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Thread: Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says

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    Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says



    In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief

    Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. Valued at just under $1.5 million, the award from the John Templeton Foundation annually recognizes an individual “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Its past recipients include scientific luminaries such as Sir Martin Rees and Freeman Dyson, as well as religious or political leaders such as Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

    Across his 35-year scientific career, Gleiser’s research has covered a wide breadth of topics, ranging from the properties of the early universe to the behavior of fundamental particles and the origins of life. But in awarding him its most prestigious honor, the Templeton Foundation chiefly cited his status as a leading public intellectual revealing “the historical, philosophical and cultural links between science, the humanities and spirituality.” He is also the first Latin American to receive the prize.

    Scientific American spoke with Gleiser about the award, how he plans to advance his message of consilience, the need for humility in science, why humans are special, and the fundamental source of his curiosity as a physicist.

    Scientific American: First off, congratulations! How did you feel when you heard the news?

    Marcelo Gleiser: It was quite a shocker. I feel tremendously honored, very humbled and kind of nervous. It’s a cocktail of emotions, to be honest. I put a lot of weight on the fact that I’m the first Latin American to get this. That, to me anyway, is important—and I’m feeling the weight on my shoulders now. I have my message, you know. The question now is how to get it across as efficiently and clearly as I can, now that I have a much bigger platform to do that from.

    You’ve written and spoken eloquently about nature of reality and consciousness, the genesis of life, the possibility of life beyond Earth, the origin and fate of the universe, and more. How do all those disparate topics synergize into one, cohesive message for you?

    To me, science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. And if you think of it that way, the mystery of existence is something that we have wondered about ever since people began asking questions about who we are and where we come from. So while those questions are now part of scientific research, they are much, much older than science. I’m not talking about the science of materials, or high-temperature superconductivity, which is awesome and super important, but that’s not the kind of science I’m doing. I’m talking about science as part of a much grander and older sort of questioning about who we are in the big picture of the universe. To me, as a theoretical physicist and also someone who spends time out in the mountains, this sort of questioning offers a deeply spiritual connection with the world, through my mind and through my body. Einstein would have said the same thing, I think, with his cosmic religious feeling.

    Right. So which aspect of your work do you think is most relevant to the Templeton Foundation’s spiritual aims?

    Probably my belief in humility. I believe we should take a much humbler approach to knowledge, in the sense that if you look carefully at the way science works, you’ll see that yes, it is wonderful — magnificent! — but it has limits. And we have to understand and respect those limits. And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. So that’s one answer to your question. And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic.

    Why are you against atheism?

    I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and all that. This positions me very much against all of the “New Atheist” guys—even though I want my message to be respectful of people’s beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It’s not just me; it’s also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.

    So, a message of humility, open-mindedness and tolerance. Other than in discussions of God, where else do you see the most urgent need for this ethos?

    You know, I’m a “Rare Earth” kind of guy. I think our situation may be rather special, on a planetary or even galactic scale. So when people talk about Copernicus and Copernicanism—the ‘principle of mediocrity’ that states we should expect to be average and typical, I say, “You know what? It’s time to get beyond that.” When you look out there at the other planets (and the exoplanets that we can make some sense of), when you look at the history of life on Earth, you will realize this place called Earth is absolutely amazing. And maybe, yes, there are others out there, possibly—who knows, we certainly expect so—but right now what we know is that we have this world, and we are these amazing molecular machines capable of self-awareness, and all that makes us very special indeed. And we know for a fact that there will be no other humans in the universe; there may be some humanoids somewhere out there, but we are unique products of our single, small planet’s long history.

    The point is, to understand modern science within this framework is to put humanity back into kind of a moral center of the universe, in which we have the moral duty to preserve this planet and its life with everything that we’ve got, because we understand how rare this whole game is and that for all practical purposes we are alone. For now, anyways. We have to do this! This is a message that I hope will resonate with lots of people, because to me what we really need right now in this increasingly divisive world is a new unifying myth. I mean “myth” as a story that defines a culture. So, what is the myth that will define the culture of the 21st century? It has to be a myth of our species, not about any particular belief system or political party. How can we possibly do that? Well, we can do that using astronomy, using what we have learned from other worlds, to position ourselves and say, “Look, folks, this is not about tribal allegiance, this is about us as a species on a very specific planet that will go on with us—or without us.” I think you know this message well.

    More/source: Scientific American
    “Remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no-one is too poor to buy.” - C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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    I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?)

    I think a major problem in parts of the world where Abrahamic religions were dominant is seeing the inconsistencies and illogic of claims about "God".

    We have been told "God" is a certain being but in my opinion the details attached to this idea are illogical in that it portrays an egotistical, violent (sadistic even), vengeful Sky God not unlike some kind of Zeus character. [everything I mentioned can be found from Genesis and throughout especially Old Testament texts ... "God" giving support to not only some particular regional tribe's annihilation of a certain city, including taking women as (sex) slaves and killing everything else is not my idea of any kind of ultimate concept of "God".].

    So as far as that kind of "God" goes, I'm with those who reject it as a false, dangerous and biased tribal *idol*.


    However, that does not mean that there can't be a greater and more expansive concept of "God" which is beyond the little limited tribal ideas humans have invented and controlled ... although I feel even that word is too biased and distorted to even use.

    ---------------

    As far as Science goes , he mentions that it is limited. Unfortunately many scientists (although I imagine this is more true for "popular science promoters in the media" - Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson etc) think Science is the pinnacle of explaining Reality. The problem is that there are phenomena that happen so unexpectedly and randomly that one could not set up any kind of system to read data from such events.


    I was sitting at the dinner table with my friend and quite suddenly , the box of salt shifted over on the table. I immediately asked her if the salt box just moved and she said "yes it did". It visually moved and made a sound while moving (perhaps an inch). That is a true happening which I swear happened!


    In this house there have been some other occurrences which I can't explain (once I thought I heard a voice out in the kitchen. However, the interesting part of this story is that the husky dog also started going out to the kitchen ahead of me. When I got there, all I felt was a cold shiver through my body. The odd part of this was the fact that the dog also was interested in this "voice" that in the kitchen so it wasn't just me imagining things.


    These are some of the types of things that Science has a hard time with because these things happen suddenly and there is no chance to collect any kind of data on it. So humans say "this and that happened" and so-called "rationalists" will dismiss it with a laugh as pure nonsense (dismissing it and even calling the person a liar, irrational, imagining things , on drugs, drunk or just plain stupid).


    Dismissing such things as pure nonsense is not "a very scientific thing to do"!

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    Atheism has nothing to do with science. But in my view, it's a terrible thought pattern/philosophy or whatever you want to call it.
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    I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.”
    This is just clever wording.

    He’s shifting the onus away from believers to prove the existence of God and is placing it upon Atheists to prove a negative, which is impossible.

    Based on this, the most outrageous claims could be made and would be considered valid until proven otherwise. No society could function this way, however, and the legal system would crash overnight if this logic were to be applied.

    I don’t happen to like some of the more dour Atheists. They tend to have a set negative attitude and can be as tiresome as the religious fanatics who constantly trumpet their ‘faith’. With that said, if the latter didn’t exist there would be no need for Atheists in the first place.

    Atheists do not have a 'belief in non-belief'. Again, a clever piece of wording but it’s just a vain attempt to equate them with believers when they are essentially sceptics, which is the exact opposite of a believer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SaxonPagan View Post
    This is just clever wording.

    He’s shifting the onus away from believers to prove the existence of God and is placing it upon Atheists to prove a negative, which is impossible.

    Based on this, the most outrageous claims could be made and would be considered valid until proven otherwise. No society could function this way, however, and the legal system would crash overnight if this logic were to be applied.
    No, what he is saying is merely, if you cannot prove or disprove something, the logical decision would be to withold final judgement. He says himself he's not religious but agnostic.

    Personally I'd say the burden of proof is still more on religious people but still as a nonbeliever one cannot provide proof for God's(in the broadest possible meaning of the word) non-existence either.
    We can probably disprove a lot of the various religious theories but perhaps God is simply something entirely different to what any humans think? Perhaps he is merely an inactive spectator altogether. Then Epicurus' famous quote ("Is he neither able nor willing [to prevent evil]? Then why call him God?”) could be brought up but that's an entirely different matter altogether.

    Atheists do not have a 'belief in non-belief'. Again, a clever piece of wording but it’s just a vain attempt to equate them with believers when they are essentially sceptics, which is the exact opposite of a believer.
    Well, if one has no proof for something, which in that case, as you say is impossible to proof but still chooses to hold something as true they are indeed essentially merely believing...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juthunge View Post
    Well, if one has no proof for something, which in that case, as you say is impossible to proof but still chooses to hold something as true they are indeed essentially merely believing...
    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
    It's the typical circle "argumentation" of "agnostics" to have an excuse to keep sitting on the fence.

    Over the centuries, the properties of "god" have been pushed quite beyond the envelop, not least due to science mounting up evidence that there is no "creator god" where it should have been according to postulations of the religious. Today "god" is a "creator" who sits completely outside the experience world of the "mortals", in fact, he resides outside the universe itself, in some kind of "meta sphere", after we've build machines to measure the greatest and the smallest elements and things and even the very beginning of our universe and apart from Higgs bosoms and imagined "god particles" (postulated, but yet not even the smallest sign of them, anywhere) there's only further mounting evidence that there is no "god" that created the universe, life, humans, anything.

    And then you get:

    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
    Okay....?

    -----------------------------

    Other than that, spirituality does not depend on the postulation of (a single creator) "god", for which the term atheism was invented, it means "godless" or "without god" and refers very specifically to the rejection of the judeo-christian "god". To call pagans atheists is fundamentally wrong, for all other religions in the world and in world history had and have many gods, just that they dont feature such outrageous claims of omnipotence and omnipresence and their nature is very fundamentally different from the monotheistic definitions. Spirituality can even exist completely without the postulation of "higher beings", since spirituality is a human brain function. Maybe similar to sleep, a function required for the brain and body to recover and recreate, and so fuels spirituality inter-human relations and bonding, and also the ability to self-awareness.
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    I do believe in an over-arching 'Prime Mover' (more than one, actually), but I freely admit I can neither provide proof for my belief nor provide proof against anyone else's beliefs in a god or gods whatever those might be.

    As such, I take into account the advances of science and discoveries of evolution and so far, I've managed to combine the two without contradiction.

    Want the fabled 'creation of man' from both a scientific and religious view? Okay, here you go: think of that scene from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey when the creature touches the monolith and gains knowledge. I liken that to our ancestors being endowed with a soul in order to make us 'work'. We can just as easily look at that specific moment as being when all the chemicals and neurons in our ancient brain lined up perfectly and knowledge- human thought- was born. Either way, it's a remarkable step in our evolution- one that could have occurred naturally, or with a little help from The Twilight Zone.

    It's a scientific paper or a story to tell your children- one is hard fact, and the other is a story about those hard facts. Did Darth Vader kill Anakin Skywalker, or did Anakin morph into Darth Vader? It all depends on how you want to tell the story.

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    Well, if one has no proof for something, which in that case, as you say is impossible to proof but still chooses to hold something as true they are indeed essentially merely believing...
    Nope! We’re still trying to turn atheists into ‘believers’ but you can believe that someone is wrong (ie hold that opinion) without this being a ‘belief’ in any deeper, spiritual sense. The word has multiple layers of meaning.

    Atheism isn’t a faith and most Atheists just dismiss the invention of deities as human stupidity. They don’t ‘believe’ in the non-existence of god(s) any more than I’m a non-dragon believer.

    Defining yourself in the negative is absurd.

    No, what he is saying is merely, if you cannot prove or disprove something, the logical decision would be to withold final judgement. He says himself he's not religious but agnostic.
    Velvet has already addressed the issue of agnostics and their intellectual cowardice. Using the example above, I can't believe they'd "withhold final judgement" about dragons until someone proved definitively that they didn't exist. How could this possibly be done? Every time you told them that none have ever been seen they could simply reply: ".. not yet!" and this tiresome little game would continue forever

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    What?!? There're no dragons? Now I'm distressed....deeply



    Dragons are a bad example, btw, because they're so prevalent in mythologies around the globe. Wouldnt be the first or only species man threw on the extinction list.^^

    But one can argue the other way round with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Once postulated, it's quite impossible to remove such an idea, and Pastafarianism is quite simple the proof for that the desire for some kind of "entity" (no matter how ridiculous) is ingrained in the human mind, and based on that, you can invent an omnipotent, omnipresent creator god that no one ever saw, heard, felt or for which there is any real sign of existence and still your invented religion gathers followers. Apparently, the more outrageous and beyond the claims are, the more followers you get, too, as the monotheistic religions show.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism. Pastafarianism (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarianism) is a social movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. According to adherents, Pastafarianism is a "real, legitimate religion, as much as any other".[3] In New Zealand, Pastafarian representatives are authorized to officiate weddings.[4][5][6] However, in the United States, a federal court has ruled that the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" is not a real religion.[7] In August 2018 the Dutch Council of State also ruled that Pastafarianism is not a religion.[8]

    The "Flying Spaghetti Monster" was first described in a satirical open letter written by Bobby Henderson in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes.[9] In the letter, Henderson demanded equal time in science classrooms for "Flying Spaghetti Monsterism", alongside intelligent design and evolution.[10] After Henderson published the letter on his website, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly became an Internet phenomenon and a symbol of opposition to the teaching of intelligent design in public schools
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster
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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    Other than that, spirituality does not depend on the postulation of (a single creator) "god", for which the term atheism was invented, it means "godless" or "without god" and refers very specifically to the rejection of the judeo-christian "god".
    That is simply fundamentally wrong. It was a term already used in Classical Greece centuries before the Common Era. And I literally know no one but you who understands atheism as solely referring to the Christian God.

    To call pagans atheists is fundamentally wrong, for all other religions in the world and in world history had and have many gods, just that they dont feature such outrageous claims of omnipotence and omnipresence and their nature is very fundamentally different from the monotheistic definitions.
    Who called Pagans atheistic anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by SaxonPagan View Post
    Nope! We’re still trying to turn atheists into ‘believers’ but you can believe that someone is wrong (ie hold that opinion) without this being a ‘belief’ in any deeper, spiritual sense. The word has multiple layers of meaning.

    Atheism isn’t a faith and most Atheists just dismiss the invention of deities as human stupidity. They don’t ‘believe’ in the non-existence of god(s) any more than I’m a non-dragon believer.
    Yeah, very obviously as atheists they don't "believe in it" in a spiritual sense...That's not what I meant. I simply used it in the sense of an opposite to know.

    Velvet has already addressed the issue of agnostics and their intellectual cowardice.
    How is it cowardice when there is nothing to lose or gain by the behaviour? Agnostics risk hell or some similar fate in most religions anyway if they don't actively believe in said religions.

    It's rather, that agnostics aren't so presumptuous to say that they know for certain that some kind of deity exists or existed anywhere. But it's a purely philosophical matter to me (and I guess most agnostics) and irrelevant for all practical purposes because if it isn't acting on this world it might as well be non-existant. And for it acting on this world I simply haven't seen any proof.

    The only things that necessitates an initial creator god/the monad and the demiurg, in my opinion, is the very beginning of the universe because it simply isn't more plausible to me that it came into being ex nihilo without anything guiding it, rather than being created by a "deity", and the initial spark of life (How did it arise from inanimate matter).

    Using the example above, I can't believe they'd "withhold final judgement" about dragons until someone proved definitively that they didn't exist. How could this possibly be done? Every time you told them that none have ever been seen they could simply reply: ".. not yet!" and this tiresome little game would continue forever
    A dragon has to have a physical manifestation by definition, how is that comparable to a deity that possibly only exists in another dimension and possibly doesn't act upon our dimension and is merely a spectator (and perhaps the initial creator of the universe right before the Big Bang, as I said above)? It's apples and oranges.

    Besides that, it's a bad example because who would have thought, for example, that pterosaur had existed once if not for fossils? And what are dragons other than pterosaur with the ability to breath fire? But I'm not familiar with the physics of the possibility of an animal naturally being able to breath fire, so pardon my ignorance.
    To make sure: I'm not suggesting dragons exist today or existed in an age together with humans nor that it's very likely they ever existed.
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