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 John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 9:35am
John D. - USE YOUR MODEL! NO ONE HERE IS SAYING YOU SHOULDN'T!

 

Are you reading anything I'm saying or just looking at the title, getting irritated anew and coming here to spout off? This is the third time I have said now that I am NOT suggesting that you abandon your model of reality. Wow dude! Dense. Go back and read my last reply. You clearly didnt even bother.

 

It's fine that you think your model works better, but that's your opinion. If your sister thought your model worked better too, don't you think she'd adopt it? Clearly she does not agree. She thinks her model works better, and since you cannot prove that your model represents reality totally accurately, there may be myriad ways in which it would fail that you arent even aware of. If you want to say your model is superior, then the onus is on you to prove it. I am saying that no model is superior to another unless it can be proven absolutely true.

 

Whole societies have been, and still are, built on ideas like sin. However much you think it's stupid, it's obviously working for a lot of people. It may not be your idea of "working" but frankly your idea doesn't matter to them, or me. My ideas matter to me, and their ideas matter to them. As long as mine keep working for me, I'm not going to adopt yours or say it works better, and they wont either. Why cant you get that?

 

And as I said already, there are religions that acknowledge everything that real science has to offer, they just have some additional beliefs on top of it, to pose answers to the questions science can't, or hasn't been able to answer. Science does not disprove the possibility of a god or gods, so it's totally feasible to be both religious and scientific, which would make their model just as, and possibly more robust than yours.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 29, 2011 at 12:08am

John,

Some atheists will use theistic definitions of deities to assert impossibility. Others will point out how the burden of proof is on the proponent. Also that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I like to remind others how we all deny the existence of anything we know is the result of a lie. See the whopper telling kid down the street spout off again about secrets he heard the man on the moon tell to the siren on Uranus and we reject his story. Do we have proof? Do we need proof? And certainly atheists can point at a naturalistic explanation for myths (lies) that form religion in all of its tangled web.

However, philosophically in my estimation anyways, you are correct that atheists lack proof simply because nobody knows how, understands origins, or even if there is a beginning. (Watch what I say when the big bang turns into a false ruckus.)

Where you depart from sound thinking is in concluding that the god/no god jive is equally valid or invalid. God is such an obvious wish, an obvious projection of the human psyche, and a cosmic arrogance in assuming it is all for me, ME, me. Imagine the magnitude of the coincidence if theists are correct. Calculate those odds will you.

If we somehow are capable of ascertaining answers to those timeless questions and we each are compelled to walk in either the atheist or theist queue, which will you choose?  If you are incorrect you are tortured and executed. Easy answer. So you dont really believe that the probability of either side being correct is the flip of a coin, do you?

 

Comment by John Camilli on May 29, 2011 at 12:02am

No, no, no John. You're just putting words in my mouth. I am not saying that the only good reason to ditch religion is if you have an alternative model that's absolutely correct. I'm saying that if you don't have that absolutely correct model, you shouldn't be claiming that the model you do have is superior to a religion. Whatever works for you is fine, but you have to realize that your model of reality is probably a fantasy too, just like sky daddy is probably a fantasy.

 

It's fine to use Newtonian mechanics to build a car. That's what all car designers use, they dont use relativistic or quantum mechanics because that's a far higher degree of accuracy than is required for cars (actually, the design of some components of cars is now requiring quantum mechanics for any further refinement, but whatevs), but if you extend your concerns to all of reality, Newtonian mechanics becomes pretty problematic. For instance, are you aware that Newtonian physics requires that gravity acts instantaneously over any distance? It literally has an infinite speed according to Newton's math. There was also a problem with the idea of blackbody radiation. According to Newtonian mechanics, a hot object that radiated EM waves would literally radiate an infinite amount as the EM wavelength appraoched zero, meaning it would have to have an infinite amount of energy. No problem for designing a car. Big problem for explaining reality.

 

I said in the beginning of my post that I was not asserting a model of my own. I use science as my model, but I acknowledge that it has holes in it, which could be indicative of it being completely wrong on the whole, and only useful for the things I happen to have applied to to. If I require a new application tomorrow, I might find that current scientific models hold up as well as Greek mythology. In fact, I already know of some, although they are not particularly concerns of mine. I have pointed out many times in other posts, some of which I know you've seen, that science has a number of very big contradictions that are brought up by its own predictions. Quantum entanglement, quantum tunneling, wave/particle duality and quantum fluctuation, to re-itterate a few. If you happen to have a problem that involves one of those things, you do as well to turn to god for your explanation as you will to turn to science.

Comment by John Camilli on May 28, 2011 at 11:12pm

It doesn't detract from it, but atheism is the assertion that there is no god. That's a prediction made by a model of reality. And it's just as untestable a prediction as the theist model that there is a god, so how is it better? It's not worse, but how is it better? You could look at all the empirical and logical evidence you want, you could sum it all up, and then you could be just as right to say "and a god did all this" as you would be say "and no god is responsible for this." There simply is no proof either way. To my thinking, that means equal validity.

 

You don't think atheist arguments and scientific arguments sound silly to people who don't believe in them? If I hadn't been educated the way I was about evolution, and if I hadn't bolstered that education with my own research, it might sound pretty funny to hear that we are related to monkeys. I don't feel like a monkey. Do you feel like a monkey? Some times I feel like a nut. Other times....I don't. Lol.

 

Theists and atheists alike can ultimately pose the same question to each other: where did it all come from? And neither side can answer that, nor can science. We could all ask each other 'what is it all?' and no one would have an answer. Whether you believe in god or no god or science or no science, or whatever, you wouldn't be able to answer those questions. You also wouldn't be able to answer 'what's the point of it all?' And arent those the ultimate questions of man? Why am I here? What am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? If no side can answer those questions, then no side has a leg up in the debate. And to me, that's where we're at right now.

 

You might say, but science can answer simpler questions better, if not those larger questions. My reply to that would be, because religion isnt asking those questions. If it had been, it might have found the same answers. In fact, it's not even right to say religion isnt asking those questions because a lot of contributors to science have been theists. A great lot of them, so in a sense, theism has been asking and has found answers to a lot of the same types of questions that science has. We just don't tend to think of theism as finding practical answers because most people associate science with atheism, and theism with a lack of science, but that's just not true at all. A lot fo religions are totally fine with and agree with everyting science says, right up to the point that it tries to answer those ultimate questions that it doesn't really have answers for.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 28, 2011 at 10:17pm

John,

Atheists deny theists' fairy tales. Atheists lack definitive models. Scienctists have models. Those models are subject to revision.

When we see so clearly that theistic dogma is contrived and harmful to humanity it is our right to proclaim their falsehood and the negative path of theism.

Describing ultimate reality may be impossible. Who knows if it exists or is it another anthropomorphic concept lacking in innate substance? I dont see how our failure to describe ultimate reality accurately detracts from the atheist position.

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