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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

There is only one world

Courtesy of Tom Clark via Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True site ... there is a great (well, startling) quote from Eugenie Scott:

Science is recognized internationally as the best way to find out about the natural world. But the natural world is not the only thing that human beings ask questions about…[M]ost people believe that there is a universe or world or something beyond or other than the material one, which is populated by gods, spirits, ancestors, or other non-material beings. Science doesn’t tell us anything about this world; this transcendent world is the provenance of religion. – Eugenie C. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism, p. 47, original emphasis.

I'm only going to comment on this briefly for the moment, but will doubtless have more to say in later posts. Note, though, the way Scott is able to entertain the possibility that, in addition to the "natural world", there is an additional "trascendent world" that "most people" believe in, a world populated by spooky beings such as gods, spirits, and ancestors. While science tells us about the natural world, religion tells us about this transcendent world, since it is religion's "provenance".

I doubt that Eugenie Scott actually believes that this transcendent world, or these spooky beings, even exist. She gives us no reason to believe that, beyond the fact that "most people" believe it. But of course, at various times, and in various places, most people have believed all sorts of things that are now known to be false - that the Earth is flat or perhaps some kind of inverted saucer shape, that it is the centre of the cosmos, that thrown objects travel in paths nothing like what we now know, that the world is only a few thousand years old, and so on. The fact that "most people" believe something is not, in itself, evidence. For a start, we might want to ask how "most people" have come to believe that this world of unseen spooky beings exists - have they, for example, observed it in some intersubjectively reliable/verifiable way, or obtained records of reliable observations made in the past? Do any propositions about spooky beings have any explanatory power? Is there any way to test them (so that we don't believe propositions that I might just arbitrarily make up, such as the proposition that I am followed around by an invisible hippopotamus with four heads)?

Or is it the case that most people believe these things without evidence because they were socialised, as children, into believing in them ... perhaps by adults who were also socialised into believing them without evidence, who were socialised by other such adults, and so on? If the chain of socialisation comes to an end somewhere in the depths of the past, is it in anything that would convince a rigorous historian, or does it seem to end with the kind of messy legend creation that is so familiar, in recent times, with cargo cults, Rastafarianism, and many other clearly man-made sets of stories about the "transcendent"?

There is no good reason for scientists or advocates of science to suggest that a so-called "transcendent world" exists, that there are spooky beings such as gods, spirits, and the rest, or that religion in general, or any particular religion, can give us reliable information about anything of the kind. Stories of such things may well be charming, they may have cultural and aesthetic value, they may be worth preserving and studying. I don't say that such stories are entirely without value. On the contrary, I love myth, legend, and folklore as much as anyone. Ask my friends about it if you don't believe me. But that's not the same as suggesting that any of these stories are actually true.

The "transcendent world" and the various spooky beings probably do not exist. Even if spooky beings of some kind did exist, it is most unlikely that any religion to date provides any reliable information about them. So why, exactly, do we see so many intelligent people who know all this bending over backwards to pretend that religion may have some kind of epistemic authority in informing us about gods and spooks? What, exactly, is going on here? What on earth are they thinking when they do go through this charade of deference?

Why hand religion, uncontested, a whole realm of authority to pronounce upon things that (almost certainly) don't exist? There is only one world, in the sense under discussion here. Why piously pretend otherwise?

64 comments:

Tony Comstock said...

Will you, Alison and Co. be coming to the aid of Abby Winters?

יאיר רזק said...

There are actually multiple worlds, separated by decoherence from the single quantum reality... but I doubt that has anything to do with the future post...

Ophelia Benson said...

Note, though, the way Scott is able to entertain the possibility that, in addition to the "natural world", there is an additional "trascendent world" that "most people" believe in, a world populated by spooky beings such as gods, spirits, and ancestors.

I would say that she actually doesn't entertain the possibility - that she is careful not to. She doesn't rule it out but she doesn't entertain it either - she simply imputes belief in it to 'most people.' The passage is descriptive and perfectly consistent with her not sharing any of those beliefs.

But - she leaves room for people to get the impression that she is saying there is a 'transcendent world' and that it is the provenance of religion. That's a familiar and familiarly ambiguous formulation: it can mean 'there is a fantasy world and that's religion's territory' or 'there is a transcendent world and religion can tell us about it.'

That ambiguity is where these discussions get so confused, I think.

Go Democrats said...

I would be happy to hand the whole imaginary "transcendent world" thing over to believers in religion(s) if we could then agree that the realm of science belongs to the scientists. I would see that as a victory for science rather than as a victory for religion. Pragmatism rules the day.

Religion isn't true, Russell--but it's very comforting for people to believe life is not finite and has some kind of transcendent meaning. I think that is its social function. People delude themselves in all sorts of ways--what the Harvard psychologist Gilbert calls the "psychological immune system"--and I think that the idea that when you die you are well and truly dead is SO HORRIFYING that human brains tend to invent some alternate explanation of what will happen.

I mean, you even see this among pretty bright atheists, like those who (against all empirical evidence) believe that if their bodies are frozen they will somehow be resurrected by medical science in the future . . .

Anonymous said...

The "transcendent world" and the various spooky beings probably do not exist.

The existence or non-existence of God can be neither proven nor disporven either empirically or logically. As such the above quote is itself nothing more than a faith statement. Under these circumstances, when a belief cannot be proven or disproven even in principal, then the only meaninglful argument would be an "argument from consequences" (which would normally be considered a logical fallacy).

So I ask, which society would be superior (in a Darwinian sense), a society of atheists or a society of theists. If birth rates are any indication, theists win hands down (see The Economist magazine: http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/story/faith-equals-fertility)

Religious people have more babies than non-believers...The rapid rise of Mormons in America, growing by an average of 40% every decade in the 20th century, is mainly due to their large families...Ultra-Orthodox Jews, however, do have plenty of offspring. This fact is changing the face of Israel, where such families have three times more children than other Israelis. As a result, at least a quarter of Israel’s population of under-17s is expected to be ultra-Orthodox by 2025...Conservative Protestant denominations as a whole grew much faster than liberal ones in 20th-century America, and it has been estimated that three-quarters of this growth is due simply to higher birth rates....

One can only conclude that theists are the superior "species". It would appear that atheism is a meme that renders its victims impotent/infertile - and therefore inferior in a Darwinian sense.

kynefski said...

Scott is accused of appeasing believers. Dawkins uses the phrase "party of Chamberlain." Fair enough.

But you know, this isn't like appeasing a hegemon by conceding territory. This is like appeasing a psychopath by promising to publish his manifesto in the newspaper.

NCSE, NAS, etc aren't doing or saying anything that would provide religious parties any control over how science is done. They are, however, protecting (or trying to protect) science education from the damage that could be done (and, in fact, has been done) by religious parties. Please be sensitive to the challenges they face.

Steve Zara said...

I expect the next few decades of research into brain function to be not just extremely interesting but there may also be a major impact on the whole idea of NOMA. For example, what happens to a belief in transcendence when we know what neural circuits lead to the belief, and that process is entirely physical?

Sorry if this is a bit off-topic, but I think that sometime soon the idea that science has nothing to say about the transcendent will look antiquated.

Nichole said...

"The existence or non-existence of God can be neither proven nor disporven either empirically or logically. As such the above quote is itself nothing more than a faith statement."

You've missed the qualifier: "probably." It's not a "faith statement," it's a statement of probability. The supreme being/ god/ creator hypothesis is unsupported by all available data. Therefore, we are allowed to logically conclude that it is unlikely.

"One can only conclude that theists are the superior "species". It would appear that atheism is a meme that renders its victims impotent/infertile - and therefore inferior in a Darwinian sense."

Right. And? Is the planet not overpopulated with humans? It does seem unnecessary to reproduce. The gene pool has enough variety. The food sources are dwindling. I mean, unless you're planning to go to war, the smaller number of humans in your tribe, the better, as you yourself will inevitably get a better cut of steak with less individuals to share the cow with.

Natural selection is descriptive, not prescriptive. Human empathy is to be valued. That's why we protect the weak in our society; not because it makes us stronger, because it makes us fairer. Empathy is idealistic. There is some work that describes human empathy as being useful, in the long term. (regarding natural selection.) Since most humans are idealistic, I would tend to be sympathetic to works that argue that empathy is positive selection, but that does argue from consequences. It is terribly hard to test the evolution of psychology, as it results from the interaction of many things.

Not that you'll listen, as you're clearly a troll. But I feed you.

Anonymous said...

You've missed the qualifier: "probably." It's not a "faith statement," it's a statement of probability. The supreme being/ god/ creator hypothesis is unsupported by all available data. Therefore, we are allowed to logically conclude that it is unlikely.

So why exactly are the odds against God?

Natural selection is descriptive, not prescriptive.

Its very prescriptive if you want your species to survive.

I would tend to be sympathetic to works that argue that empathy is positive selection

Nature doesn't give a rat's ass about empathy. Man's true nature is violent and rapacious.

The evolutionary derived morality and alturism observed in nature is severly limited to the immediate breeding group. For example, the same ants that will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their sisters will savagely attack ants from another colony. Chimpanzees, our evolutionary cousins who share 99% of our genetic make up, wage wars and brutally attack, kill and cannibalize chimps from other troops — apparently with joyous abandon. Male lions that depose the old alpha male immediately set out to kill all the cubs sired by the previous leader of the pride.

And so it is with man's empathy, unless it is expanded beyond its natural limits by something more... spiritual.

kynefski said...

And so it is with man's empathy, unless it is expanded beyond its natural limits by something more... spiritual.

Steven Pinker: Morality is rooted in the interchangeability of perspectives: the fact that an intelligent social agent, in dealing with other such agents, has no grounds for privileging his interests over theirs. Growing from an innate kernel of empathy, morality has been expanded by a cosmopolitan awareness that encourages people to imagine themselves in the shoes of people unlike themselves. No small part of this awareness is the modern biological sensibility that we are a single species, made of the same stuff arranged in the same way, and therefore with fundamentally similar feelings and interests.

Robert Byers said...

As this biblical creationist sees it this Ms Scott is realizing the bad strategy of equating evolution teachings in school with anti-religious concepts.
Its a disaster to equate evolution with hostity to religion.
Yes it is to my crowd of Genesis believing Evangelical Christians. Yet to great numbers of Christian people evolution is not by itself a threat to their convictions in God or Christ.

Ms Scott knows there is a increasing threat of victory in bringing creationism to the science class.
They must balance opposition to this without opposition to Christianity.
Selection pressures here mean the creature to result is not certain.

Anonymous said...

an intelligent social agent, in dealing with other such agents, has no grounds for privileging his interests over theirs.

Nature provides more than enough grounds - the need for reproductive success.

In a purely Darwinian/materialistic world it is better to be Genghis Khan than Jesus Christ.

Strip away spiritual values and all you have left is the raw struggle for survival. In such an environment completely devoid of a spiritual dimension, a purely materialistic world view, the only "virtue" is success. To quote historian Will Durant, "Nature has no preference for Jesus Christ as opposed to Genghiz Khan". Leaving aside the hypothetical possibility of Jesus having children, Genghiz is apparently the ancestor of half the people in Asia - and that makes him nature's greatest reproductive success story.

If life is devoid of spiritual meaning, the only thing that matters is the inate drive for successful reproduction as mandated by our selfish genes. In this case Durant would be correct, in a purely Darwinian sense it would be better to be a Great Khan than simple carpenter turned rabbi.

Nature rewards success, not artificial human constructs like morality and ethics. Genghiz Khan died on a silken bed surrounded by 100s of wives, power and wealth. Jesus of Nazereth lived a pauper and died a humiliating death. In a purely materialistic sense, it is better to be Genghiz Khan than Jesus Christ. Therefore if we are to maximize the power and wealth we can accumulate while alive, in accordance with the rules that govern the struggle for life, we should dispense with such sham notions as morality. Except as we may need to pretend to goodness in order to fool those around us. As Machievelli said it is "better to appear to be good than to actually be good". Instead, we should all strive to emmulate the Khan instead of the Rabbi and act in the most natural/amoral (and if necessary ruthless) manner necessary to achieve our materialistics goals, irregardless of the harm we might do others.

In a purely materialistic world, only a sentimental fool would think otherwise.

Disagree with the above? Then by all means provide a purely materialistic basis for UNIVERSAL human brotherhood.

No small part of this awareness is the modern biological sensibility that we are a single species,

This kind of species loyalty flies in the face of the first law of ecology: any organism receives its fiercest competition for survival and reproduction from members of its own species. This is especially true of species (like us) who have no natural predators to worry about - we provide our own competition.

Now if aggressive competition was all that mattered the Pekingese Dog would rule the earth. Most of our success as a species is the result of our ability to cooperate in groups like any other pack animal. But altuism and empathy never extends beyond the limits of the pack - or nation, or ethnic group, or clan or sect, or political party, etc. Competition among humans occurs a the group level.

Within the group, however, the struggle is for dominance between rv=ival alphas - with an equal potential for dehumanization.

kynefski said...

Strip away spiritual values...

If life is devoid of spiritual meaning...

I apologize for requiring clarification, but when you say spiritual values and spiritual meaning, are you referring to belief in the presence of supernatural agency?

If you are not, I'm not certain I understand the disagreement. Nobody here believes we should live our lives according to some crude interpretation of biological imperatives.

Therefore if we are to maximize the power and wealth we can accumulate while alive...

Who said we want to?

Athena Andreadis said...

Anonymous is committing the (clearly deliberate) error of conflating theism with morality, which was disproved as early as the era of Periclean Athens. He doesn't trust humans to be mature enough to make ethical choices without the fear of concrete punishment. He's also quite ignorant of crucial portions of human biology. His non-arguments would be boring, if he weren't dangerous by virtue of him and his ilk being loud in politics.

Sinbad said...

"There is only one world, in the sense under discussion here."

Great. So we can be clear that those morons who postulate unevidenced speculations (like angels and string theory) are irrational nincompoops unworthy of our attention, much less respect.

Anonymous said...

Nobody here believes we should live our lives according to some crude interpretation of biological imperatives.

A purely material world view lacking in spiritual values has nothing but the crude biological imperitive. Unless (and I'll ask this yet again) you can come up with a purely materialistic basis for universal human brotherhood and morality.

BTW I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why the odds are against the existence of God.

Who said we want to?

It's a necessity, "want" has nothing to do with it. That is of course you actually want to breed since wealth and power greatly increase the odds of an offspring's survival.

If you don't want children, then you are already half dead anyways. The reason people of faith have large families is that their faith gives them hope for the future and comfort against the hardships of life.

Atheists OTOH have no such hope, their atheism being a post-hoc rationalization for a depressed emotional state. Their childlessness being material evidence of their inner existential angst and despair.

As such, religious people are superior in a Darwinian sense than Atheists. Ironic, no?

Anonymous is committing the (clearly deliberate) error of conflating theism with morality, which was disproved as early as the era of Periclean Athens.

Well then, it should be easy for you to present at least one example of successful purely secular moral code that improved human behavior and tamed our baser instincts at least as well as religion has. Claiming that religion isn't necessary for morality is an interesting intellectual exercise and a fascinating thought experiment, but this cloud cuckooland fantasy world has never existed in all of human history.

Quite the contrary, those societies that forced a separation with religion (the French revolution, the USSR, the PRC,the Third Reich, Khemer Rouge) committed horrible atrocities on a vast scale, killing 10s of millions of innocent victims.

You can keep claiming all you want that morality doesn't require religion, and I'll keep throwing historical reality back into your face.

He doesn't trust humans to be mature enough to make ethical choices without the fear of concrete punishment.

Of course I don't. I know too much of human nature and human history to believe anything so foolish.

He's also quite ignorant of crucial portions of human biology.

Which ones?

Steve Zara said...

BTW I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why the odds are against the existence of God.

If religion were true, there would be no need of religion. We don't have need to have faith that planes fly; we look up, and there they are. We don't need to believe in the postman, because we see him each day.

That religion exists is clear evidence of its absurdity.

Anonymous said...

That religion exists is clear evidence of its absurdity.

And what do our hopes, desires and beliefs have to do with the question of whether or not God exists?

Whether everyone believed in God or nobody believed in God is immaterial to His actually existing or not existing. His chances of existence or non-existence are independent of our needs and wants. To assume otherwise would be similar to believing that the cock's crow causes the sun to rise.

Besides, it is the wrong question from square one. The real deeper question isn't whether God exists of not, but rather does Existence have inhernet meaning, and a purpose for existing?

If you wish to answer no (and embrace nihilism) you have to assume that there is no Creator and everything is a meaningless accident. To answer yes (and reject nihilism) you must assume that everything is the result of a deliberate, planned and purposeful act by a Creator.

Steve Zara said...

but rather does Existence have inhernet meaning, and a purpose for existing?

Fascinating. How does this inherent meaning and purpose interact with our neurons so that our brains can sense that it exists?

Does inherent meaning exist as some kind of electromagnetic field? Or perhaps some subtle warping of spacetime?

Anonymous said...

How does this inherent meaning and purpose interact with our neurons so that our brains can sense that it exists?

More an exercise in logic. Accidents by definition have no reason, meaning or purpose. They just happen. Sans a Creator, the universe is but an accident. What part of this are you having trouble with?

Besides, your snarkyness concerning the issue meaning indicates a strong, pre-existing strain of nihilsim in your character.

And I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why the odds are against the existence of God.

Steve Zara said...

More an exercise in logic.

No, that doesn't work. Do you understand the basis of logic?

You start with certain axioms, and then work from there.

Change the axioms, and you get different answers.

Logic is not absolute. You come up with different answers depending on the path you take based on the axioms.

The way we find out which logic applied to the real world is to test it. Without that test, it is just making up stories.

So, I ask again. What physical form does this inherent meaning take?

Anonymous said...

Then we must agree on our axioms (i.e. "A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim"). I propose two for your consideration:

1. Accidents are inheretly meaningless and without purpose.

2. If the universe was not deliberatley created, it is but an accident.

Care to dispute either axiom?

Anonymous said...

BTW you have yet to explain what our hopes, desires and beliefs have to do with the question of whether or not God exists?

You've blthely skipped past my response (or was it cowardice?).

Steve Zara said...

The universe was created by a schoolkid in the 11th dimension as a way to get girls.

How does that 'intrinsic meaning' make you feel?

Makes me feel a bit shabby.

Intrinsic meanings are funny things. If they really were intrinsic, we would not be having the argument about them.

Mark Jones said...

Anonymous says:
"1. Accidents are inheretly meaningless and without purpose.

2. If the universe was not deliberatley created, it is but an accident."

So your creator is an accident, inherently meaningless and without purpose? Or was he deliberately created? If so, by who?

Anonymous said...

Zara - your non-answer indicates severe lack of maturity on your part.

Your continued refusal to explain what our hopes, desires and beliefs have to do with the question of whether or not God exists indicates cowardice.

Mark - Since time was created with space as part of the space-time that forms the fabric of the universe any hypothetical Creator would have to exist outside of time. As such, this Creator would have no beginning or end, and your question is meaningless.

OTOH, we know from the big bang theory that the universe had a definitive moment of creation (we can even use measurements of background radiation to determine with a high degree of accuracy when this event occured).

Which is why astonomer Fred Hoyle hated and opposed the theory (sarcastically referring to it as the "Big Bang" and the name stuck) - because the act of Creation implied the existence of a Creator. As an atheist, he preferred the Steady State theory for this reason.

Steve Zara said...

Mark - Since time was created with space as part of the space-time that forms the fabric of the universe any hypothetical Creator would have to exist outside of time. As such, this Creator would have no beginning or end, and your question is meaningless.

Poor creator. No space or time. No space to keep a clock, and no time for it to work in. I'll bet he is often late for appointments.

Thank you for helping to confirm a recent suspicion of mine.

All supernatural claims, when examined close enough, are very funny indeed.

Mark Jones said...

Anonymous - I was only going by *your* axioms. So...

1. Accidents are inherently meaningless and without purpose.

2. If the creator was not deliberately created, it is but an accident.

But you don't agree with your logic now, I guess. Your welcome to tweak them a bit.

Anonymous said...

All supernatural claims, when examined close enough, are very funny indeed.

And all atheist claims apparently cannot be defended logically.

Or are inherently nihilistic.

But you don't agree with your logic now

So how exactly am I doing this?

And still no one here can pick up the gauntlet and answer my challenges.

Miranda Hale said...

Wonderful post!

Nichole said...

Listen, annie, what Steve was politely attempting to explain to you, is that religion wouldn't be based on faith if there was any evidence for it because faith is mutually exclusive from evidence. Like in the Hitchiker's Guide? Where god disappears in a poof of logic because of the obviously too useful Babel fish? It's like faith is an unstoppable force and evidence is an immovable object: both cannot exist in the same universe. So god, personification of faith that he seems to be, can't hang out with proof of himself as he is doomed to vanish in a poof of logic.

Why on earth do you regard conversations as battles?

Magpie said...

And still no one here can pick up the gauntlet and answer my challenges.

I like picking up gauntlets, but I'm not keen to wade through the posts above to find out what you consider the challenges to be - if I answer what I think are the challenges I might be wasting my time if I'm wrong. Any chance you could summarise?

This sounds lazy (and it is a bit) but then I think it's worthwhile to sum up an argument after it gets tangled.

Anonymous said...

Nichole - Steve is far from polite, he is actually rather snide. And I assume he is capable of answering for himself.

Your mistake is that you assume that all faith is a kind of blind, unreasoning faith of the Fundie variety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Basic Thomas Aquinas, "faith must pass the test of reason". In his "Summa Theologica" Thomas Aquinas laid down the rules of logic, evidence and perception as they apply to faith and scripture. “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”

Is there a reasonable basis for faith. Of course, existence itself provides such evidence. "Why is there something instead of nothing?" remains the ultimate question. Will Durant expands upon this point in his essay on "The Power of Religion" (which I highly recommend): ...in physics the same astonishing order of nature that makes science possible may reasonably sustain the religious faith in a cosmic intelligence.

It is a shallow, peurile mind that believes faith and reason mutually contradictory and cannot stand in each other's presence. As such, both atheists and Fundies have identical mind sets. There is an old saying the the devil doesn't care whether you are goind upstream or downstream. so long as you are going to extremes. Atheism and fundamentalism are the extremes of faith (and yes, atheism is a faith). Like Nazis and Communists, they claim to be polar opposites but really have far more in common then they have differences. Atheists and Fundies are really identical in their thought processes, having the same closed minds and fixation on black/white literalism. As such Fundies and atheists are two sides of the same intolerant coin.

A mature and balanced mind OTOH has room for both faith and reason. "A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." (Francis Bacon) Indeed faith and reason need eachother to lean on, without the one the other falls over "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.(Albert Einstein)

Steve Zara said...

A mature and balanced mind OTOH has room for both faith and reason.

I guess I have to agree. Where would be without the power of stories? Of the unchallengeable certainty of faith? There is such comfort in knowing the truth, as against having to demonstrate it.

So we should believe in the supernatural judge, who sees us all. The One who stands beyond the laws of physics, who can't be constrained by space and time. He knows if we have been naughty or nice. Ho Ho Ho!

Magpie said...

Is there a reasonable basis for faith. Of course, existence itself provides such evidence.

...but faith in what? Why that, and not something else?

"Why is there something instead of nothing?" remains the ultimate question.

And your answer to the ultimate question, the ULTIMATE answer, is to make something up? Faith?

What precisely do you have faith in? And is it so impossible to you for someone to say "I don't know"? Must every unanswered question be assigned an answer?

Why is this grain of sand right here, in the orientation it is? Why did that nucleus decay when it did, and not before? Why did that particular sperm get to the egg first? Why can I reach into a bag of a trillion numbered balls, and always get a number that has only a one in a trillion chance of being picked? Why? Well, why not?

It is a shallow, peurile mind that believes faith and reason mutually contradictory...

faith (fāth)
n.
Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

Yeah, I'd say that they're contradictory.

As you yourself have said, the existence or non-existence of god (if that is what you're saying you have faith in) cannot be proven (though, of course, the existence of god can be if god both exists and chooses to be known, but barring that...). So of course having faith in such a thing is contradictory to reason. There can be no evidence to back up this claim.

There are an infinite number of propositions that I do not presently believe in, most of which I haven't heard of (which is the immediate reason I don't believe in them). Propose some. I will see if I have reason enough to believe in them. If I don't have sufficient reason, I won't start believing.

For some people, tradition, indoctrination, old books and wishful thinking are sufficient reason to believe in God. Good for them. It's not for me. If that was all there was to it, fine. But I think we're using "reason" here in the scientific sense (perhaps we should clean up our ambiguity - poetry is all very nice, but not great for understanding each other). If you make a claim, you need to back it up. God exists? Prove it (or at least, make predictions and suggest a method for falsification). Until you do, your claim is unfounded.

...but as established, it can't be proven. So reason contradicts faith. You can believe in god, go nuts. Lots of people do, and of course reason and faith can co-exist in a person's head: reason is what keeps you alive, after all. It's useful. And internal contradiction is part of being human - everyone will find some contradictory beliefs if they look hard enough, I think. But to suggest that reason - making conclusions based on evidence - does not contradict faith - belief that does not rest on evidence - is just silly.

Again, though, I'm keen to get a summary of the "challenges" that make up your gauntlet. Is the challenge just a matter of arguing fairly unrelated points you make during the thread? Or was there something more specific?

Magpie said...

Oh, and atheism is NOT a faith. It is a lack of belief in God or Gods. A ROCK is an atheist, lacking the ability to believe in god by virtue of its lack of cognitive ability. Does it have a faith? No. It also lacks the ability to have faith, by the same virtue.

Atheism is not a faith.

If there are atheists who claim to have knowledge that disproves the existence of god, then yes, they have a kind of faith, since such evidence cannot possibly be sufficient - I would suggest that a useful word for these people would be "irrational". HOWEVER, the common statement "there's no such thing as god" is a linguistic shortcut rather than a philosophical position in every case I've checked (when in doubt, ask the speaker - I've never found anyone who held the philosophical position). ALL statements of fact may be false. Such a statement should not require a disclaimer that the speaker may be wrong, or our language would get awfully clunky.

Is the claim that there's no such thing as Santa, or Fairies, or orbiting teapots, etc also statements of faith? Hell, is the statement "I can see my desk" a statement of faith, given that I may be hallucinating? If that's the path you're going down, then everything is faith and the word is therefore meaningless.

Nichole said...

And as a theist who quotes Aquinas on the foolishness of contradicting science with dogma: How have you got the balls to argue against evolution?

Doesn't all that cognitive dissonance give you migraines?

This isn't /b/, how about a handle change-up; or do you like "annie?"

Nichole said...

And regarding atheism and religious fundamentalism: I don't think you could have got it more wrong if you were getting it wrong on purpose.

Unless you consider being anti-ideological and ideology. Which is about as foolish as considering anti-matter to be matter. Being a polar opposite doesn't make you the same in some post-modern, well-the-world-is-round-so-this-conversation-must-go-in-circles-as-well kind of way.

Anonymous said...

Zara - Where would be without the power of stories?

The mature mind does not object to popular poetry. But then you are obviously lacking in a mature mind.

Magpie - but faith in what? Why that, and not something else?

Faith that the universe has inherent meaning and that humans have objective, inviolable and intrinsict dignity. That way I avoid the atheist abyss of nihilism.

And your answer to the ultimate question, the ULTIMATE answer, is to make something up? Faith?

Not make up, but make a choice. There are only two answers to the question "Why is there anything?" Either: it's all ameaningless accident, or it was created for a purpose. Again, to avoid the atheistic abyss of nihilism, I choose to believe the later. And I am free to do so since neither claim (accident or purpose) can be tested or falsified.

Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. Yeah, I'd say that they're contradictory.

No, just occupying separate spheres. Science deals exclusively in mechanos the "how" of things. It is incapable of adressing (pro or con) issues involving teleos, meaning and prupose. These are simply not scientific issues and can only be addressed by faith.

So of course having faith in such a thing is contradictory to reason. There can be no evidence to back up this claim.

How so? Why is belief that existence has meaning contradictory to reason?

Propose some. I will see if I have reason enough to believe in them.

1. Existence has inherent meaning.
2. Humans have inherent dignity.

If you make a claim, you need to back it up. God exists? Prove it

As mentioned before, it is not possible to prove God's existence or non-existence either empirically or logically. And to try to do so misses the point, and asks the wrong question. The real question remains, does existence have inherent meaning? And as noted above, questions of meaning and purpose lie outside the limits of scientific eqnuiery. As such, your question is wrong from square one.

Oh, and atheism is NOT a faith.

Not making a choice is itself a choice. Not believing is itself a belief.

Anonymous said...

Nichole - How have you got the balls to argue against evolution?

I never have, evolution isn't even a matter of belief - it's an established fact. But then I'm not an ignorant Fundy (or a nihilistic atheist).

Besides, a literal interpretation of Genessis is contray to Christian tradition beginning with St. Augustine. From a review of Augustine's philosophy as expressed in his book, "The
Literal Meaning of Genesis": "In the beginning there were created a few species of beings which, by virtue of intrinsic principles of reproduction, gave origin to the other species down to the present state of the existing world. Thus it seems that Augustine is not contrary to a moderate evolution, but that such a moderate evolution has nothing in common with modern materialistic evolutionist teaching." Given his lack of fossil evidence and the tools of the scientific method, it would be too much to expect him to express a modern theory of evolution — though he was on the right track.

It is wrong (and a discredit to faith) for faith to make claims concerning mechanos. OTOH, for scientist like Dawkins to state that life and existence has no meaning and purpose because science can find none is a logical fallacy. When Dawkins describes the world as one of "pitiless indifference", or when Weinberg states that the universe in "pointless", they are (and others like them) making unscientific claims of teleological nature beyond the limits of science to comment or critique. Perhaps these books should include warning labels to the effect that "Here be metaphysics". Science is not capable of commenting on teleological subjects such as morals, ethics, meaning and purpose. Dawkins is in error when he claims science can do so. He is being intellectually dishonest when he palms off his metaphysical speculations as if they were scientific conclusions. Science has nothing to say, good or bad, about teleology.

IMHO the only sensible thing is to adhere to Gould's Non-Overlapping Magesteria (NOMA). Which the people on this site are treating as a heresy, showing yet again a point of commonality between Atheists and Fundies.

And regarding atheism and religious fundamentalism: I don't think you could have got it more wrong if you were getting it wrong on purpose.

I'm sure a Communist would have been just as apalled to be compared to a Fascist. But really, what were the practical differences? Atheists and fundamentalists both strike me a half blind individuals, each blind in a different eye, and forever arguing over which is the better eye to see with. You are both equally dogmatic and close minded, two sides of the same intolerant coin.

Nobody on the planet is as dogmatic as the so-called "New Atheists".

Steve Zara said...

No, just occupying separate spheres. Science deals exclusively in mechanos the "how" of things. It is incapable of adressing (pro or con) issues involving teleos, meaning and prupose. These are simply not scientific issues and can only be addressed by faith.

Your posts are useful. You are proceeding through just about every common misunderstanding of science and rationality.

Of course science can address issues of meaning and purpose.

When you write the terms 'meaning' and 'purpose' you are using your brain. That writing has come from neural activity (we know that because of the way brain lesions remove such functionality).

It is, in principle, possible to follow neural activity to figure out what is happening in someone's head when they have the feeling of experiencing meaning, or purpose. We can't do this in any detail yet, but it is only a matter of time.

Imagine sometime in the not-too-distant future, when a simulated mind says 'life has a purpose'.

At that point, all the silly ideas of inherent meaning should finally vanish.

Having the experience of meaning is a function of a biological organ - the brain. It can be as much studied by science as any other function of any organ, be it the biochemistry of the liver or the beating of the heart.

Anonymous said...

Of course science can address issues of meaning and purpose.

You really have no idea what teleos means do you? If you did, you would understand that questions of meaning and purpose are neither testable nor falsifiable - and therefore unscientific.

At that point, all the silly ideas of inherent meaning should finally vanish.

Inherent meaning is "silly" only to a nihilist.

Steve Zara said...

Anon-
I know perfectly well the meanings of the term I use. What you need to realise is that claims of existence need to be demonstrated. When asked how any inherent meaning can exist and interact with our minds, you have failed. You have failed to provide a physical framework for this and you failed to achieve this via logic. So, your statements about lack of inherent meaning can be dismissed.

Also, rejecting your unsubstantiated claims does not make someone a nihilist.

Anonymous said...

Both theism and atheism are unsubstantiated claims. They are equally untestable, un-falsifiable and un-scientific. They are BOTH unscientific faith claims.

As such I cannot prove or disprove atheism, anymore than you can prove or disprove theism. Neither claim can be substantiatied even in principle. However, I can definitively show that atheism is inherently and inescapably nihilistic.

And with your help, I've succeeded.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

BTW, teleological claims are NOT claims of existence. They are claims of meaning.

See, you really don't have any idea what teleos means.

Steve Zara said...

You just don't seem to get it.

If there is 'inherent meaning' then it must somehow influence mental activity so that we think 'Ah! There is Inherent Meaning'.

What I have been trying to get you to understand is that there must be some mechanism for this to happen. It presumably does not happen by magic.

The only way we can investigate inherent meaning as something that is true is to see if there is something that influences our thoughts.

I have asked you how this could happen, this influence. You have come up with nothing.

Because of that, your idea of inherent meaning can be rejected.

Anonymous said...

If there is 'inherent meaning' then it must somehow influence mental activity

Why? How exactly would it do so? You assume that we are all equally capable of discerning or even inferring meaning. As for the preception of meaning, CS Lewis provides an admirable response:

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."--C.S. Lewis

What I have been trying to get you to understand is that there must be some mechanism for this to happen.

Why? Teleos has nothing to do with mechanical action, only purposeful intent. Besides, your denial of inherent puprose already paints you into a corner as a nihilist. You keep proving my point for me.

I must admit though, I am curious as to why you believe that existence in without meaning or purpose.

Steve Zara said...

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning

Nonsense. It is just silly word games. It is like saying that 'zero' of something can't exist because we have a word for 'zero'.

I must admit though, I am curious as to why you believe that existence in without meaning or purpose.

I don't. You have set up a false dichotomy. Inherent meaning or none at all.

There is another option. Meaning we make for ourselves.

There is no universal 'left' or 'right' or 'North' or 'South', but we define our own local directions. Just because the universe has no intrinsic North does not mean we can't celebrate when someone reaches the North Pole by foot, or pogo stick.

Such simplistic thinking. Typical of C.S.Lewis I am afraid.

Anonymous said...

It is just silly word games.

Translation: It's alogical argument I can't counter, therefore I have to denigrate it with the equivalent of an ad hominem.

Lewis recognized that modern objections to God are based on a sense of fair play and justice. People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on the death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak. These things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust?

The nonbeliever in God doesn't have a good basis for being outraged at justice, which, C.S. Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are so sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural, or supernatural, standard by which to make your judgment. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga said it like this:

"Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don't see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obligated to live... A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort... and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness [...and not just an illusion of some sort], then you have a powerful... argument [for the reality of God]."

Anonymous said...

I don't. You have set up a false dichotomy. Inherent meaning or none at all. There is another option. Meaning we make for ourselves.

That would not be logically possible in a universe devoid of inherent meaning.

A short hand version of the argument can be found in the internet encyclopedia of philosophy article on "Nihilism":

"In the twentieth century, it's the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) defining preposition for the movement, "existence precedes essence," rules out any ground or foundation for establishing an essential self or a human nature. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. Nothingness reveals each individual as an isolated being "thrown" into an alien and unresponsive universe, barred forever from knowing why yet required to invent meaning. It's a situation that's nothing short of absurd. Writing from the enlightened perspective of the absurd, Albert Camus (1913-1960) observed that Sisyphus' plight, condemned to eternal, useless struggle, was a superb metaphor for human existence (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942).

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism."

In other words, in a world that is inherently nothing more than a meaningless accident, no amount of individual effort will result in true meaning or purpose. All such attempts will be in vain. The best one can hope for is a derivitive of solipcism where "meaning" exists only in your own mind.

But even that door is closed to you. As I have noted before, if the Soul does not exist then Mind and Self are but illusions. How can illusions create meaning?

Steve Zara said...

I did refute your logic, with the 'zero' example.

On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust?

I don't. However, I believe that people can act in ways that I consider wrong, unfair and unjust.

Stop trying to make this into a 'natural world' thing. We are free people. We make our own justice.

And please, please, don't get me started on Plantinga.

Honestly, I do find this need for intrinsic crutches rather sad. Humanity needs to grow up!

Anonymous said...

We are free people. We make our own justice.

How can mere Illusions make justice or meaning? Haven't you heard, the Mind and the Self don't exist. An even if Illusions could do so, what objective standards would they use to create justice and meaning?

Steve Zara said...

How can mere Illusions make justice or meaning?

Feelings and thoughts are not illusions. Our relationships with others are not illusions.

Haven't you heard, the Mind and the Self don't exist.

The mind is the function of the brain. It is real, unlike the self.

An even if Illusions could do so, what objective standards would they use to create justice and meaning?

Did my words about 'North' and 'South' sink in at all? Stop with all the 'objective' nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Feelings and thoughts are not illusions.

I'm afraid that they are, and if the Mind isn't a real thing unto itself then nihilism is inescapable, even at the personal level. Atheists like to make the argument that even though God doesn't exist and the universe has no inherent meaning and purpose, we as individual excreting our mind and will can carve out little pockets of meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence.

However, the only valid explanation of consciousness under these circumstances is that it is big illusion created by the brain's wiring. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Susan Blackmore, Steve Pinker, etc. have come to the logical (based on a purely materialistic world view) conclusion that the Self is merely an illusion. Dawkins has adopted this position after following Blackmore's lead. Let the following quotes illustrate this:

"In a recent joint lecture, Dawkins asked his colleague Steven Pinker: "Am I right to think that the feeling I have that I'm a single entity, who makes decisions, and loves and hates and has political views and things is a kind of illusion that has come about because Darwinian selection found it expedient to create that illusion of unitariness rather than let us be a society of mind?" Pinker answered affirmatively that "the fact that the brain ultimately controls a body that has to be in one place at one time may impose the need for some kind of circuit . . . that coordinates the different agendas of the different parts of the brain to ensure that the whole body goes in one direction." That hypothetical circuit is all that remains of the illusion of a free-acting self." [The Dawkins-Pinker exchange is available at www.edge.org]

And from a recent interview:

"Stangroom: One final question about hard determinism. I think at the end of The Selfish Gene you said that one of the important things about human beings is that they are able to choose to act otherwise than perhaps their selfish genes would have them. Obviously, however, for a hard determinist the choices we make are themselves determined. In an interview with The Third Way www.csis.org.uk/Articles/Intrview/interv1.htm) you indicated that you had some sympathy with Susan Blackmore's view that ". The idea that there is a self in there that decides things, acts and is responsible.is a whopping great illusion. The self we construct is just an illusion because actually there's only brains and chemicals.". Is your position then that statements about consciousness or selfhood will ultimately be reducible to statements about neurons and chemicals?

Dawkins: I suppose that philosophically I am committed to that view because I think that everything about life is a product of the evolutionary process and consciousness must be a manifestation of the evolutionary process, presumably via brains. So I think that has got to mean that consciousness is ultimately a material phenomenon."

Stop with all the 'objective' nonsense.

Hate to break this to you but "subjective standards" is an oxymoron.

Standards that are not objective are meaningless. What yardstick or guideline does an inherently meaningless universe provide you so that you can judge whether or not your individual actions and thoughts are meaningful ("...in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism.")

When navigating its helpful to have a north star or magnetic north pole, or at least a map, to guide your movements. Your human created meaning (with everyon ehaving their own individual north poles) is an attempt to navigate through life blindly.

Anonymous said...

You know, you keep responding to my points with nihilistic claims. Over and over again you keep proving my point for me. So why don't you just nut up and admit to being a nihilist?

Anonymous said...

don't get me started on Plantinga"

Oh, please do.

According to his Wiki entry:

In 1980, Plantinga was described by Time magazine as "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God."[1] He was portrayed in that same article as a central figure in a "quiet revolution" regarding the respectability of belief in God among academic philosophers. Plantinga has delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures on three separate occasions. He is also a proponent of Molinism in the debate over divine providence, despite growing up in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Plantinga is currently the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

Your accomplishments are what exactly?

Your critique of his scholarship is what exactly?

Steve Zara said...

Anonymous-

You are like an addict trying to justify their next fix.

You come up with absurd analogies, such as the North Star being an absolute standard. I hope you realise that it moves? So even your desperate attempt to present some standard fails.

If you use a satellite navigation system, or a map, you are using subjective relative standards to deal with everyday activities. As with geography, so with morality.

My qualifications are a Ph.D. in biology. Call me Dr Zara. I know vastly more evolutionary theory than Plantinga. Plantinga has attempted to deal with evolution, and has made himself look a fool.

As have you. You have not met any challenges. You have not shown any way that any inherent standards can influence our thoughts.

As David Hume showed centuries ago, you, and your arguments, can be dismissed as a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

You do understand that GPS is tied to an objective grid system called latitude and longitude?

What does Plantinga's statement on evolution (good or bad) have to do with his philosophical statement on meaning?

Oh and I did meet your challenges, or more specifcially CS Lewis did. Backed into a corner you described his response as mere word play. I would think that someonme with a PhD could come up with an actual argument.

So Dr. Zara, how exactly does a "whopping great illusion" create meaning and purpose?

Anonymous said...

Anyway, I tried to Google you to find any papers you may have written. Didn't find any published works but I do understand now why your militant atheism is so dogmatic and uncompromising.

And personal.

It also became clear as to why you are so virulently opposed to the concept of objective morality. No doubt you find it to be intolerably oppressive.

In the meantime, my basic argument remain standing:

Atheism inescapably leads to nihilism.

Whithout a God, existence is but a meaningless (if fortunate) accident.

Without a soul, consciousness and the Self are merely an illusions incapable of free will or volition necessary to create meaning.

Furthermore, all actions in an inherently meaningless universe, no matter how devoted or passionate, are themselves meaningless gestures in a cold indifferent universe.

Steve Zara said...

I will try for the last time
.

GPS is a great example of what I am talking about.

"North and South" are not inherent in the universe. They are human constructions. They are meaning we impose on the universe, not that it imposes on us. Latitude and Longitude are not objective in the sense of being built-in to the universe. When humans evolved they did not find lines built into the structure of the Earth. And yet, they are now objective in that we have a common reference we have come up with.

Morality is exactly the same. There is no inherent morality built into the fabric of the reality, but as thinking beings we can negotiotate a morality that can then become agreed on by a society to the point where it can seem universal, even though it really isn't.

Atheism no more leads to nihilism than the lack of intrinsic direction means we all wander around blindly unable to find the shops.

As for the mind.. is software real? It is merely patterns in memory chips. There are only electrons. But it still makes sense to talk about "Microsoft Windows" running on a computer. The mind is no more an illusion than software is.

Finally, Plantinga. He makes interesting mistakes in his philosophical arguments with deal with evolution. Those mistakes indicate a profound lack of understanding of how evolution works. It is equivalent to a mathematician including a division by zero deep in a proof. The thing is, such flaws in an argument can be hard to find sometimes. But once you have found them, it does make one question the rest of that author's work. It encourages scepticism, to put it mildly.

I do have to thank you. The 'GPS' argument is a useful one to illustrate how morality can arise as a human construct and yet seem objective to some.

Anonymous said...

"North and South" are not inherent in the universe.

In appropriate comparison. While the terms themselves are arbitary, positive and negative magnetic poles are universal. The "north" of magnet from the Andromeda galaxy will repel the "north" end of a magent here on earth. Arbitrary human desigations and societal agreement have nothing to do with it.

Without these universal values as a foundation, our directional system would have no meaning. As such you would find yourself wandering around blindly lost, like a hiker in the woods lacking a compass.

Subjective directions, like subjective values, are an oxymoron. A value is objective, or it is not (by definition) a value.

is software real? ... The mind is no more an illusion than software is.

So you are in disagreement with Dennet, Dawkins, Blackmore et al who claim the mind and free will are nothing but illusions? Either way you're analogy is false as you are ingoring the requirmeent for self awareness. Software isn't self aware, and can never hope to be. But then neither is the illusion we call the Mind, now is it? And since you really didn't answer my question I'll ask it again:

How pray tell does a mere illusion lacking in free will create meaning?

Steve Zara said...

When humans appeared, they did not find a big sign at the North pole saying 'Hey guys, this one is "North"'. That was our label. Our convention.

Also, do you know there are several "North" poles? The Earth is not as simple as you think.

We would still be able to find our way around if the field flipped direction (as it often does).

But at least I now understand what you are thinking of in terms of intrinsic morality and meaning. Some kind of field that pervades space.

When you have built a detector for it, drop me a line. You can find me on richarddawkins.net quite often.

As I have said, all supernatural ideas become hilarious when examined in detail.

It has been fun.

Anonymous said...

And you leave without answering my question:

How does a mere illusion lacking in free will create meaning?

Good day.

Magpie said...

Either: it's all ameaningless accident, or it was created for a purpose. Again, to avoid the atheistic abyss of nihilism, I choose to believe the later.

However, I can definitively show that atheism is inherently and inescapably nihilistic.

(Sorry about the slow reply - I've been sick).

You seem very concerned about nihilism. Why? If atheism, or anything else, is nihilistic, does that make it wrong? You might not like nihilism, but "like" has nothing to do with reality.

Nevertheless, I don't think you're correct. What is it about a "created" universe gives it meaning? Volition? The intellect of the creator?

First, my creation was by intent: that of my mother and father. Second, if the intellect of an apparently imaginary being can imbue my life with meaning, why can't my own intellect do the same?

What does god have that I and my mum don't? If he can justify my existence, why can't I?

...and if I *can't*, so what? If my free will is an illusion, yadda and so on, how does that change anything? I will continue to act as I act, as will you. We can't tell the difference, can we?

Why do you need an imaginary friend to validate you? How is "faith" different from wishful thinking?

Both theism and atheism are unsubstantiated claims.

Did you read what I wrote? A rock is an atheist. It doesn't believe in god. You haven't disputed this. Can a rock MAKE A CLAIM? No it can't. Atheism is not a claim, substantiated or otherwise.

As I wrote in my first post, the usual "claim" is a linguistic. That was part of the post you apparently ignored...

There are only two answers to the question "Why is there anything?" Either: it's all ameaningless accident, or it was created for a purpose.

Only two answers? Really? What about: we don't know. Or: why not? What if it was created for NO purpose?

Why are accidents meaningless? Who can give them meaning? Why not us? If I accidentally burn my house down, that has meaning.

How does god, if it exists, answer your question? Was he "created" for a purpose? Or is he a meaningless accident?

...and with either answer, how then does he have any greater ability to imbue my life with meaning than I do?