Lately, I've debated a lot of people here about the validity of saying that a particular model of reality is superior to another. Many of you are wont to claim that religious ideas are non-sense or at least less sense than non-religious ideas, or scientific ideas (I distinguish the two because atheists are not always scientists). The reason I bother to debate this point at all is not even to assert a model of my own, but to illustrate that no idea should really be considered more or less realistic than another until we are certain that we have a model that accurately represents reality. Completely accurately. To me, anything less than complete accuracy is equivalent to complete inaccuracy. But a lot of you seem to disagree with that concept, so I wanted to explain it as a seperate post than the ones in which it has come up.

 

In several of my attempts to explain this, I have used an analogy of infinite numbers, saying that claiming something is almost correct is akin to saying a number is almost infinite. Anyone who has enough experience in math to have encountered infinite numbers knows that it is ludicrous to claim that a finite number is close to infinity. Any finite number, no matter how large, is still infinitely far from infinity. But using that analogy has not always made my point clear (or maybe it has and people still just disagree with me, lol).

 

I have also tried explaining by pointing to ideas like chaos theory, which enables computers to simulate complex models with billions or even trillions of interracting parts. Things like galaxy formations, baclkhole simulations, and models of the Big Bang are made using chaos theory. I use it as an example because the math of chaos theory illustrates that very tiny, seemingly insignificant differences in the input algorithms can produce vast differences in the output model because of the number of parts involved and the number of interractions occuring. I recently watched an attempt at simulating the beginnings of the universe, and the programmers were having trouble finding parameters that would actually produce a universe like our own. With only very minor adjustments to parameters like the number of protons, neutrons and electrons in the universe, hugely different sequences would be produced by the computers. Most of them simply did not create anything like the universe we observe until the programmers tweaked it to within very small margins, at which point galaxies began to emerge from the simulation that were similar to what we see when we look through a telescope. Yet, if you used the math from any of their failed attempts to try to measure something on the human scale, you would have gotten results accurate to degrees far exceeding anything that most of us ever need to measure. Just like Newtonian mechanics produces very accurate measurements (enough to launch a shuttle to the moon and bring it back), and is thus still taught in classrooms all the way up to college-level physics. And yet, scientists abandoned Newtonian mechanics over a century ago, in favor of relativistic and quantum mechanics. And in the future, the models we use today will likely be abandoned for some model that has even more accurate predictions.

 

The differences will seem tiny: right now, scientific models can predict the results of experiments to within tens-of-thousandths of degrees of accuracy. And the next model might only increase that to hundreds-of-thousandth of degrees. Newtonian mechanics was is accurate to within thousandths of degrees, a difference of just a few decimal places, yet the overall picture that it paints of reality is staggeringly different than the picture painted by relativistic and quantum mechanics. So, it cannot be said that Newton came "close" to describing reality. If you plugged Newtonian math into the simulators trying to produce models of the Big Bang, you would get results that were so totally alien that you wouldn't even recognize it as a universe. There would be no galaxies, no stars or planets, and certainly no humans. And because our current models do not produce 100% accurate results in experiments, they cannot be said to be close to describing reality either. Until the results are perfect, they are all still infinitely far away.

 

This is why I frequently challenge my fellow atheists here for saying that the ideas of theists are inferior to our own, or that they are deserving of ridicule and mockery. They are no further from the truth than our models, and for all we know, they may be just a small tweak away from being correct. When you are driving down a road that's a million miles long, a tiny turn of the wheel in your first mile will put you waaaaaaaay off track by the end. Perhaps that is what has happened to the ideas of theists. Many religions are thousands of years old. Perhaps in the beginning, they only took that one, small wrong turn away from accurately describing reality, but have now gone so far off course that the mistake seems huge to all of us looking at them today. But perhaps our theories have also taken a wrong turn here or there, and we only do not see it because the road is younger under our feet.

 

So unless you have a model of reality, be it science or your own unique model, that predicts everything that happens perfectly all the time, your ideas are just as far off as every other person who has ever walked the Earth. Your ideas may seem pretty close most of the time, but if you could extend your predictions far enough into the future, you would very likely find yourself way off course. I implore you all to keep this in mind the next time you want to ridicule a theist for believing something that you don't. We should not become the new oppressors of ideas, just because our ideas are newer. We should not now become the group that is so certain of itself that we disregard the opinions of others, or we are just as bad as those who do it in the name of God, or Allah, or Xenu.

 

Am I making sense to anyone?

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Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 30, 2011 at 3:58pm

Of course, he thinks he is smarter than every one else. He is an atheist.

Maybe he will chime in. This is likely his favorite site.

Comment by John Camilli on May 30, 2011 at 3:54pm
Yeah, I think Hawking has said he's an atheist too. I'm not really seeing how that relates to whether or not he thinks he's smarter than everyone else. I doubt he thinks that, even though people probably tell him that left and right. I imagine he just shakes his head at them and sighs.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 30, 2011 at 2:44pm

John,

I think Hawking has clarified that he is an atheist.

Comment by John Camilli on May 30, 2011 at 2:30pm
John D. I would bet you my left nut that Stephen Hawking is one of those people who would say "Ultimately, I know very little." People who have done a lot of learning tend to come to the realization that there is far more learning to be had than they could ever hope to contain. IMO, it's smarter to get some idea of what you don't know, than what you do.
Comment by John Camilli on May 30, 2011 at 2:26pm

Glen, I do not believe there is such a thing as a scientific fact. Facts are irrefutable, undoubtable, absolute truths of reality. I do not believe we possess any of these, beyond knowing that there is existence.

 

Pirate Bard, I don't actually call myself an atheist, although functionally I am. I call myself a pyrrhonist, which is someone who does not have beliefs. However, in order to live, I must occassionally take up a belief, in order to have an opinion and a preference, to be able to make decisions. But, ultimately, I think the preferences I have are simply chemically compelled. If my interractions with the world, in combination with the chemical make-up of my body, were such that they produced the feeling that a God or gods existed, then I would be a theist. As it is, my existence has not produced that feeling in me, but I do not think that means my feelings are absolutely correct. They are simply a product of innevitable causal chains having resulted, in me, in the feeling that there is probably not an ominscient creator of the universe. I can't prove it, it's just the way I feel. But I respect other people who feel differently.

 

Irina, I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I also dislike with theists want to force their world-view on me or others, but I don't think that process is unique to theists. I see atheists and scientists doing it too.

 

As for the teachings of theists being ridiculous, do you really find it so strange that a parent figure would punish his children? Do children always understand why they are being punished or do they just tend to feel like they are being oppressed because they didn't get to do what they wanted. I know I felt like that as a kid, but as an adult thinking back on my parents actions, I think they had my best intentions in mind, and I understand now how a lot of their "punishments" were really attempts at sculpting me into what they thought would be a better person. To me, that is comparable to the way we would feel about the morals that a God might impose on us; they would sometimes seem unjust and unfair. They would sometimes seem downright mean and pointless.

 

John D. I read the ideas of people from all ages, all places, and all points of view. I feel it is the height of arrogance to automatically discount an idea without first exploring, so no, I will not be limiting my reading to your recommendations. I have read Hume, and I have read Dennett, and I like some of what they have to say. I also like some of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have to say. However, I have never encountered someone with whom I agree entirely. That's why I keep exploring, and it's why I ultimately have my own ideas.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 30, 2011 at 1:01pm

Right on Irina,

You have not fallen for equally ignorant. Nice statement.

Comment by Irina Uriupina on May 30, 2011 at 6:56am
I won't speak for all atheists, but my main problem with organized religion is not the mere fact they believe there is a deity out there. I know a lot of people who are simply saying 'well, maybe there is some higher power out there'. That's one story.
My main problem is the quality of religions, their dogmatic nature and the particular absurd immoral stories they feed people. Religion has a constant war on doubt, war on the right to wonder and question. Religion actually prevents humanity from finding any true reality, because it demands you believe one story and never dare to doubt it.
The 'god loves you' and 'he is gonna be burning you and your unbelieving family in flames forever' is a ridiculous teaching.
If someone would say to me 'i love my children, but im gonna kill them for disobeying', id think this is ridiculous, crazy and horrible.
So yes, religious views are ridiculous. And even if we do not have a perfect alternative worldview, this does not deny us the right to loathe the one that is evidently false and harmful to humanity.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 29, 2011 at 10:54pm

Take it easy Tiger John.

I like Hume too. Especially his history of England.

Comment by Jas Brimstone on May 29, 2011 at 9:34pm

My question is simple.  If all ideas are equally valid or invalid, and we are all equally ignorant... Then why are you an Atheist?  Why not a Zeusian, or Christian, or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, or hell, a Hankian, or Pastafarian, or adherant of the Great JuJu on the Mountain?  If they're all equally plausible, why be here on a site for those of us who do not believe that is the case? 

 

If you are an Atheist, why?  And if you are not, why are you here at all?  This is a site for Atheists after all. 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 29, 2011 at 9:18pm

John,

The monkey comment was funny. Funny how you are the one human who fails to appreciate his true simian. oooh aaah aah

Me disagree on Occam's you see. God hypothesis to fill the void is antithesis of science and heart of religion. It makes a moccamery of Occam.

One can wear two hats. You know how creationist crave the golden wow imprimatur of science. Give em a title and they can wow their flock with the credibility claim. But beware the creationist scientist is an imposter, a spy, and a quisling. Christians and muslims have direct conflict between their scripture and scientific facts. You know it. I know it. Or is special creation equally plausible?

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