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 fourth 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) Biochemical reactions are the mechanisms by which our bodies convert fuel, i.e. oxygen and food, into energy. The breaking of chemical bonds, far from immolating us with energy, are what keep us alive.
(MB) These reactions occur at the molecular level and not at the atomic level. Therefore, the chemical bonds between atoms are not broken by these processes.

People aren't electrocuted by voltage. It's the amperage of the electrical charge that does them in. You can easily handle 250,000 volts at near-zero amperage, but don't stick your finger into a live 10-amp circuit breaker socket if you want to see tomorrow.
(R) Of course. But the process described above, called electrolysis, requires neither large currents or high voltages. Increasing these merely increases the rate of reaction. Even very low currents and voltages will still separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Once again, our lungs could easily stand such a small release of energy.
(MB) Once again, the body does not break water molecules down into their component atoms. Also, pure water is an extremely poor electrical conductor, so it must be combined with some solution of salts or acids in order to allow the electrolysis process to work no matter how much electricity is available. For what it's worth, to convert 18g of water into its component hydrogen and oxygen atoms would require over 285,000 joules of electricity.
    Out of curiosity, what does any of this have to do with whether or not God exists?

It was the Michelson-Morley experiment in the late 1800's that showed that there was no ether. Einstein showed that no such thing is necessary.
(R) Hey! I thought you said it was impossible to prove something doesn't exist? But here, you've contradicted yourself by stating this experiment showed there was no ether, in other words, it proved the ether didn't exist. Humm....interesting.
(MB) Remember when I said that you could show that something doesn't exist by refuting the conditions necessary for its existence or by showing that its predicted effects don't exist? That's what happened in the Michelson-Morley experiment. If ether existed as hypothesized, the experiment would have verified it. When the experiment failed, the ether hypothesis was refuted. There's no logical conflict here.

(R) But anyway, the Michelson-Morley experiments didn't prove the ether didn't exist.
(MB) Yes, it did. See above...

(R) These experiments yielded results which were contrary to what was expected if the ether was stationary, but did not showing conclusively there was no ether.
(MB) Technically, what was shown is that the speed of light in a vacuum is the same in all inertial reference systems (coordinate systems moving at constant velocity relative to each other). Therefore, any absolute motion (or lack of motion) of the ether was irrelevant.

(R) It was subsequently hypothesized that the earth and the ether moved together, or that the ether was dragged around locally by the Earth, or some other factor was involved, etc.. Einstein delivered the coup de grace which finally put the theory of ether to rest.
(MB) Those alternate ether theories were never taken seriously as they all had serious conceptual flaws. We see the same sorts of flaws in the attempts to preserve the steady state theory or the flat Earth theory. Einstein finally put an end to all the balderdash about ether.

What you're saying here is that space and energy/matter occupy the same locations at the same time. If so, what's the difference between them?
(R) I guess what I'm saying is that "space" is really just a concept, in the same way that points (which are dimensionless) and lines (defined by two points) are concepts. A point is difficult to define exactly and can not be said to truly exist. Neither can a line or space.
(MB) This is incorrect. A point is one exact location in space-time. It has no physical dimensions other than its location. A line connects two points and has only one physical dimension -- length. There's no reason to say that neither actually exists. Space is certainly a real thing. If it wasn't, none of us would be around to argue the point.

(R) Consider this: a line which is one inch in length has an infinite number of points on it. The entire 3-dimensional universe also contains an infinite number of points. Are we to conclude, since the two have an equal number of points in them, that they are the same size? Of course not. But this illustrates the nebulous nature of points.
(MB) This is also incorrect. In mathematics, there are different levels of infinities (often referred to as "Aleph-null, Aleph-one, and Aleph-two"). What you have described is the difference between Aleph-null and Aleph-one.

(R) Overall, if there is no matter or energy present, if there is nothing, then the concept of space is meaningless.
(MB) True, but obvious. But, in reality, there is no true total absence of matter and/or energy anywhere in the universe.

(R) Well, here's what you said that confused me: "...according to superstring theory, a string is infinitesimally small and must contain some amount of energy (and, therefore, some amount of matter), the concentration is high enough that the string actually consists of the aforementioned small point of highly-curved space."
    This led me to conclude the intense, black hole-like gravity from the highly concentrated matter (or energy) was what caused the collapse of the extra six dimensions and the curvature of the space. Apparently I have mis-interpreted what you said. If so, what does cause the collapse of the extra dimensions and the space curvature?

(MB) This is what's referred to as the "compactification" question. An answer is found in inflation theory which predicts that the universe underwent a phase transition as it began to cool immediately after the Big Bang. Our four familiar dimensions continued to expand while the other six did not. They still exist on the quantum level.

(R) Also, I thought the reason they were called strings was because they were not small, dimensionless points, but were extended in one dimension?
(MB) Space is particulate at the quantum level in much the same way that air is at the atomic level. The sum total of this particulate is called "space-time foam". It is the combinations of this particulate (or "strings") that produce what we call "dimensions". So, it is meaningless to consider the strings themselves to have any dimensionality.
    Out of curiosity, what does any of this have to do with whether or not God exists?

(R) I do agree that matter and energy are the same thing, though. Simply put, matter *is* energy.
(MB) Right. Matter is actually "frozen" energy.

"Perfectly balanced" means that there are equal amounts of positive and negative energy. They cancel out in a manner similar to how adding +1 and -1 will give you 0. Those two numbers are still there, it's just the combination of the two that gives you "nothing" as a result. Likewise, the various energies are still present even if their combination results in "nothing".
(R) You haven't told me the nature of these positive and negative energies.
(MB) It depends on your frame of reference. There are several examples you could consider. Matter (frozen energy) is counterbalanced by gravity. Positive and negative electrical charges also counterbalance. So does all angular momentum. Any way you look at it, all measurable quantities in the universe add up to zero.

(R) Are they similar to matter and anti-matter? But those can't co-exist, they instantaneously annihilate one another whenever they come in contact. Wouldn't the positive and negative energy do the same? If so, how could they ever be perfectly balanced? If not, then why not?
(MB) What do you think happens when matter and anti-matter annihilate one another? They are simply converted completely back into energy. When matter and anti-matter particle pairs are initially produced, they will normally immediately annihilate each other unless quantum effects cause them to move out of contact with each other. Similar things happen at the event horizons of black holes. Nothing is gained or lost.

(R) Are the positive and negative energy both present in our current universe?
(MB) Of course.

(R) Or does our universe contain only positive energy? If so, what happened to the negative energy? Was it destroyed? Or does it still exist in an alternate universe? Is this alternate universe made up of anti-matter and negative (anti?) energy?
(MB) It's all still here. The only reason we notice anything is that opposing quantities are far enough apart to prevent them annihilating each other. In other words, local imbalances of energy are what produces everything that exists in the universe.

(R) Let me also ask some questions on the scope of this nothing you describe, this perfectly balanced energy state. Is it infinite? Has it "always" been present? Is it still out there, beyond the edge of our universe, even now? I am eager to hear what you have to say on these questions.
(MB) Our universe is entirely self-contained. If there are additional universes, they are separate and undetectable from our own. From our own frame of reference in our universe, everything in it has always existed. Remember, of course, that the concept of "always" only has any meaning if the dimension of time is present and that dimension was created concurrently with our universe. Any version of time that might exist in other universes would have no meaning in our own.
    Out of curiosity, what does any of this have to do with whether or not God exists?

If God exists, he, like the universe, is certainly not "nothing". That means, if he exists in physical reality in our universe, he must have been created either by or in conjunction with the universe. Nothing that is a part of our universe could have predated it.
(R) Something which is part of the physical universe, be it a supercomputer or some sort of intergalactic traveler or whatever, is not God. If God exists, He exists separately from the universe, He is infinite, and He was never created. He simply is.
(MB) It's amazing how you can "know" this with such seeming certainty when the dogma of your religion says that God is unknowable and when you admit that there is no evidence with which to support God's existence or any claim about the nature of God.
    Consider one glaring flaw in your reasoning -- God can not be both separate from the universe and infinite at the same time. Those are mutually-exclusive concepts. Consider another flaw concerning the concept of an "infinite" entity -- if God is infinite and omniscient, then there is no knowledge which he does not possess. This includes the knowledge that there is no knowledge which he does not possess. But, in order to know this with certainty, there can only be a finite number of knowable things. But, if God is infinite, he would have an infinite number of knowable things just about himself. This means that God can not be simultaneously infinite and omniscient. Which quality should we discard and why?

(R) This reasoning is no more faulty than that which supposes some sort of nothing (which is actually something) that predates the universe and out of which it came.
(MB) Nothing can "predate" the existence of the dimension of time. Are you attempting to justify your own beliefs by attacking competing ideas with admittedly faulty reasoning?

Also, the universe does not have an infinite past since "time" is a dimension that did not exist until the universe came to be. Therefore, it had a definite and defined beginning.
(R) The universe as we know it appears to have had a definite and defined beginning with the Big Bang, and time as we experience it also theoretically began then. But does this mean that time in some form didn't exist before the Big Bang?
(MB) That is correct. Time could not have existed "before" it was created. Once again, the concept of "before" has no meaning without the existence of the dimension of time.

(R) Who knows what the extra dimensions of superstring theory represent, and whether or not one of them is some sort of absolute dimension of time.
(MB) "Time" is a well-defined concept that is not one of those extra dimensions.

(R) Our universe and time as we experience it may have a beginning, but before that (and perhaps after their end as well) was Eternity.
(MB) If you want to offer that up as an idea worthy of any sort of consideration, you'll need to back it up with more than empty words based on inflexible faith. Feel free to use any scientific or mathematical models and methods to do so.

I would concede such a thing if another belief was shown to be better. I have done so in the past and will certainly do so in the future. That is the intellectual mindset. Is it wrong to ask the same of anybody else?
(R) Absolutely not. If you could ever conclusively demonstrate there is no God, or even just show such a belief is superior in any way to the belief there is, then I would expect nearly everyone to come over to your point of view. But you can't do that, can you?
(MB) Once again you prove that your belief in God is based on nothing more than "you can't prove it wrong". Remember when I told you about the person who told me "I won't believe what you say even if you prove it to me"? That's a perfect example of why religious beliefs perservere despite all evidence to the contrary. Those who hold such beliefs don't want to change them and won't even consider the possibility.

"I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them. The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible."
-- Bertrand Russell, _A History of Western Philosophy_, 1945

Also, I can point to specific and demonstrable reasons why I hold my beliefs.
(R) Such as? All you've presented so far is the workings of the physical universe, which don't seem to require supernatural intervention, but which certainly don't rule it out.
(MB) Don't those reasons qualify as specific and demonstrable? Of course, you continue to say that "there is no evidence at all" for what I believe despite this acknowledgement that I have, indeed, presented some.
    Also, your logic is faulty once again. If a process is shown to occur naturally, that means that there is no supernatural elements involved. If you wish to claim otherwise, you will need to demonstrate how it would work and you will need to provide evidence to support the claim. Merely saying so doesn't make it so or give the claim any credibility whatsoever. Without credibility, the claim is worthless.

They are not "personal preferences". I don't have them simply because somebody "can't prove them wrong". I don't have them because they are "easier". I have them because they have survived challenges and shown themselves to be valid.
(R) You believe there is no God, even though there is no scientific evidence to prove it, because you'd rather there not be one. That's it. That's all there is to it.
(MB) Wrong. I believe that the universe and everything in it was created as a result of the actions of a finite set of knowable physical laws. This means that no supernatural element is required. Since "God" is defined as being a supernatural entity, my beliefs about the origin of the universe lead to the conclusion that it was not created by "God". I cannot go from this conclusion to a larger claim that no "God" exists in any conceivable form or manifestation, but I can show logic errors in specific claims supporting certain of Man's depictions of "God" and can find nothing to support such claims. Therefore, I am an agnostic rather than an atheist in regards to the aforementioned larger claim, but I can safely say that I do not believe in the version of "God" that your religion pushes. And that's what there is to it.

Religious preferences can't claim any of that. Nobody can show that "God" is "right" while any other deity is "wrong". Nobody can show any evidence that suggests the existence of any deity at all. Nobody can even show a reason why any one deity should be preferred over any other. How, then, can anybody possibly justify their own religious beliefs as being "best"?
(R) Let me reiterate that the concept of God, as far as this discussion is concerned, includes all the different ideas of Him postulated by mankind, including polytheistic ones, and that only after settling the question of whether or not God exists is it relevant to turn to questions of His (or Their?) nature.
(MB) This is waffling. Every single specific statement you've made so far about "God" has coincided with the picture painted by your particular religion. There's no way that you are going to accept any other definition of "God" without admitting that your own religion might be wrong. You can't make any viable arguments in favor of the existence of any "God" without making and supporting at least one specific point about that entity's nature. Once you do so, you begin to narrow the field of possibilities. You've already reduced the potential field to one distinct and unmistakeable candidate. If you don't accept that, then you have admitted that all of your previous arguments are invalid and you'll have to start over. Not to mention that you'll have to abandon your current religion in favor of something that more accurately depicts any new outlook on "God".

"'God' as traditionally defined is a systematic contradiction of every valid metaphysical principle. The point is wider than just the Judeo- Christian concept of God. No argument will get you from this world to a supernatural world. No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a "super-existence."
-- Leonard Peikoff, "The Philosophy of Objectivism"

(R) However, I will say it is a mistake to claim any particular interpretation of God's nature is "best" except on a personal level.
(MB) It's only a mistake if there is no evidence upon which to base such an interpretation. If any claim is made only on a personal level, it is invalid to argue that such a claim is just as reasonable as theories based upon impersonal and observable evidence.

(R) That is not to say one cannot share beliefs about God with others. That's what denominations are all about -- different people who have similar ideas of God sharing their beliefs with one another. But one should never condemn someone with differing beliefs for that reason alone.
(MB) Simply having beliefs is no problem. Acting upon those beliefs in ways that will affect others who don't share those beliefs or attempting to claim that those beliefs are "just as good" or even better than other beliefs are very different matters.

Logic and reason be damned, eh?
(R) Well, no, not at all. It is perfectly reasonable and logical to believe in God, because there is no reason not to.
(MB) Once again, you approach the question from the wrong direction. It is indeed a weak belief if that argument is the best one (or the only one) that can made to support such a belief.

"I am arguing that faith as such, faith as an alleged method of aquiring knowledge, is totally invalid and as a consequence, all propositions of faith, because they lack rational demonstration, must conflict with reason."
-- George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989), p. 120.

(R) It is equally reasonable and logical to believe there is no God, however.
(MB) There is no "equally" about it. In the total absence of anything to support any positive existential claims about God, the only reasonable and logical position is non-belief.

"If it is to be established that there is a God, then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced we have literally no reason at all for believing; and in that situation the only reasonable posture must be that of either the negative atheist or the agnostic. So the onus of proof has to rest on the proposition [of theism]."
-- Antony Flew, "The Presumption of Atheism" God, Freedom, and Immortality, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984), p. 22.

Are you including yourself in that "small number"? You have explicitly stated that God's existence is, for you, a fact. Indeed, I doubt you can point to *any* believer who wouldn't state such a thing for himself. After all, why believe in God if you don't think that his existence is a fact? That "small number" isn't looking so small, is it?
(R) I have never stated God's existence is a fact. All I've said on the subject is that it is impossible to prove He doesn't exist, and so, there can never be a reason for me not to believe He does.
(MB) There is no reason for your belief to be so strong if you don't consider his existence to be a fact -- unless your belief is a delusion. In that case, there's even less to support it.

"Faith is a cop-out. It is intellectual bankruptcy. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can't be taken on its own merits."
-- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist

(R) The "small number" (which you claim to be not so small) refers to the people who are involved in religious strife, who attack science as anti-God, and who are intolerable and inflexible in their beliefs. You've tried to present this group, here and in many other places, as indicative of all believers. No, I am not in this group, and neither are the vast majority of other religious believers. This keeps the "small number" quite small.
(MB) All of your arguments so far dispute this claim for yourself -- despite your attempt to redefine "believers". You have never answered the calls I've made for you to name any religion whose dogma tolerates contrasting beliefs or alternate versions of "God" espoused by other religions. You have said that your own views "are not subject to change" and have labeled scientific theories about the naturalistic origin of the universe as "atheistic". If you claim that you are representative of the majority of believers, then it would seem that my characterizations of them are correct.

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