Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the third of a seven-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) Any person you ask, anywhere, regardless of background or nationality, will have heard of God, even if they don't believe in Him. Anyone.
(MB) Oh, really? Take your Bible and your stories to the indigenous tribes of the world's rain forests and see how many have heard of God. If this isn't true, why are missionary efforts necessary? If all people have heard of God, why is it that billions of people don't believe the stories?

"Eskimo: Would I go to hell if I had never heard of God?
Missionary: No. You can't be held responsible for that.
Eskimo: Then, why did you tell me about him?"
-- Anonymous

(R) This is certainly not true of the GGAS. Did the specific hitchhiker's guide which mentions it sell a million copies? Or two million? Probably most of them in the United States, eh? Even discounting 20 percent of the population of the U.S. as too young to have read the book, and giving credit to the higher figure of two million copies sold, and postulating that all were sold in the U.S. it is still unlikely even as many as one percent of the people in the U.S. have heard of the GGAS. World-wide, the figure would be much, much lower.
(MB) Once again, where do you draw the line that defines a concept as being "widespread"? You go through a lot of effort to prove something, but never really say what it is. And, of course, you don't show how this makes any difference to the main question being discussed, i.e., whether the stories about God are fact or fiction and whether they deserve any special consideration over and above any other unsupported stories.

(R) Einstien's famous equation E=M*C squared is a widespread concept. The GGAS is an interesting curiosity.
(MB) Frankly, I think more people are familiar with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Certainly, Einstein's equation is not "widespread" in non-technological societies and only a pitiful few of those who may have heard of it can explain what it means or even what the letters E, M, and C stand for.

Of course, just because a claim is widespread does not make it valid, truthful, acceptable or reasonable. To correct those shortcomings, the claim must be supported by evidence.
(R) Absolutely -- unless there is no evidence available. In which case, all claims become equally valid and reasonable.
(MB) Which, again, means nothing more than the realization that all such claims are equally worthless.

Nonsense doesn't become reality just because one believes strongly in it or shouts his beliefs loudly.
(R) Which is exactly the category your strident claims of intellectual superiority for your own beliefs fall into.
(MB) Since there is so much evidence to support my claims, your objections to them fail completely. Since there is no evidence (by your own admission) to support your claims, you have only the strength, volume, and repetition of your faith to go on. My claims describe the reality of the universe. Yours describe nothing more than your own emotions. The two are hardly equivalent.

"But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something -- it doesn't matter what -- in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway."
-- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 198.

It's always simpler to believe a concept that something doesn't exist when there is no evidence to support the concept that it does.
(R) This is a gross misapplication of Occam's Razor, which states nothing of the sort.
(MB) Incorrect. The Occam's Razor principle states that the simplest of two competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known. In the context of our debate, we have a theory of the origin of the universe which postulates that everything results from the application of a finite, simple and knowable set of physical laws vs. an idea that says that an unknowable, indescribable, undetectable, omnipotent entity created the Universe via unknown methods and for an indecipherable purpose and leaves no evidence of its presence. Now, apply the principles of Occam's Razor. Which competing explanation will be cut out?

(R) To rephrase your statement slightly, you're saying it is always simpler to believe something doesn't exist if there is no evidence to show it does.
(MB) OK...

(R) Using this as a hard-and-fast rule, a few other things which we should ignore (since there is no evidence, other than theorizing, that they exist) are as follows: alternate universes with different laws of physics, hyperspace, the concept of "nothing" as a perfectly balan ced state of positive and negative energy, quarks and other hypothetical elementary particles (such as gravitons) which have never been observed, any dimensions other than the four we experience and can test, and superstrings.
(MB) I can see that your ideas about "evidence" are sorely lacking in validity. Every one of the things you mentioned has evidence to support it. Some, like hyperspace, are mathematical constructs, but the math is sound and the principles are based on what has already been observed. Nobody simply cobbled together a few random equations from thin air and proclaimed, "There is hyperspace". All six types of quarks have, indeed, been observed (the last to be observed was the "top" quark in 1995). Other items in your list are consequences of theories that already describe familiar reality in our universe and await experimental verification.

(R) Barry Parker, a physicist and prolific author, has said that creation ex nihilo, that is, Divine will constituting nature from nothing, is a simpler postulate than its alternative. I agree.
(MB) That is not the definition of "creation ex nihilo". That phrase simply means "creation from nothing". It does not say anything about Divine will being involved. In fact, it would be a correct description of current scientific theories about the origin of the universe.

"We may have faith in something, about something, even faith in spite of evidence for something, but if there is nothing existing in the first place to have faith about then the act of faith is not only ungrounded but completely misplaced and without content. Faith of itself does not provide supporting evidence for anything. It does provide such things as pyschological reassurances and attitudes to be taken towards things. It may provide perspectives from which to relate to events and people. But faith that Creation Ex Nihilo does take place cannot be had. There is nothing there in the first place to have faith in. If the attitude of faith is a supporting ground for the validity of an idea, then by the same token one can by faith give supporting ground to any notion whatever. By an act of faith God could be said not to Create Ex Nihilo, but He is Co-Eternal with the Universe. By an act of faith it could be said that God does not exist, or that many Gods exist, or that God isn't here yet, or that God passed out of existence many years ago. Unguarded, both the appeal to mystery and the appeal to faith tend to become arguments from ignorance or arguments to ease the burden of something unknown or unacceptable."
-- Peter A. Angeles, The Problem of God: A Short Introduction (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), p. 66.

This is because something that doesn't exist can have no effect on things that do exist and such things make no predictions about anything else. Therefore, there are no complications introduced into our overall picture of reality.
(R) A rather obvious point. It does eliminates the Great Green Arkleseizure as an idea worthy of consideration, though. Since it is fictional and does not exist by definition, it can therefore have no effect on anything which does exist.
(MB) I've never said that the GGAS was an idea worthy of consideration. Obviously, it isn't. I used it as an example to make comparisons with equally-unsupported and spurious ideas about supernatural or fictional creators of the universe. Your arguments against the GGAS apply equally to any other such idea.

(R) Occam's razor is not a substitute for insight, logic and evidence, and should never be solely relied upon to make or defend a conclusion.
(MB) Correct. Occam's razor is a basic tenet of insight, logic and evidence and is used in conjunction with other evidence and arguments in order to make, defend or refute conclusions.

(R) It is not an absolute axiom of either science or philosophy, but merely a guide, and using it alone to justify any conclusion is always a mistake.
(MB) Correct again. That's why it is used in combination with all other available tools. Invoking it does not imply that it is the only argument either for or against a proposition.

(R) As Einstein said, for every complex question there is a simple and wrong solution.
(MB) For example, "God did it".

"To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today."
-- Isaac Asimov

(R) As a parting shot on the subject of Occam's razor, have you seen the movie "Contact," starring Jodie Foster? It's based on a story by Carl Sagan. If you haven't seen it, rent a copy -- it makes a very interesting use of Occam's razor. I liked the movie so well I ordered a copy of the book.
(MB) And when you read the book (a superb story, incidentally), you'll find out that the movie version is little short of a travesty. The scene you are referring to does not occur in the book. In the book, Dr. Arroway (Foster's character) has a private meeting with the Rev. Palmer Joss (who is neither young, nor a rebel, and certainly is *not* her lover, as the movie depicts) to iron out the theological implications of the extraterrestrial message. There is no public Senate hearing/inquisition and no meltdown of Dr. Arroway when she is confronted with religious questions. The movie tells almost a completely different story about Dr. Arroway from that which Sagan relates in his book. I was extremely disappointed in the movie.
    Here are some telling quotes from the book that describe Dr. Arroway's true attitude toward religion and demonstrate how mangled and appalling the movie script was:

"The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can't all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It's a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation."
-- Dr. Arroway, p. 162

"What I'm saying is, if God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job."
-- Dr. Arroway, p. 164

"Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it."
-- Dr. Arroway, p. 166

"The question ["Do you believe in God?"] has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I'm convinced God doesn't exist, or do I mean I'm not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different questions."
-- Dr. Arroway, p. 168

"The Earth is an object lesson for the apprentice gods. 'If you really screw up,' they get told, 'you'll make something like Earth.'"
-- Dr. Arroway, p. 286

Then, of course, there's the viewpoint of Palmer Joss:

"My faith is strong I don't need proofs, but every time a new fact comes along it simply confirms my faith."
-- Palmer Joss, p. 172.

By all means, read the book at your earliest opportunity. It is brilliant. Unfortunately, the movie version does it precious little justice. Those who have only seen the movie will be deprived of being enlightened by Sagan's real story.

So, the purpose of your questions was to try to find something I couldn't answer -- at which point you would step in and claim "See, God did it"?
(R) No, the purpose of my questions is to illustrate that the universe is vast, complex, difficult to understand, and largely unknown to us, which is what we are discussing at this point.
(MB) Who is going to deny any of that? Our points of contention is the methods that are used in order to increase our understanding and whether we can even hope to understand at all. I say that we can accomplish those goals through science. You seem to say that we must appeal to the supernatural. The methods of science add to our understanding at an ever-increasing rate. Belief in the supernatural has never contributed so much as one thing towards our understanding and has, in fact, inhibited our progress. So, why does anybody even bother with it?

The answer is the same without regard to any motion of the atom. Consider that the Earth is in no danger of crashing into the Sun simply because the Sun is, itself, in orbit around the center of the galaxy. The same laws of gravity apply to either a moving or a stationary Sun and to the planets which orbit it.
(R) Comparing an atom to the Solar System isn't very applicable.
(MB) Your original question asked what kept an orbiting electron from crashing into an atomic nucleus if the nucleus is moving. My answer compared electron orbits to planetary orbits only to show that relative motions of the central body in the system is irrelevant to the forces keeping the orbiting bodies in their positions.

(R) The Earth stays in orbit about the Sun because of a balance between the centrifugal component of the Earth's velocity and the gravitational attraction between it and the Sun.
(MB) That's the picture according to Newtonian gravity. In the more accurate terms of relativity, the Earth stays in orbit around the Sun because it moves in a straight line along a closed geodesic -- a path described by the curvature of space produced by the combined masses of the Sun and the Earth.

(R) This is not the case with an electron orbiting (if orbiting is even the correct word) the nucleus of an atom. Centrifugal force and gravity aren't what keep it in position.
(MB) Correct, but only because the masses involved are far too small. The electron stays in an orbital shell that is in proportion to its current energy state. No possible energy state for an electron corresponds to the location of the nucleus. Therefore, the electron cannot crash into the nucleus no matter what relative motion that the nucleus may be exhibiting.

(R) But as long as you're using this example, let's consider how such a system reacts to outside forces. All the components of the Solar System have identical overall vectors of velocity, which is why the system stays together.
(MB) I'm not sure what you mean by this, but no orbiting body in the solar system is dependent upon any other orbiting body in order to maintain its position around the Sun. Each orbiting body is an independent object. If Mars suddenly disappeared, the solar system would not become unstable and fly apart. The individual velocities of each body are determined solely as a factor of the body's distance from the Sun (Kepler's Second Law).
    BTW, the term "vectors of velocity" is redundant. Velocity *is* a vector.

(R) Gravity from the center of the galaxy (perhaps from an immense black hole?) acts on all parts of the system simultaneously, affects each equally, and results in identical changes to the velocity vectors of each. But virtually any other force would affect each body in the system differently. Such an outside force would result in the system's disintegration, or at least, in a considerable rearrangement of its structure. It would be impossible for an outside force to push on the "edge" of the Solar System and equally effect all its component parts.
(MB) This is sheer nonsense. How does something at the center of the galaxy not qualify as an "outside force" for purposes of gravitational interaction with anything in our solar system? Perhaps you need to define exactly what you mean by the term "outside force". Again, our solar system is not one object made up of component parts (like a watch) and has no "edge". It is a collection of independent objects.

(R) But this happens with atoms. Outside forces push on the "edge" of an atom without it disintegrating or having its components rearranged. An atom changes positions suddenly, sometimes almost instantaneously, and its components remain in the same positions relative to one another. Why?
(MB) Because atoms are not kept together by gravity. Atoms move when "pushed" because of the electrical repulsion generated by the identical negative charges of the electrons in their outermost shells. This repulsive force is trillions upon trillions of times stronger than the attractive force of gravity or any normal amount of kinetic energy produced by a collision.

Yes, you could. It's not completely impossible -- in the same way that accurately predicting next week's weather is not completely impossible.
(R) Predicting the weather more than a day or two in advance may not be impossible, but it is highly probabilistic. Generalities can be predicted based on geographic location and season, but specifics fall into the realm of educated guesses.
(MB) And what do you think "educated guesses" are based upon? Do you think that the Weather Bureau issues forecasts at random or by collating and analyzing all available evidence? More often than not, the forecasts are reasonably accurate, are they not? If tomorrow's high temperature is forecast to be 72 degrees and it only makes it up to 70, should we take them to task for their "inaccurate" prediction? If they are predicting a thunderstorm for the next day, will you pack an umbrella or refuse to do so because the forecast "can't possibly be accurate"?

"It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain."
-- Mark Twain

(R) You're saying it is basically impossible to make accurate predictions about complex systems any distance into the future. I concur.
(MB) No, I didn't say that. I said that predictive accuracy decreases as the number of variables involved increases. However, predictions do not have to be 100% accurate in order to be useful.

What good would it do if we could predict a hurricane with complete accuracy, but only after a series of calculations that were so lengthy that they couldn't be completed until a month after the hurricane had come and gone?
(R) None. In this eventuality, one certainly couldn't claim to have predicted the hurricane.
(MB) That's not the point. All predictions are based upon the computation and analysis of all possible variables associated with an event. Unfortunately, the amount of time available to complete the task may be insufficient to allow a final result to be produced prior to the event being predicted given the limits of current computing technology. This doesn't mean that sufficient technology can't be developed at some point in the future -- and it most certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to do so or that we must rely on bogus explanations for things we might currently be unable to predict with complete accuracy.

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