not want to work together, why would we not want to communicate? Or rather why would god not want us to. I don't buy jedidan's theory of we would all be together under a dictatorship since really language has nothing to do with nationhood. So it seems to me that the only reason for the story's existence is that the people who wrote the bible needed some way to explain why people from other parts of the world didn't speak the same language if we were all created by god. So I guess it's really just a poor bit of writing.

Robert said...

I don't believe that God established any religions. People did. Whether or not God exists is beside the point. I believe there are loads of non-religious examples where we (humans) just didn't get it. Why would religion be any different? I could see God pulling God's hair out in frustration that the last clue stick didn't work, either...

As far as the Tower of Babel is concerned, could this be a story that resembles another, older story that was incorporated into the Bible? The flood story is arguably one example. I have heard of a similar Babel story (Greek in origin? I could be wrong here...), where humans tried to scale the gods' mountain home to bring war on the gods. Humans were also originally one sex. One of the gods (Zeus?) split them in two, man and woman, so that they would then be so busy quarrelling among themselves that they would no longer be a threat to the gods.

--Rob

Paul said...

So much material here...where to start?

I think I should start by saying that you can set up your straw men all day. What point does it serve? I sure hope it does not make you feel like you've won a rhetorical battle. I'm talking about Babble here, in case you were wondering.

The tower of Babel story is an attemt to explain why it is that humans speak different languages. It is a myth, and as such, cannot be shown to have any more veracity than the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I could poke holes in that story all day, too, mind you. (afterthought - Warren is 100% correct, epistemologically speaking, of course, which is what I am doing)

You also say:
OK God, I’m talking to you now. You need to set up an annual contest to reward humanity for outstanding achievement.

HAHAHA - That contest is already in place. It consists of being able to sleep soundly at night without the assistance of drugs. It consists of being able to feel good, to live well and to make positive changes in the world. It consists of, follow me here, the Nobel Prize!

Now why would you give me such an easy circle to step into? If God is everything and everything is God, then it only follows at some point that God setup the Nobel Prize and guides it's awarding every year.

Although, I must admit that it's not my circle.

I still haven't seen your discussion of what God is. That's the first challenge. I still don't believe you exist.

MasterJediDan said...

@ paul

You may be able to poke lots of holes in the tower of Babel story, obviously because we can't go back in time and see if it really happened, but I think that there are other theories/myths which are widely accepted that we can put even many more holes in. For example, take evolution. Scientists have never been able to produce life from non-life, they have never found evidence of any animals which could be considered "links" in the evolution process, and they still haven't been able to come up with an explanation for how the universe was here before the "big bang". (which is kind of a pathetic explanation in itself, everything just blowing out and forming a perfect universe). Yet evolution is taught in every classroom around America and is generally accepted as true despite zero evidence. So, I ask you, who are the fools?

zestycrustacean said...

hi again, masterjedidan. I'll take your statements one at a time. The first one about evolution being "just" a theory is a commonly held misconception caused by a difference in terminology between the scientist and the layman. In science, there are essentially three levels of "truth." The first is a conjecture, which is what most people mean when they say "theory" in the common lexicon. Conjectures are just guesses not yet supported by evidence. The second level is the hypothesis, which is strongly supported by the evidence, while still allowing for a the possibility that it could be refuted. The third and highest level is the "theory," which is supported by (usually) decades to centuries of evidence and experimentation, and allows us to make incredibly powerful predictions about the world around us (as a physics major, I often use the terms "theory of gravity" and "quantum theory," yet that doesn't mean there is much chance that when I drop something it will go flying through the roof, and if quantum theory weren't right to at least a dozen decimal places we wouldn't be corresponding, as the electronics in our computers depend on its predictions). Scientists have not been able to produce life from non-life, but they have been able to produce organic molecules from inorganic molecules with a setup closely approximating the conditions of the early Earth's environment. There are a few problems with asking scientists to produce life from non-life, though. The first is that it took nearly three quarters of a billion years just for the first self-replicating molecules to appear (the precursors to RNA and DNA), and hundreds of millions of more years for them to develop cell membranes and become the first single-celled organisms. Asking biologists to just whip up some "life" (come to think of it, we don't even have a good definition of what that word really means, yet) after a couple of hours playing with their chemistry sets gravely underestimates the complexity and difficulty of the process of abiogenesis. As for your assertion that no transitional fossils have been discovered, I'd like you to tell me where you found that blatant piece of disinformation, because that is precisely what it is. For example, the fossil record is pretty clear on the evolution of dolphins from land animals back into the sea, and we have also found fossils like those of the Tiktaalik, and intermediate between lobe-finned fish and tetrapods (think fish with legs). We also have the many species of our evolutionary arc. I am not a biologist, so you'll have to do some googling to find more of these, but there are plenty. Now to the fun bit (for me the physics major, that is). Okay, let's get this straight once and for all. THE BIG BANG WAS NOT AN EXPLOSION. The phrase was originally kind of a joke, but it got picked up by the popular media and, well, the rest is history. To the very best of our knowledge, the universe started out as an eleven-dimensional singularity, but underwent a symmetry-breaking event (think of a bedsheet too small for the bead, and one corner pops off and rolls up...the part that stayed flat is our three dimensional universe, six of the other ones are rolled up, and the last two....well, I'll get to them in a second). M-Theory (which is looking very good right now, but awaits a future generation of particle accelerators for its confirmation) predicts that there are an infinite number of universes that exist within the domain of a larger eleven dimensional space. Time exists for all of them, and that is the last of the eleven. Our universe was formed (according to M-theory) by the collision of two other universes (this being the source of the singularity), which is the same type of event that creates all the universes. As to whether this larger "multiverse" had a beginning, or when, we cannot say. It may have existed for an infinite period of time, or it may not have. I don't know whether you are a college student, or a high school student or an adult, but if you aren't yet in college, I suggest you take a good introductory biology course that can help answer some of your questions (take some physics too, we sad physics majors need some company!). If you are already an adult, or college is not an option, just avail yourself of the massive resources of the web or, better yet, a college or public library. They will almost certainly have introductory texts on evolution. Also, don't get bogged down responding to people who seem like they are trying to goad you (e.g. Paul). There are plenty of people here who would much rather just have an earnest conversation with you.

MasterJediDan said...

@ zestycrustacean

How do scientists know what the conditions of the early earth were? Were they there?

(BTW, I'm still in high school, but I'm taking some college classes until I graduate next year and go to NM Tech for a CS major :).

zestycrustacean said...

haha, I was hoping you'd respond quickly. I'm bored today and I like this conversation. Before we continue, may I mention that I'm also a philosophy minor, which may explain some of what's to come. As to your question of whether scientists can REALLY know what the early earth was like, I will answer that if you will accept overwhelming empirical evidence as something approximating "proof," then, yes, we can. We have the amounts of dissolved chemicals in rocks drilled from strata at that level for one thing. In addition to that, we also have very strong indirect evidence. We know that there would have been far less oxygen in the atmosphere, due to the fact that you need life to sustain large amounts of such an unstable and corrosive gas. Without life (read: photosynthesis), the oxygen combines with other chemicals. If all life were to end today, the levels of oxygen would drop terrifically in only a few hundred thousand years. In addition, due to this being rather close to the Earth's formation, it would not yet have lost much of the heat of compression it had built up during it's accretionary period (when it was still contracting from the accretion disk) and would only have just then been getting a break from the large amount of impacting debris from which that accretion disk had formed (we see planets forming in other solar systems and especially in nebulae relatively often, so we have a good handle on the basic dynamics of the process). This is borne out by geological evidence in the form of the faint remains of massive impact craters and other chemical evidence which I don't know enough about to tell you much intelligibly. Once again, while I know the basics (as with biology), I am no geologist, so you'll generally have to do your own research if you want more than the generalities I'm giving you. As with anything though, remember that scientists are first and foremost skeptics, not just about religion, supernatural claims, and the like but also (especially, really) about their own fields. We don't just accpet things because they look good or we like the results. We REALLY have to defend our hypotheses against others with different hypotheses, and, of course, there must be evidence for every different part of a hypothesis before it can become a "theory." If a new piece of evidence arises that contradicts something that we've believed to be true for a long time, we try our best to modify the idea to fit the new fact. If it cannot be modified to fit the new fact, though, the old idea is discarded and the search begins for a new explanation. Scientists must hold more than anything else to the idea of "fallability," that we can always be wrong, that there can always be new evidence; but equally to the idea that the more evidence there is for a proposition, the higher it's truth value. Only a few ideas reach the level of theory that Gravitation, Relativity, Evolution, and Quantum Theory have reached. Also, any theory MUST be able to make predictions about the real world that can then be tested. This is why scientists (and science majors!) have a tough time understanding why people tend to assume there is some sort of vast conspiracy among us to silence opposing viewpoints. If we thought that there was evidence against evolution (or anything else for that matter), you'd see people working on it like crazy to either figure out a new theory to replace it, or to modify it. Indeed we have had to modify the details rather often as we gain more information over time. In science, people with new ideas are rarely ridiculed. They tend to be the people who win the Nobel Prizes, at least if their ideas are backed up by the evidence. Oh, and if you are a compsci major, you will probably have to take intro-to-bio anyway, so enjoy. Even if it is not required, I would suggest it if you have a hole in your schedule. The course is pretty interesting, and it goes over a lot more than evolution.

MasterJediDan said...

@ zestycrustacean

Sweet, thanks for the info. Just out of curiosity, do scientists have a reason that we are no longer evolving today?

Robert said...

It is not necessarily a strength for a particular POV to have all the answers. Nor is it necessarily a weakness for a belief system to be missing some. One factor to consider is the quality of the answers provided. Example: I might have the answers to all the Big Questions because I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster...

Another factor to consider is the outcome of believing those beliefs. Do my beliefs have a positive or negative effect on the world around me? On me?

Regarding "why we are no longer evolving," I assume you're addressing why apes and chimps are not becoming humans. Is this correct? Last I had heard, chimps and humans have a common ancestor. We did not evolve from chimps. Rather, we both evolved from the same ancestor animal.

Other animals are evolving, too. Please see link.
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,203374,00.html
Briefly: Galapagos island finches are evolving because of competition from other birds. Evolution happens.

MasterJediDan said...

@ robert

Yes, the finches are "evolving", but this is old news, Darwin pointed this out to us about 140 years ago.

And no, I'm not asking why chimps aren't evolving into humans. I'm asking why it is that no species out there (except for Darwin's beloved finches) is truly changing. I mean, dang, I could use a couple of eyes on the back of my head or something like that.

brenden said...

@MasterJediDan

If you think that evolution means that you'll wake up one day with a third eye, you need to do some more reading. Evolution takes an extraordinarily long time - homo sapiens sapiens, or anatomically "modern" humans, appear in the fossil record in Africa about 130,000 years ago.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapiens_sapiens

Humans are still evolving. Perhaps a little slower or differently than we would if there wasn't technology in place to ensure the survival of those who would otherwise die and prevent their genes from spreading, but slow enough so that we cannot, in our amazingly short lives, track any definite changes.

There may not appear to be transition animals. This is because all animals are transition animals. People who ask this question seem to be stuck on the idea that evolution is a set of stages, with a final product.

zestycrustacean said...

Hi MJD, just got back from the science fiction club's iron chef competition (I won second place, with jerk-chicken over mango strips on a bed of romaine lettuce, btw). I was going to let the other posters' responses stand, but decided to get in a word of my own, too. First off, animals only undergo evolution when a selection pressure acts on them. All creatures created by sexual reproduction are a little different from each other because of a few DNA mechanisms that mix things up during the final stages of meiosis (the process which produces eggs and sperm). These differences, in addition to mutations caused by DNA replication errors and ionizing radiation are what natural selection acts on. Say we have a set of rabbits living in a warm forested environment. The vast majority of them are brown, but due to a certain rare recessive genetic defect, some are white. The white ones usually don't live long; they tend to die out quickly due to predators being able to spot them against the brown forest floor. If there is a climate change which causes this usually temperate locale to become cold enough for winter to last for a significant portion of the year (and thus for snow to be on the ground for that long), then the white rabbits will have an advantage of camouflage that the brown rabbits once had. The brown rabbits will now tend to become exceedingly rare, and the white rabbits will become the norm. This is a very simplified example of how environmental pressures act on a species. We humans are different, though. We care for our wounded and weak, the blind and the sick, etc. This is because our species has evolved the capacity for complex thought and cultural interaction, and our value is no longer measured by how long we can run for or how good our eyesight is, but by our capacity to contribute to culture and intelligence. Biological evolution only works on the genes though, and since we (at least those of us in the developed world) no longer really deal with survival pressures, our biological evolution has slowed essentially to a crawl. Evolution, when it is racing as fast as it can, makes small changes over tens to hundreds of thousands of years, so think of how slow it must move (if at all) when such small pressures are present. We humans have discovered evolution on steroids, and it is called culture. Instead of waiting for our genes to pass survival information (behaviors) on, we can rely on things like language. Instead of millenia, our culture evolves on the scale of decades or even single years. This is why we are now the dominant species of this planet. All other species are evolving, though, in response to various survival pressures imposed by their environments, other species, and, now, human civilization. The problem many people have in understanding how evolution works lies in the fact that it is not a very dramatic process in the short term. In the short term, evolution just means that trait A results in an animal with a 0.0001% greater chance of reproducing than another animal of the same species with traid B. Give this little difference a few hundred thousand years and millions of individual animals, though, and dramatic things do happen. Humans cannot naturally grasp this time scale. A hundred thousand years is equal to roughly ten times the entire history of human civilization, yet it takes this long for evolution to make the tiniest changes.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Klej Society said...

@Zestycrustacean

Maybe you should read you own references this is the second half of the first sentence of the article to which you referred materjedidan to:

"but the ephemeral nature of speech means that there is almost no data on which to base conclusions on the subject"

Nice try though!

Also about the whole evolution debate that seems to be going on now.

Fact, some scientist do believe in the, so-called, evolutionary links

Another fact, all species that have been claimed as evolutionary links are less similar in DNA to either the latter and the former species than other living species, example, Pig DNA is far more similar to that of a Human being than the DNA of any Chimp, Gorilla, ect. that is why, in recent years, Pig organs have been used in transplants with human beings.

So yes, evolution does occur, but it also provides no overwhelming truth as to our origins!

zestycrustacean said...

klej, you are correct that most hypotheses on the formation of language are inferential, and I probably should have read that article closer... As it is, I (and, I think, the majority of philologists and etymologists) disagree with that statement to a certain extent. It is difficult to find hard data (e.g. people who speak the ancient languages), but those of them that have a written form can be used to furnish evidence. As to your assertion that pig DNA is somehow closer to ours than that of the great apes, it is incorrect. Chimps and bonobos share approximately 97% of our DNA, while Pigs share far less. The reason we can use their organs for transplants (mostly ineffectively as of late, though) is that their antigens are more similar to ours than those of the apes (though I have heard of work using baboon hearts that may be promising). Also, can anyone explain to me why I have to reset my google password everytime I want to post to this blog?

zestycrustacean said...

Oh, and the argument on language was not so much about which of the various ideas about it are true as to whether it is possible to give a naturalistic account of it's formation; whether it required the necessary intervention of a deity to form. The answer to that is most certainly yes, a naturalistic answer is possible. The problem caused by the lack of data means that we may just never know exactly how it came about.

zestycrustacean said...

And while evolution does not provide overwhelming truth for our origins, the fossil record and archeology certainly do. Evolution just explains what we see in the fossil record (organisms changing over time, speciation, etc).

MasterJediDan said...

@ zestycrustacean

Do you really have to go through Google and change your password every time you post a comment here? Or do you just have to re-enter it? If you have to go through and change it every time, then I have no clue what's going on, Google has really messed up there. If you simply have to re-enter it every time you post, make sure that your web browser (i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, or whatever one you use) accepts cookies. If it already does, I'd just make sure that Blogspot.com or Atheistwager's site isn't on your blocked cookies list. (Hope that answered your question)

zestycrustacean said...

No, I really do have to change it through google every time. It's getting to be a bit exasperating...

MasterJediDan said...

Here is the help page for blogger login issues:
http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=41971&topic=10269

And here is the page to report a problem with blogger:
http://help.blogger.com/?page=contact

Which internet browser do you use?

zestycrustacean said...

Hmmm, testing now...

zestycrustacean said...

Hooray! I'm through. I just had to use my full e-mail rather than my screenname as my username. The first site you provided gave me the answer. Thank you, masterjedidan.

MasterJediDan said...

You're welcome. Glad to help. :D

Klej Society said...

@zestycrustacean

back to the debate of the origin of language,

I think what you've just said is a great point, however it's one that a theist would probably use, because of the lack of evidence of any original creation or separation of all the languages on the earth, it seems very likely that, to a theist, God is the missing connection!

The main basis that most Atheist use, for any argument against the existence of God, usually has to do with factual evidence that seemingly refutes any possibility of his existence, and so where a lack of evidence for any alternative possibility comes into play, it supports no feasible reasoning for the non-existence of God!

zestycrustacean said...

That's essentially the "God of the Gaps" argument where no gap is present. The fact that we can give a naturalistic account of the development of language simply renders hypotheses reliant on divine intervention irrelevant. As our old friend Occam said, "do not multiply entities unecessarily," which basically means that you shouldn't assume anything you don't need to. Assuming that God was necessary for the formation of language when a naturalistic explanation is possible is an awfully huge assumption, and we all know what they say about assumption...

Klej Society said...

@zestycrustacean

well the same thing applies to the vice-versa. What it comes down to is that there is no more reason to believe in a naturalistic formation of language than to believe in a divine formation of language, which is also the same cases that applies to Theism and Atheism. There is no more reason to support one over the other, it's simply what you place importance on and what you believe!

zestycrustacean said...

I would argue against that on the basis that naturalistic events verifiably occur, while positing a deistic explanation adds an unverifiable, tuatological element to the hypothesis.