Questions regarding the universe and sacrificial love

August 3, 2008 at 4:28 pm 115 comments

Rover recently posted a couple questions for us that I thought I would highlight.

“I have been on this site for several weeks now and the views shared here have challenged me greatly. I was wondering if some of the de-cons might answer a couple questions?

  1. There are Christians like myself who claim that the universe is finely tuned and shows evidence of being created by God. I have read many arguments refuting this claim, but what have you found to be the best one and most irrefutable?
  2. How can atheism truly support the evolution of sacrificial love? Dawkins arguments on this subject seem inadequate. Do you have any others?

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33 Reasons why I left the Mormon Church The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins

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  • 1. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Rover, I would recommend posing such questions in the forums.

    What you’re pointing out is something I struggled with myself before finally giving up my faith, and I’d love to talk more about it when I get the time.

  • 2. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Rover —

    Fine-tuned for life, I’m assuming? That argument is almost rather weak (no offense meant to you) for a number of reasons. If the Universe is “fine-tuned” for life, then why don’t we see life abounding on other planets? SETI and other research institutes and organizations have been scanning the skies with radar arrays for a good part of the 20th century and the entire 21st, but as of yet we haven’t found anything (as far as I know). I think the probability that life is out there somewhere is quite high (perhaps a certainty), but it definitely seems that it’s quite rare for it to appear.

    But when people say the Earth is “fine-tuned” for life, it gets even worse. 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth are extinct, and mass extinctions such as that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and the Ice Age extinctions a little over 10,000 years ago show that this planet definitely isn’t kind to any life that evolves on it. If a certain model of plane crashed 99% of the time it took to the air, would you consider it fine-tuned for flight?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event

    Not only that, but natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanoes don’t look like they were fine-tuned by any benevolent being. However, they do look like what one would expect from an uncaring Universe.

    As for sacrificial love, that seems to be something that would be of great benefit to social animals who share strong ties to their kin. Since family members share a large amount of genetic material, such altruistic behaviour could still pass on genes similar to those of a specific organism and increase fitness, even if said organism has died while protecting its family. If an organism dies to protect its children, then that’s directly supported through evolution because an organism’s children are its key to spreading its genes to the pool of the next generation.

  • 3. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    “…the argument is almost rather weak…” should be “…the argument is rather weak…”.
    ;)

  • 4. The Apostate  |  August 3, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    What is your best answer to Christians like myself who claim that the universe is finely tuned and shows evidence of being created by God?

    This was the reason my mother converted to Christianity in her teens. I to have read many responses to this. Personally, I had to ask myself whether this was a rational or an emotional claim. Was I seeing this “finely tuned” universe due to the anthropocentric principle? How “finely tuned” is this universe? Is this really the “best of all possible worlds?” Does the reality of what we know about the universe mesh 100% with the theistic god of Christianity. De-conversion comes in stages. I still do not call myself an atheist due to my penchant for accurate philosophical definitions, but I am an agnostic through and through. I can’t say that a divine being created the universe. I do know as much as I know about gravity, cause/effect and the history of humankind that this universe was not created by the theistic god of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible – at least not how “that god” is portrayed in those scriptures.
    The problem is that the universe is becoming increasingly explainable. What we thought about God three hundred years ago has diminished. Even look at how Christians treat their God. “God the Father” has basically lost all emphasis since the Enlightenment era. “Jesus” has been reduced to a means to and end and a catchy word. All that has been left is the ultimately unknowable and vague personage of the “Holy Ghost” – which has been unconsciously re-branded as the “Holy Spirit” to sound more reasonable. Just look at the denominations that are actually increasing in numbers – these are the denominations that are obsessed with the last “meaningful” person of the Trinity: Pentecostalism, Southern Baptists, and even Mormons.

    See, your question starts with the bias of believing there is a god and that the universe cannot be explained without it. But if you are anything like I was, you probably haven’t delved too deep into the science of quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, paleo-geography, and astronomy – except when it suits your case. It is not until you are able to ask, “what evidence is there that this universe is actually finely tuned?” and “what is the actual evidence for a divine interference in the creation of this universe” that your search for the truth can begin with integrity.

    What is the best repsonse you have ever heard regarding how atheism can truly support the evolution of sacrficial love.

    Can atheism support anything except the argument against a deity? Isn’t that beyond the strict sense of atheism?
    Can you explain to me, in a Christian worldview, how sacrificial love works? How is anything in Christianity not, excuse my bluntness, selfish? Everything that you do, ideally, is for a God that promises you paradise. What is paradise? Is it not the place of no suffering? Could a place of no suffering not also be called a place of pleasure? Doesn’t this portray Christianity as a pursuit of pleasure through means of an eternal life with a God that is infinitely good? Isn’t the definition of hedonism the pursuit of pleasure?

    I haven’t seen too much of sacrificial love in my life. Even the most “unselfish” acts I have seen, whether by a Christian, Buddhist, or atheist, has also had an underlying motive that could be construed as bringing some sort of happiness or fulfillment to the person sacrificing something. The main problem is in the equation of the definition. Sacrifice is defined as the act of giving up something valued for the sake of other considerations. What is the value of a life? What is the value of the object or life sacrificed compared to the emotion that is received or perceived? I suppose we need a case study to better explain the point, but I have none off the top of my head.

    Perhaps the observable reality that we see so few completely unselfish acts is exactly because of how we have evolved. Unselfish acts are not always rewarded. Perhaps we can be tricked into a perceived unselfish act, through means of a otherworldly rewards, by a religious institution for the betterment of others. Perhaps that is a downer and somewhat depressing, but the truth is sometimes dirtier than our lofty ideals. Personally, I would give my life for that of my family and I do not see that as a flaw in evolutionary biology. As human consciousness has evolved, the evolution aspect of our biology, found in our genes, has increasingly allowed evolved minds to figure out the means for our survival. This itself has allowed humans to surpass, I speculate, the raw instinct for personal survival.

    If you really are interested in more in depth answers that are more thought through than something I can give here, check out these two books:
    Moral Minds by Marc Hauser
    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
    Both deal greatly with where our sense of duty and morality comes from.

    As for the previous question of the universe, the answers are everywhere. Again, Dawkins book “Climbing Mount Improbable” is probably one of the best, but you can easily find some excellent articles online if you are really interested.

  • 5. John T.  |  August 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Obi

    “Fine-tuned for life, I’m assuming? That argument is almost rather weak (no offense meant to you) for a number of reasons. If the Universe is “fine-tuned” for life, then why don’t we see life abounding on other planets?”(Obi)

    Assuming that life is only in the form you understand, then I guess you could call the argument weak.

  • 6. Quester  |  August 3, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    John T

    Are you claiming to know a different form of life?

  • 7. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    John T. —

    Aye, could you expand on that statement?

  • 8. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Snuggly —

    Well, since it has it’s own blog post now, I guess it’s alright.

    o.O

  • 9. Ubi Dubium  |  August 3, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Obi

    If the Universe is “fine-tuned” for life, then why don’t we see life abounding on other planets? SETI and other research institutes and organizations have been scanning the skies with radar arrays for a good part of the 20th century and the entire 21st, but as of yet we haven’t found anything (as far as I know).

    I think that we don’t yet see life abounding on other planets because our sample size of planets that we can actively examine is very very small. If we restrict our search to life resembling life on earth, we need to look at smallish rocky planets at a distance from their star such that liquid water can exist on the surface. In our solar system, we have three planets where that is, or might once have been possible. Of those three, one definitely supports life. That’s a pretty respectable fraction.

    Now that we can detect planets around other stars, we can expect that we may one day have a bigger sample size. Right now, our detection methods can most easily detect giant planets with short orbital periods, so most of the extrasolar planets we have found fit that description. Not a likely place to look for life. Once we can detect the small rocky worlds, and examine their spectra for oxygen atmospheres, we may find that the universe is full of earthlike worlds. It may well be teeming with life. We just can’t tell yet.

    As for SETI not having heard anybody else out there yet – Life has existed on our world for several billion years, and homo sapiens for over 100,000. Of that time, we have been transmitting in the radio spectrum for less than 100 years, and listening for much less time than that. That’s a tiny fraction of the time our planet has supported intelligent life. The distances between stars is incredibly vast. Our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across. The likelihood of a nearby star having a planet that supports life, and having an intelligent species that can communicate by radio, and that the time when they exist as a technological race overlaps the time when we exist as a technological rage, is probably not all that high. You might want to read about the Drake Equation for some thoughts about how many civilizations might exist now. (But we should still be listening for them anyway. My computer runs SETI@HOME as a screensaver, to help out.)

  • 10. john t.  |  August 3, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Obi and Quester

    I dont “know” of any other life forms per se. But that is true of all the life forms in our world that have yet to be discovered. We all “know” or assume they are waiting to be discovered. Why should that not be true of other worlds or realms? Come on guys, you are all brainiacs…….Im sure you believe that there are other life forms that go beyond our concepts.

  • 11. Ubi Dubium  |  August 3, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    And now, Rover, back to your question:

    There are Christians like myself who claim that the universe is finely tuned and shows evidence of being created by God.

    My perspective is that humans see the world as finely tuned because it suits us so well. But really, it is we who have adapted to suit the universe. Here is a quote from Douglas Adams that I think puts this very well:

    “. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

  • 12. john t.  |  August 3, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Ubi Dubi

    The problem with that statement is that the puddle doesnt have consciousness as we understand it. Maybe the reason we think there is a reason why it suits us so well is because, we were hard wired that way. Now the bigger question is, why doesnt all life forms have that type of consciousness.

  • 13. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Ubi Dubium —

    Of course, but stating that the Universe is fine-tuned for life would imply that life would be exceedingly abundant, because the Universe would be designed to support it. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and even on Earth we can see that life is subject to quite a bit of pressure from extremely harsh environments. But perhaps the problem here is that “fine-tuned” is somewhat vague…

    John T. —

    What I think you’re trying to say is that perhaps life can take forms and have behaviours that we aren’t accustomed to, and I must say I’ve never disagreed on that. As for the puddle analogy, it’s actually a very good one. It doesn’t matter that the puddle doesn’t have a consciousness, because it’s obviously a rhetorical device that isn’t necesarily meant to reflect reality. I don’t think there’s any evidence to support the assumption that we were “hard-wired” to see the world as extremely fitting for us, it’s more like “since we evolved and adapted to fit into our environment, it would seem that our environment is built specifically for us when it’s the other way around.”

    All forms of life don’t have consciousnesses comparable to that of humans because they haven’t evolved exactly like humans have. It’s the same exact reason why we don’t have claws, flippers, or any other adaptation.

  • 14. john t.  |  August 3, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Obi

    “it’s more like “since we evolved and adapted to fit into our environment, it would seem that our environment is built specifically for us when it’s the other way around.”

    The problem I have we this Idea is that ,it seems the earliest artifacts we have from our ancestors all point to some belief or concept of something greater than themselves, or at least a way of making themselves fit into nature. The evidence does not show that we evolved to think like that, it shows that we always thought that way. Also the evidence shows that of all species we are the only ones that visibly think like that. So with that, I will assume its natures way of hard wiring it.

  • 15. Rover  |  August 3, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Obi,

    Are there any theories about what existed before the big bang? I mean what was this dense ball of matter suspended in? I would be interested in hearing what theories you think are most worthy of consideration.

  • 16. Obi  |  August 3, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    John T. —

    Are you kidding, mate? Anthropologists/archaeologists date the earliest human religious rituals/practices/beliefs to about 100,000 years ago. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say that they’ve existed 50,000 years longer than that, and humans have held such concepts for 150,000 years. However, Homo sapiens sapines, modern humans, have been around for 200,000 years. Homo habilis, currently the most ancient member of the genus Homo, lived 1.6-2.2 million years ago.

    What does this mean? It means that we most definitely evolved not to think like that, but a way to think like that. The evolution of the large human brain enabled the development of religion as a “side-effect” so to speak. A spandrel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)

    Rover —

    Yes, there are. String theory and variations of it such as M-theory deal with what happened “before” the Big Bang (physicists believe time as we know it started at the Big Bang, so “before” the Big Bang doesn’t mean much), and potential causes of it.

    http://www.superstringtheory.com/

    http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/public/qg_ss.html

  • 17. Rover  |  August 3, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Obi,
    thanks for the links!

  • 18. john t.  |  August 3, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Obi

    Youre right……..my bad…..its all evolution…nothing more, nothing less. I cant argue the science. If I remember correctly though, youre 17, Im 44, youve still got time. ;)

  • 19. LeoPardus  |  August 4, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Back to the original questions: I think the first one was dealt with enough in posts #2 & 4. The whole argument is just a fallacy that occurs from vigorous application of the anthropic principle.

    For the second question: How can atheism truly support the evolution of sacrificial love?

    You mean “explain” not “support”. It’s not that hard. First off understand that evolutionary principles act on the species level, not the individual level. Hence behaviors that advance the survivability of the species tend to be selected. What you call “sacrificial love” is an action that can improve the ability of members of the species to survive. If you have a species that is willing to give all to help others survive, that species improves its overall chances of survival.

    You may also want to recall that many animals display “sacrificial love”. Parent birds pretending to have broken wings to draw prey away from nests. Mother cats facing larger, stronger animals to defend a litter. There are many others.

    In short, “give it your all” defense of other members of your species is a great survival trait. And THAT is your evolutionary raison d’être for the trait we see as sacrificial love.

  • 20. The Apostate  |  August 4, 2008 at 12:51 am

    john t.

    Im sure you believe that there are other life forms that go beyond our concepts.

    Would we then call it “life”? :D

  • 21. The Apostate  |  August 4, 2008 at 12:55 am

    john t.

    If I remember correctly though, youre 17, Im 44, youve still got time.

    Just wondering what this was a reference to. I’ve seen age denote both wisdom and senility; I am sure you have as well.

  • 22. Richard  |  August 4, 2008 at 1:00 am

    rover-
    Even if you accept argument (1) in your post as valid, its worth pointing out that there is absolutely nothing especially Christian about such a god. Im not saying I *do* accept it (for reasons that others have ably pointed out), but such a thesis (much like the First Cause argument) is compatible with almost any god. It does not imply only only god, nor a moral god, nor a good god, nor one interested in us, and certainly not a god who sent his son to die for us.

    In fact, one speaker I heard once pointed out that a being capable of creation (or fine tuning) would not (logically) even have to be omnipotent. Very, very, very, very, very powerful, of course — but recall that any being of any power is exactly as far from *infinite* power as we are.

    My own take on the whole anthropic argument is that it gets the cart before the horse. Who knows how many universes developed and collapsed before one came about that was “fine tuned” enough to allow life? But from our vantage point, of course, it looks like it was made for us — because we wouldnt be here and talking about it if it wasnt.

    Someone once said (Charles Pierce, I think, the 19th century American philosopher) (paraphrasing very roughly) that if universes were plentiful as blackberries, we could study a few and find out how they tend to work. But, sadly, we only have a sample size of 1.

  • 23. The de-Convert  |  August 4, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Rover,

    Richard is absolutely correct when he said:

    Even if you accept argument (1) in your post as valid, its worth pointing out that there is absolutely nothing especially Christian about such a god.

    Even if you were to conclude that this is all as a result of a “creator,” I highly doubt that this creator is Yahweh (the war-mongering untouchable God who if you looked on his face, or touch his mountain or his ark you’d die and who ordered the genocide of millions of humans). I would more vote for Elohim (the very relationship oriented God… walked into Abraham’s tent, bargained with him, wrestled with his grandson, etc.) However, these were the gods of a nomadic wandering tribe about 3,000 BC. They’re really no different than most of the other gods of other cultures except that the birth of Christianity & Islam kept him/them alive and labeled him “God” or “Allah”.

    Paul

  • 24. john t.  |  August 4, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Apostate

    My reference to age and Obi was just that often our ideas of youth morph or even change radically. Im sure you know what I mean by that. Though I am no wise old owl. This much I know, we usually are much more certain when we are younger.

    Alice Cooper said it best………….”Ive got a babies brain and an old mans heart took 18yrs to get this far.”

  • 25. Ed Sylvia  |  August 4, 2008 at 11:27 am

    That the universe is fine-tuned for life, including human life, is not just a Christian idea but is a scientific fact.

    But more is needed to bring God into the picture. First, It must be shown that the principle of mutual love is behind nature’s incessant drive towards self-organization and complexity (all coherent and dynamical structure is based on unified cooperation, and therefore is an analog or mirror image of love).

    Second, it must be shown that conscious, spiritual love, is the means by which human evolution can extend the biosphere into a non-physical realm (called heaven).

    This is what I am attempting to do in my current book project.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  • 26. Derek  |  August 4, 2008 at 11:44 am

    1. Occam’s razor. Did someone dig a hole the exact size and shape of the puddle in it, or did the water conform to the shape of the hole? Does the state of things conform to the apparent “tuning” of the universe, or did an infinitely complex, untestable being “tune” the universe to support the state of things?

    2. Evolution works on a species, not an individual, level. If you have already passed on your genes it is very much beneficial to give your life to protect your progeny.

  • 27. Derek  |  August 4, 2008 at 11:50 am

    That the universe is fine-tuned for life, including human life, is not just a Christian idea but is a scientific fact.

    What specific scientific journal and thesis are you citing? What experiments and observations?

  • 28. Derek  |  August 4, 2008 at 11:54 am

    it must be shown that conscious, spiritual love, is the means by which human evolution can extend the biosphere into a non-physical realm (called heaven).

    1. I know that many theologians would disagree with you that heaven is nonphysical.
    2. Don’t you have to establish first that heaven and nonbiological “love” actually exist before you can establish a link between nonbiological love and heaven?

  • 29. LeoPardus  |  August 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Y’all be sure to follow Ed Sylvia’s link to his blog. What a freakin’ space cadet! And Swendenborgianism of all things! :D I haven’t run across one of those total nut-jobs in a long time.

  • 30. The Apostate  |  August 4, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    john t.
    ‘Tis why I asked. I honestly hadn’t been following the flow of the conversation and it seemed to stand out.

    This much I know, we usually are much more certain when we are younger.

    I’m not sure if I agree with that. I think we all mature in our own ways. I know a lot of elderly gentlemen and women who are pretty set in their ways. Likewise, I know of many young men and women (as well as children and teenagers) who have thirst for continual knowledge and growth. Either way, I don’t think this is something you can put such a pronouncement on. I think that sometimes when we are younger we think we know more because we have more trust in authority. We rarely doubt our parent’s word until we come to a certain age and critical thinking is a learned skill. Once you lose your complete trust in authority is follows that you will be less certain.

  • 31. truthwalker  |  August 4, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    *Sacrificial love*

    “The Naked Ape” ISBN 0385334303, actually has a really clear explanation of what we would call altruism. Species dieing for other members of their species would seem to go against survival of the fittest, but it doesn’t. When an altruist dies to save another member of his species, he may have cost his own life, but he continued the species. Continuing the species, and not continuing an individual life within that species, is the purpose of evolution.

    If an entire species were nothing but altruists, the species would die out in an orgy of self sacrifice. On the other hand, a species of nothing but “me-firsters” would die, because none would ever sacrifice to save any other member.

    So there is certain critical number of altruists that species needs depending on the species and its environment. Altruism makes the species as a whole fitter to survive rather a single member fitter to survive.

  • 32. Stephen P  |  August 4, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Starting with the first question, I have to say I don’t think it’s clear enough to answer – which doesn’t seem to have stopped a lot of you. ;-) Precisely what fine-tuning is meant?

    If you are talking about the exact values of certain fundamental physical constants (this one seems to have become popular among certain apologists who fancy themselves as sophisticated) then I’m afraid it is no more than just another god-of-the-gaps argument, in which we reify our ignorance and then worship it.

    We don’t know where thunder comes from – therefore Thor exists.
    We don’t know where Earth came from – therefore Jehovah exists.
    We don’t know where the values of the physical constants came from – therefore some god or other exists.

    Does that make it clearer why the argument is utterly unconvincing?

  • 33. Rover  |  August 4, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Stephen P,

    not really – see posts 2 and 4.

  • 34. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Obi,

    thanks for the links on evolution. I am not a scientist, but I am begining to better appreciate evolution. I, like many Christians, have many misconceptions about how the process works. I do struggle however with one area in particular. I have read explanations but I guess I am a little too dense to understand the explanation. I know the complexity of the eye argument has been answered, but my question is how does a species “know” that the development of an eye will be helpful. How does the “idea” of an eye even get into the DNA? I know it doesn’t start out as the concept of an eye, but it seems as though for an eye to develop there has to be some coded information moving in that direction. It seems that for each new step toward an eye to develop there must be an end product in mind. I trying to make my question clear so forgive the redundency. I would really appreciate an explanation that a laymen can get his mind around.

  • 35. Obi  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Rover —

    The species doesn’t know. Natural selection does (in a sense). Mutations (or duplications) occur when copying genetic information, and if the end results are beneficial, then the organism keeps them and passes them on to offspring. There is no “end product” or final goal that natural selection is aiming for, it’s merely an organism better suited to its environment than others. If you adapt, you live. If you don’t, you die.

    For example, lizard evolution.

    http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/evol/lizard.html

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080417112433.htm

    Also, don’t mistake natural selection for conscious decision. If I attribute any characteristics such as the ability to “know” to it, it’s merely because I’m personifying it to get my point across more easily, and not because it’s a conscious entity. It’s just a human concept that describes a natural process.

  • 36. Brad Feaker  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Rover,

    (Wtih apologies to those who may have stated these answers above)

    1. There are Christians like myself who claim that the universe is finely tuned and shows evidence of being created by God. I have read many arguments refuting this claim, but what have you found to be the best one and most irrefutable?

    The premise that the universe is finely tuned for US is a false one. The universe is doing all it can to kill us at any given time. Just one example – there is direct evidence that the earth has suffered a periodic series of immense bombardments from the outer solar system. At any time a sufficient disturbance in the Oort cloud can send hundreds, if not millions, of long period comets hurtling toward our home planet. This hardly seems fine tuned for life here/

    2. How can atheism truly support the evolution of sacrificial love? Dawkins arguments on this subject seem inadequate. Do you have any others?

    Why should atheists NOT support the idea of sacrificial love? I see empirical evidence of it everyday – especially from my wife. Is your quibble with it’s existence or how it came about?

    Cheers…

  • 37. Ubi Dubium  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:50 am

    rover –

    Here’s a description on the evolution of the eye specifically:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_the_eye

    Eyes have progressed from simple light-sensing eyespots to pinhole camera designs and on to today’s complex designs, one simple step at a time. And – eyes have developed several different times, in different ways. Cephalopods (octopuses and squids and cuttlefish) have a more efficient eye design than vertebrates. Insect eyes have a totally different structure from either. There was no “goal” of an ideal eye in mind. Small changes that helped the organism survive and reproduce were inherited by offspring. That’s all.

    There’s just a few basic rules that evolution runs on:
    1. Individuals pass down traits to their offspring.
    2. Because of sexual reproduction, mutations, and copying errors, no two offspring are exactly identical – they have variability.
    3. Far more offspring are produced than can possibly survive to reproduce. They must compete with each other, and other organisms, for the resources available. The ones best at competing survive and pass their traits down to the next generation. Or, put more simply “Nothing succeeds like success”.

    Those principles plus billions of years are all you need.

  • 38. joe  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Ubi
    I know this may be slightly off topic but I thought I would share this with you.
    Now Im not saying this is right, but for people of faith, its about purpose for their existence. So it isnt necessarily that important that they evolve to just procreate and pass along the best genes for continuing the species. Now this may be true of evolution, but I would imagine that people of faith find that just isnt enough of an explanation for their meaning here on earth. It seems to me that for Atheists this isnt that important to them. Though I may be wrong on that assumption.

  • 39. Ubi Dubium  |  August 5, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Joe-
    Well, for me as an atheist, finding meaning in life is very important. But, since I don’t believe that a supernatural being is going to tell me what that meaning should be, I have to find it for myself. That’s not easy, and I quite understand the attraction of having a religion hand you answers. But for me, being part of this amazing cosmos, experiencing fully what life has to offer, and leaving the world a better place for my offspring (and everybody else’s too) is meaning enough.

  • 40. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 11:23 am

    joe,

    Now Im not saying this is right, but for people of faith, its about purpose for their existence.

    what is the purpose for your existence, as a Christian?

  • 41. joe  |  August 5, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Apostate and Ubi

    The reference wasnt for Christianity, it was just about faith in something more than Evolution or science. And the hope that it continues after we die physically. As I see it, Atheists belief is just on the here and now.

  • 42. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Joe, what point are you trying to get across? It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what is objectively true about the universe and life.

  • 43. joe  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Snuggly

    No real point other than not everyone requires objective truth about the Universe and life. Just making a comment thats all. Anyways have a great day.

  • 44. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Apostate

    As a Christian I am curious to see what point you were going to make so in answer to your question:

    The purpose of the Christian is to glorify God.

  • 45. ubi dubium  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Joe

    As I see it, Atheists belief is just on the here and now

    That depends on how you define “here and now”. For me “here” means the physical universe, and “now” means my lifetime. With those definitions, I would agree with you.

    My only concern about what happens after I die physically is that what I do in the here and now will have lingering effects on those left behind. I want those effects to be positive.

  • 46. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    “The earliest predecessors of the eye were photoreceptor proteins that sense light, found even in unicellular organisms, called “eyespots”.
    from Wiki

    How does something go from having no eye to having a photroeceptor? perhaps an opening first appears in the skull, but why would it continue to progress to an eye if a simple opening had no useful purpose except becoming a lens? I know this is simple, but it helps me get my question acrossed.

  • 47. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Brad,

    Your first example supports that there is a “force” that is not allowing this to happen.

    In the second question I was tyring to understand how it came about.

  • 48. Obi  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Rover —

    Those photoreceptors developed on organisms such as algae and other unicellular protists that would eventually evolve into animals. They weren’t vertebrates, and thus they didn’t have skulls for eyespots (photoreceptive cells) to develop in.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyespot_apparatus

    How did it get there? Mutations/gene duplications. These mutations/duplications were advantageous, and thus they were selected for. This is the basis for evolution, and I think most (if not all) of your questions with regards to “how” can be answered that way.

  • 49. ubi dubium  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Rover – well, you can read about this elsewhere, but I will try to do a more detailed summary.

    First, remember that we are talking about eyespots forming in single celled organisms (no skull). They are made of many different kinds of chemicals and proteins. Over billions of years, if one of those chemicals, as a result of a mutation, was also sensitive to light, then that organism would have a benefit from that, and leave more offspring. Over time, we would have a large population of creatures with light-sensing capabilities. Now, if one of those creatures has the light-sensing chemicals all at one end – again that’s a competitive advantage (being able to locate the light more efficiently) and so again leaves more offspring. This kind of small change eventually results in eyespots.

    Once eyespots are achieved, there is an advantage to having them recessed (like in some modern flatworms) for better directional vision. A photoreceptor sufficiently recessed can take advantage of the pinhole camera effect (the nautilus eye is like this). A smaller opening improves focus even in the absence of a true lens. Growing a thin covering and allowing the cavity to fill with fluid also can assist focus. Each step along the way is an improvement in function.

    And we don’t find any fossil creatures possessing skulls that did not yet have eyes. And we certainly find fossils of creatures with many different kinds of eyes before the development of creatures with what you would term a “skull”. Eyes came first. (If we look at the most primitive types of modern fishes, the hagfish and lampreys, we find they have eyes, but a more primitive type of eye. And their “skull” is made of cartilage, like the ancestors of bony fish.)

    Hope this helps.

  • 50. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Rover-

    Your first example supports that there is a “force” that is not allowing this to happen.

    I like to call that force “chance.” There’s no reason to suppose that there is a deity preventing anything from happening.

    As for the evolution of eye, you seem to be misunderstanding it. Imagine some offspring is born with a mutation such that it has a patch of light-sensitive cells. This gives the organism an advantage, which it passes on to it’s offspring. Generations later, another mutation creeps in, causing that patch of cells to occur in a pit, giving the organism a slight ability to determine what direction the light comes from and thus another advantage. This continues till you eventually have the modern eye. This is supported by the fact that we have found organisms with eyes at every stage of evolution.

    There is no opening in the skull with no use except eventually evolving a lens. Every evolutionary step confers some advantage.

  • 51. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Err, I should correct my statement and say that we have found organisms with eyes at almost every stage; I think eyes at an intermediate stage between the pinhole and the modern eye are missing, and we wouldn’t expect to find such eyes fossilized.

  • 52. Derek  |  August 5, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    How does something go from having no eye to having a photroeceptor?

    Traits that confer new abilities on an organism almost always come from a mutation that results in an existing trait being used in a novel way. For example, bacterial flagella evolved from proteins used within the cell body, and propagated because they provided a more successful mode of transportation. Feathers on birds evolved from reptilian scales, and propagated successfully because they proved a more efficient means of body insulation.

    There are many types of chemicals that change form or composition in response to light (consider photosynthesis in plants). Perhaps an existing organism produces a chemical very similar to a light-indicating one because it is beneficial for a different reason (perhaps as part of a metabolic pathway), and a mutation in a future generation alters production of this chemical so it confers light-sensitivity upon the progeny.

    The new organism may then gain an advantage over its siblings in, for example, its ability to seek shelter, warmth, food, etc. and would therefore be more likely to pass on this trait to future generations. If so, the mutation is considered beneficial and light-sensitivity will quickly propagate among future generations as it proves helpful in competition for resources.

    From this point, mutations affecting light-sensitivity that prove beneficial might include refinements to the light-sensing process; for example, differentiating color, direction, or intensity of incident light. In plants, it results in phenomena like heliotropism where plants angle themselves towards the sun to maximize illumination.

    Eventually it might prove beneficial to constrain light-sensitivity to a single, specialized organ, and it might once again prove beneficial to have more than one of these organs. Of course, for example, if a light-sensitive population migrates to a light-free environment (say, an underground cavern), light-sensitivity may confer no benefit whatsoever and the trait may eventually be lost as there are no natural pressures to maintain it.

  • 53. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    very helpful – thanks to all

  • 54. bill  |  August 5, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Rover,

    Atheism has an answer for altruism, but it cannot answer how the Bible so accurrately describes the human condition. Man is sinful at heart. People lie, steal, cheat and kill as long as it suits them. We enter the world doing evil things and only by being taught moral laws do we avoid becoming bad people. Without God’s Laws man would devolve and destroy itself. Only by having absolute laws can we tell a Hitler that he and his allies were wrong.

  • 55. Derek  |  August 5, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    People lie … as long as it suits them.

    Like theists who have something to prove?

    only by being taught moral laws do we avoid becoming bad people

    Because crime rates are higher among the nonreligious than among the religious, right?

    Without God’s Laws man would devolve and destroy itself.

    Just like how every animal species has devolved and killed one another.

    Only by having absolute laws can we tell a Hitler that he and his allies were wrong.

    Give this man a Godwin award!

  • 56. Derek  |  August 5, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    …I just got trolled, didn’t I?

  • 57. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    …I just got trolled, didn’t I?

    It’s ok, it happens to the best of us.

  • 58. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    …I just got trolled, didn’t I?

    Derek–

    Actually Bill’s post was to rover, another Christian. So I don’t think it was meant as “trolling”. At least it didn’t look that way to me. Unless you consider any Christian opionion about something trolling. :)

  • 59. Derek  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Actually Bill’s post was to rover, another Christian. So I don’t think it was meant as “trolling”. At least it didn’t look that way to me. Unless you consider any Christian opionion about something trolling. :)

    opi-onion, is that some kind of narcotic that makes you cry when you cut it? ;-)

    Fair enough. But he seems to be talking from the same apologetic broken-record without making any attempt to get sense of context. I’m pretty sure from reading this thread that Rover is actually coming from the same or a similar point of view, and is honestly seeking skeptics’ opinions on the matter, and so doesn’t actually need Bill to tell him that.

  • 60. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Derek—

    Fair enough. I see your point. Opi-onion is a many layered thought that will leave you in tears. :)

  • 61. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Bill,

    I am not sure that these fine people have an adequate answer for altruism. I am undecided on that account, however, one does not have to be a Christian to recognize that the extermination of millions of people is wrong. However, let me look at this from a Calvinist point of view. God is soveriegn. He judges the sin of his people. He often judges people by using one nation to destroy another. Perhaps God used Hitler to bring judgement upon the jews therefore it was a morally just act.

  • 62. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    For the record I do not believe the comment I made above.

  • 63. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    your really not fine people…lol

  • 64. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I think Rover might have just stated an Opi-onion.

  • 65. bernerbits  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    *sniff*

  • 66. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Rover-

    I am not sure that these fine people have an adequate answer for altruism.

    Care to elaborate?

  • 67. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    SnugglyBuffalo,

    I can’t really. Did you ever get an answer that just didn’t seem right to you? It doesn’t mean that your answers are wrong. I just have trouble going from dense ball of matter to sacrificial love. Maybe for me it is the fact that I have been absorbed by Christianity for so long. I don’t know. It just seems like a principal that is grand; outside of ourselves. Not a good explanation, but you asked.

  • 68. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Rover,

    Am I right in thinking that you feel that altruism becomes less meaningful if it really is an evolutionary adaptation?

    This is part of the struggle I had to deal with. If everything is natural, and arose completely undirected through evolution, then I needed to figure out why any of it is still meaningful. But really, why is it more meaningful for altruism to be put in place by a god than for it to arise naturally? Eventually I realized that whether the source of these things was natural or supernatural, the meaning was there regardless.

    It just seems like a principal that is grand; outside of ourselves.

    I guess my point is, why can’t a principal that comes from within ourselves be equally grand?

  • 69. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Yes, it is less meaningful. If this is all there is to life that maybe I shouldn’t sacrifice my wants and needs for others to the extent that I do. Maybe I can just be somewhat giving. I can still help my species survive while being less giving. Why stay awake all night with the drug addict helping him stay alive? Why drive hours away to visit a sick person who doesn’t know me all that well? Why take an interest in helping young people make it in this world by spending tme with them when thier own father’s won’t? I can still do alot of good things but why go overboard if there is no purpose to it beyond our survival in this current world. This may not make sense, but feelings don’t always make sense I guess.

  • 70. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Rover—

    Very good point. The Hindu caste systems were developed in much the same way. If someone is born deformed in this life they are paying for their last lifetime. Why care for them?—they deserve what they are getting. In much the same way, if we believe that this life is all there is, we can develop an attitude of “it doesn’t really matter anyway, when they’re gone, they’re gone”.

  • 71. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Larry T,

    That wasn’t quite my point. It was merely that I can still care, but just a little less. Why make caring so much a part of my life that I sacrifice my life for doing good. I don’t want to sound like a saint, but many of you who were in ministry know what I mean.

  • 72. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Rover—

    OK—I understand. Thanks.

  • 73. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Rover,

    In response to 69, I think it boils down to empathy and the golden rule, which I think transcend most religions. We know what it feels like to suffer. Thus, we can understand how others feel when they suffer.

    In terms of species, the feeling of empathy allows us to look out for one another. As others have stated, the animal kingdom has plenty of examples of love and empathy. (And not just the animated animal kingdom! :) )

    Consider it historically: If you’ve got a group of people who want to kill each other and a group of people who help each other, which group will last the longest? Empathy and love are traits that help the species survive.

    However, that doesn’t cheapen love.

    When I think of the difference between intelligent design and nature simply being, I think about the difference between planting a flower and seeing one emerge on its own. The first is enjoyable because you planted. But the emergent flower is that much more impressive because it just grew! (well, from a seed.) You didn’t water it, add nutrients, or anything else. It just grew into something beautiful.

    I think the universe is the same way: a spectacular, mysterious thing that exists. Taking a higher power out of the equation doesn’t make it any less spectacular. In fact, I always argue that the universe is even more amazing that there is no creator.

  • 74. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Larry T-

    In much the same way, if we believe that this life is all there is, we can develop an attitude of “it doesn’t really matter anyway, when they’re gone, they’re gone”.

    Sure, if you’re an asshole. When I realize that this life is all there is, it fills me with a desire to make my life and the lives of others I touch the best damn lives I can make them.

    Rover-
    If everyone was willing to help and sacrifice for the less fortunate, the whole world would be a much better place for the entire species. If you stay awake with the drug addict, helping him stay alive, you haven’t done much, true. If everyone did this whenever possible, imagine how much better life would be for everyone. Why isn’t making the world better for its own sake as meaningful as doing it for a deity?

  • 75. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Snuggy,

    When I realize that this life is all there is, it fills me with a desire to make my life and the lives of others I touch the best damn lives I can make them.

    Not only that, but cultures across the globe have developed stories of helping one another– the hero– in order to provide models for how people should act. The idea of the hero goes hand in hand with the idea of legacy and the desire to help your fellow man.

  • 76. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    The second paragraph was commenting on you first.

    failboat.

  • 77. LeoPardus  |  August 5, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Rover: Re post #69…

    You’re right. Why do those things? In the ultimate equation, it makes no difference. Likewise, why not go out and beat the hell out of whomever you wish? Why not kill Bob and rape his hot wife? The species will do fine anyway. In fact the species will probably eliminate you.

    I’m an advocate of what you’ve probably heard called “enlightened self interest”. In large part it’s the Golden Rule. I want to live a happy, healthy life. As a general rule, if I help others live such a life, it will redound to my benefit.

    For example, if I help a drug addict, or a sick person, or a fatherless young person, then when/if the day comes that I need help (with drugs, sickness, loss of parent) there’s a decent chance that someone will indeed help me.

    No, it’s not 100%. Duh. But who is far more likely to be cared for/about when they need it? The philanthropist, the laissez-faire dude, or the selfish bastard? We all know the answer.

    True, it all lacks the divine motivation, and it kind of loses the romanticism when you look at it so pragmatically. But I don’t know another way to look at it.

  • 78. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Rover (from #44),

    As a Christian I am curious to see what point you were going to make so in answer to your question:

    The purpose of the Christian is to glorify God.

    Why should glorifying God be a purpose?
    On what basis should God, if existent, be glorified?
    What is the difference between the Islamic purpose from the Christian difference?

  • 79. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    –verb (used with object), -fied, -fy·ing. 1. to cause to be or treat as being more splendid, excellent, etc., than would normally be considered.
    2. to honor with praise, admiration, or worship; extol.

    God should be glorified as the ultimate being. He should be glorified because He is our creator. He gives us life and sustains us. He provides us with ultimate purpose. I can’t answer your question concerning Islam.

  • 80. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Rover,

    The idea of glorifying God would make sense if he showed up in some form. But, he doesn’t. Instead, we are supposed to believe that the splendor of the universe is him. When I see a rainbow or a beautiful waterfall, it’s god. I just don’t buy it.

    If God existed and posed the stakes that we should glorify him or be damned for eternity, he should show himself more. Miraculous coincidences of someone living through a catastrophe (forget the people who perished) are simply not enough.

    It makes no sense other than to see God as a childish monster.

  • 81. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I do not disagree

  • 82. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Rover, (in response to 15)

    From wikipedia:

    * models including the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary condition in which the whole of space-time is finite; the Big Bang does represent the limit of time, but without the need for a singularity.[52]
    * brane cosmology models[53] in which inflation is due to the movement of branes in string theory; the pre-big bang model; the ekpyrotic model, in which the Big Bang is the result of a collision between branes; and the cyclic model, a variant of the ekpyrotic model in which collisions occur periodically.[54][55][56]
    * chaotic inflation, in which inflation events start here and there in a random quantum-gravity foam, each leading to a bubble universe expanding from its own big bang.[57]

    Proposals in the last two categories see the Big Bang as an event in a much larger and older universe, or multiverse, and not the literal beginning.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang#Speculative_physics_beyond_the_Big_Bang

  • 83. Larry T  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    It makes no sense other than to see God as a childish monster

    You actually should say “it makes no sense to me”. We are finite beings and only understand a small fraction of all the knowledge there is to know. God says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways, for as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways”.

    God says that he has shown himself through the creation and we are “without excuse” if we do not acknowledge him. “The Heavens declare the glory of God”. I’m sure you’ve heard these verses before.

    You say:

    he should show himself more

    I think all of us would appreciate it if he showed himself more. But God is God. We can demand all day long that He show himself–but He acts in his own way and in his own time. He wouldn’t be God if He followed someone else’s will would he?

  • 84. Obi  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I’m just going to pop in on this discussion regarding meaning in a life facing reality, because I think I have a rather good example for it.

    I’m sure everyone has seen those inspirational movies that are meant to make you feel all “fuzzy” inside. For example, there could be one where a boy has grown up watching baseball his entire life and loves the sport. He then goes to a game where the team that his favourite player is one is having a game. After the game, he receivers a glove and he cherishes this glove above any othr item that he has. He then goes on to become an extremely talented baseball player, at each step holding on to his lucky glove and playing each and every game with it, because he believes that it gives him his skill.

    However, one day his glove gets stolen, but his team is counting on him to give it his usual best and win the end-of-season tournament. Since there’s no way to retrieve his glove at the moment, he decides that he should just go ahead and play, even though he thinks that all is lost because he doesn’t have his glove.

    He plays a stunning game. His team wins the tournament and he’s amazed that he played that well without his glove. He thinks, “Maybe I never needed the glove anyway…? Maybe it was all me that entire time?” And indeed, it was. The way I see it, happiness within yourself and a spirit of charity towards others in life shouldn’t be diminished because one wakes up and realizes that their former religion, the lucky glove, wasn’t really “real” and wasn’t really what was driving them all along. Instead, they realize that it was their fortitude, their charity, and their personal feeling of goodwill towards other humans and themselves that has driven them this entire time, and not some mysterious invisible being in the sky who doesn’t attempt to help us, as can be seen by all of the unnecessary suffering going on in our world.

    With this knowledge in mind, I think life looks a lot better. Since God was never there in the first place, nothing has changed. Continue to be charitable. Continue to be happy. Continue to enjoy life. It’s worth it.
    ;)

  • 85. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Rover,

    God should be glorified as the ultimate being. He should be glorified because He is our creator. He gives us life and sustains us. He provides us with ultimate purpose. I can’t answer your question concerning Islam.

    He sustains life and takes it away. We are at his whim. We mean, essentially, very little to him. We are created with the soul purpose of worshiping a deity with a questionable moral background, at least in our feeble human minds.

    Rover, what if Satan created us?

  • 86. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    You actually should say “it makes no sense to me”. We are finite beings and only understand a small fraction of all the knowledge there is to know.

    Yet, from an infinite being, we can’t expect a pretty simple answer? He admits to being a jealous god in the old testament. I don’t think there’s much left to understand.

    Why would an omnipotent god be jealous, especially since he created all of the things he would be compared to?

    The only possible scenario is that he’s one of several gods and wants us to be his personal ant farm, punishing us if we don’t glorify him.

    The Bible is a man made account of an omnipotent being based on human perceptions of what an omnipotent god might desire.

    The comment that he’s just too complex to understand simply doesn’t hold water. We’ve been able to understand a whole lot more than “I’m a jealous god, and it’s otherwise too complicated.”

  • 87. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Apostate,

    I can only move so fast from those things which I hold dear, so bare with me. How can I think that God does not care about me when he sent his son to die for me so that I could dwell me with forever. You see I don’t see Him as caring verylittle for us. If Satan created us I am sure that I would not be adopted as a son into his family. I would be a slave to a being who is not a God and only demands worship because he is more powerful then me, but certainly not all powerful.

  • 88. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Rover,

    Take it slow, by all means.

    But logically, consider what you just said:

    “I would be a slave to a being who… demands worship because he is more powerful than me.”

    Taking the notion of God out of it, what’s the difference? If the reason why you worship one over the other is power, then you’re the equivalent of a spiritual fair weather fan.

    This is your free will:

    A. Believe in me (via Jesus) and go to Heaven.
    B. Don’t and suffer an eternity of Hell.

    That’s not much difference than holding a gun to woman’s head and saying she’ll live if she marries you, but you’ll kill her if she doesn’t. You’re not REALLY giving her free will, are you?

    To add more complication is the fact that we base our decision on a book written almost 2,000 years ago in another language and completely absent God who is only internally felt. We have five senses, apparently given to us in a grand design, and he appeals to none of them.

  • 89. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Rover,

    RE: Christ’s death.

    The beauty of the story to me is that he experienced human empathy in a physical form. However, what is death to an omnipotent being? The trials of the cross would certainly hurt, but the death and resurrection would be a pretty ho-hum affair for a being that creates and destroys worlds. In essence, assuming there was a separation of god and his son, god knew he wasn’t giving up much.

  • 90. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    silentj,

    the tragedy of the cross was the separation of the father and son,but to say that wasn’t giving up much confuses me. Two eternal beings who are timeless experienced separation as our sin was laid upon Christ. “…why have you forsaken me” God pouring out wrath on his own son so that I might have fellowship with them. How painful it must have been to cause his own son to suffer and then to turn His back on him must have been painful. I couldn’t imagine hurting my own son and then as he cried out for my help I turned my back on him and did not respond. Even if he chose to do it wllingly it would stil tear me apart. It may be a story, but it is a powerful one nonetheless.

  • 91. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Rover,

    It is a powerful story! In human terms, it is no doubt touching. However, when you’re talking about omnipotent, transcendent beings, the story is the equivalent of me putting my daughter down to walk and her crying out to me to pick her up.

    Consider also that in the trinity, God and his son would have been of the same thought. So, the son would know what was going on. He prophesied as much?

    As a story, a tragedy, of human like characters, it is beautiful. The story has clearly inspired thousands of sacrifice stories. However, when you put in terms of the reality of omnipotent beings, I think it falls flat. Ghost is a beautiful movie, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Patrick Swayze would have kept falling through floors until he realized his existence was all spiritual. The difference between Ghost and the Bible is I’m not being asked to devote my life to it for fear of eternal damnation.

  • 92. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    silentj

    The son knew exactly what was going on as demonstrated in the Garden, however while on the cross the father separated himself from the son. Christ became a curse to the Father. How can we comprehend what that means? If my son and I agree that I will beat him to death and we both know that it is going to happen and we even agree that he will be resurrected days after I do it do you think my beating him will be any less unpleasant. it would kill me to cause my son pain for one minute let alone for eternity.

  • 93. john t.  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Rover

    As far as the pain Christ got from the cross, It doesnt have anything on some of the torturing we see in the world today. And it goes on for weeks and weeks.

  • 94. Obi  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    (1) How were they separated if God is omnipresent?
    (2) What is the significance of Christ’s death if he knew he would return to Godhood in a little while? That’s like giving someone air for their birthday. You have a virtually unlimited store of it, and there’s quite a bit more where it came from. The poignancy of self-sacrifice is felt because people give up their only life. A God gives up nothing.
    (3) Why did God need to sacrifice himself to himself to convince himself to give humans a reprieve from the laws he himself instituted and he himself enforces?
    (4) How can God have a son who is equally God himself? The Bible refers to Jesus as his “only begotten son”. Begotten means “born”, which means that Jesus isn’t “timeless” because he hasn’t always existed. How is he God, then?

    Rhetorical questions, mainly.

  • 95. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Rover,

    Again, in human terms, I get what you mean. But half of the story is rhetoric. “Death” and “curse” are virtually meaningless in this scenario, as there was no real death to Jesus, but a death of the flesh, which amounts to little in terms of eternal life. If there is a spirit, Jesus’s spirit would have done the equivalent of changing clothes until ascending to Heaven.

    I think human father’s do as much when they send their sons off to war, knowing they are putting their sons in significant hazard without the knowledge that no matter what, everything is going to be fine a few days later.

    The story is also far easier for me to critique, as I don’t believe it. I think the point where I stopped believing was when I started thinking of God as the omnipotent being that he apparently is rather than the Zeus like character riding in the clouds that I envisioned him as a kid. As that vision of god transformed, everything unraveled for me.

    All of the beautiful stories in the Bible couldn’t make up for the fact that core ideas of the Bible make no sense to me.

  • 96. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    1. God is omnipresent. When Christ came as a man he limited some aspects of his godliness – philipians 2. God can be everywhere at once, but that does not mean that limited men are always aware of his presence or in fellowship with him.
    2. Again Christ and the Father who had never been separated from all eternity had to be separated for a time. I cannot fully explain this becuase God’s nature is far above me. It is like me trying to explain string theory.:)
    3. Beats the hell out of me.
    4. Begotten can mean, ” of first importance”

    Obey, your killing me. Be nice to an old man.

  • 97. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    freudian slip – meant Obi

  • 98. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Rover,

    I guess I’m just telling you this because I haven’t really posted my story on here. But, I’ll just say that dismissing God was no small decision. I live in a highly spiritual community and have a fairly spiritual family. I would lose a lot more in my life by admitting to be an atheist than I would espousing Christianity. However, I can’t help the fact that I don’t believe anymore. I just don’t.

    I don’t gain anything by being an atheist. But, I simply can’t believe.

  • 99. Rover  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Silentj,

    I understand your dilemna. I am not there yet, but I feel that my progression to that end has already begun. As I hear myself respond to the questions on this blog I am forced to ask myself if I believe my own answers. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. This site is very helpful, though the de cons are more like Christians then they care to admit.:)

  • 100. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Rover,

    I agree about comparisons between de cons and Christians. That’s what is sort of infuriating about the whole thing. On any given day, the average Christian and the average atheist would have virtually identical world views. The biggest difference is that Christians have a lot of their life and support system (family, community, etc.) tied to an idea that they might otherwise refute (Thor, Islam, etc.).

    I just wonder if people were not so judgmental (and maybe rightfully so) of other people’s religious views, would we have NEARLY the amount of professed Christians? If being Christian wasn’t so heavily equated with being good and being an atheist wasn’t so heavily equated with being evil, I think a lot of people would simply stop believing. Obviously, pop-culture shows that people’s tastes don’t reflect their faith or a faith.

  • 101. silentj  |  August 5, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    OH! I forgot, and if there wasn’t the possible eternal existence in Hell. That’s a big one that I’ve heard from people, not necessarily believing but betting Pascal’s wager.

  • 102. john t.  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Rover

    “though the de cons are more like Christians then they care to admit. ”

    Of course they are. They changed their ideas about faith, not their personalities.

  • 103. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Rover,
    I understand your point of view and know how these differing views may seem.
    What one person sees as a religion where God cares so much to send is one and only begotten son, another sees as unnecessary polytheistic child sacrifice. An all powerful God could just as easily forgiven you for your sins without sending his “Son” (or other face of his three persons) if you asked for it. But he didn’t – for reasons only God knows why.
    If Satan created us don’t you think he wouldn’t mind “adopting” you so that you may worship him endlessly? I mean, I had always thought of Satan as a pretty self-absorbed egomaniac who wanted nothing more than to usurp God – or what reason? God’s power. God’s glory.

    I would be a slave to a being who is not a God and only demands worship because he is more powerful then me, but certainly not all powerful.

    This statement is worth a pause. The reason you say that God should be glorified is because he created us. He is to be worshiped, essentially, because he is so powerful that he can give life. Couldn’t Satan be capable of the same thing? As far as humans are concerned we cannot fathom the difference between “all powerful” and just “very powerful” when it comes to the supernatural. I’m just wondering about the logic of the “why” of the assumed purposed. It seems like merely having a purpose is the real purpose.

  • 104. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    john t.

    As far as the pain Christ got from the cross, It doesnt have anything on some of the torturing we see in the world today. And it goes on for weeks and weeks.

    Now that is some stellar logic.
    Don’t mind god slapping you in the face when humans slap you ten times more!
    Wouldn’t it be better if there was no face-slapping necessary?

  • 105. The Apostate  |  August 5, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    silentj,

    On any given day, the average Christian and the average atheist would have virtually identical world views.

    You might appreciate my short blurb on atheism vs. theism.

  • 106. john t.  |  August 5, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Apostate

    “Now that is some stellar logic.”

    I take it that was a compliment, Thanks.

  • 107. silentj  |  August 6, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Apostate,

    I read the entire thread.

    A plague upon both your houses!!! It was an interesting read, but I think it unnecessarily raised my blood pressure.

    Although, I was quite surprised that the second to the last post wasn’t answered. I guess the veterans are smarter about feeding the trolls than I am. It is pretty humorous that so many responses end with something along the lines of, “I can’t argue against this, but there will be judgment one day, and you’ll be sorry!”

    Back to the point, suffice it to say that religion is tightly wrapped in most people’s lives. To profess to believe or not to believe is a big decision. Day to day life is pretty much the same, but professing either can be detrimental depending on your community.

  • 108. Larry T  |  August 6, 2008 at 11:25 am

    It is a powerful story! In human terms, it is no doubt touching. However, when you’re talking about omnipotent, transcendent beings, the story is the equivalent of me putting my daughter down to walk and her crying out to me to pick her up.

    silentj—

    I believe it is a bit more than the comparison of putting your daughter down to walk and then picking her up while she was crying. Has your daughter ever been in such grief and sadness that she has cried with her sweat being like “giant drops of blood falling to the ground” as it says Jesus endured in the garden?

    We have a tendency to forget that Jesus was very God of God, but also very man of man. He was “tempted in all ways such as we are, yet without sin” as a man. His suffering in the garden, his flogging and shame, his crucifixion, were all felt as a “man”. This is a far cry from a little girl crying because she wants to be picked up. Try to read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering one more time if you get a chance.

  • 109. silentj  |  August 6, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Larry,

    I’m not arguing what you say in human terms. I’m talking about what that adds up to in terms of an omnipotent, infinite being, which is very little.

    Believers are supposed to recognize as much that their earthly sufferings will be little compared to everlasting life in Heaven, right?

  • 110. Larry T  |  August 6, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    silentj—

    I understand what you are saying. But again, it wasn’t the infinite being who suffered in the garden, or on the cross. As Rover pointed out, it says in Phillipians that he “emptied himself” of his power of divinity and became a man—-and he suffered all of those things as a man. Though we cannot understand the full concept of the crucifixion, or what happened there, Jesus suffered tremendously for our sins–that is all I was trying to say. It wasn’t a walk in the park.

  • 111. orDover  |  August 7, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Ah, this discussion has brought back so many memories! I’m glad I’m not the only de-con who finds Jesus’s sacrifice a little less than inspirational.

    I remember when I was a Christian being moved to tears while reading the Crucifixion story. My heart felt flooded, I couldn’t comprehend how God could love me so much to go through all of that. But then as I got older, and was reading that very same story, it suddenly came to me that for an all-knowing, God, that sacrifice didn’t seem that great. I even thought to myself that if someone came to me and said, we have to kill you in a terrible torturous way in order for 2,000 people to live (just 2,000, not even the entire world, and just to live, not to live eternally) that I would give up my life. I know that the real punishment Jesus was said to endure was separation from God, and even though I knew I couldn’t comprehend that, I still thought that I would go through with that incomprehensible pain, especially if I knew that it would only be temporary, and even if temporary still felt like forever, but had an end. This was still when I was very much a Christian, and the thought caused me so much guilt, but I could never get over it.

    I would make that sacrifice, and I’m just a human.

  • 112. The Apostate  |  August 7, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    silentj,
    Thought you might like that.

    Although, I was quite surprised that the second to the last post wasn’t answered.

    I actually haven’t recalled seeing “Evanescent” around since that debate. Perhaps I should go back when I have some time – but I don’t think “Empy” is around either.

  • 113. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 11:59 am

    I just have 2 questions, 1 for Rover and one for those who possess a lot of knowledge about science

    Rover – Are you still Christian or have you deconverted, since it seems like you were heading towards that direction.

    Science Buff’s – I know there are still a lot of mysteries about the universe, disagreements about things in regards to the big bang, but very little disagreement on evolution. My question is more linked to abiogenesis, in what are the theories that explain how matter developed a self replicating mechanism? Which of the theories has the most support?

    I know this is more of a side note question from how this thread originally started but I figured I’d take advantage of this thread being highly active. For the record, I am not a Christian or an Atheist and do not entirely agree with all views in terms of explanation of origins/Universe/Big bang, etc, but I do agree and accept evolution as an origin of humanity and still feel altruism is an interesting case because even though evolution involves the survival of a species it is also based on the collective of individuals to pass on their individual genes, when one sacrifices themselves to promote someone else’s genes instead of passing on theirs that seems to be something outside the scope of what evolution entails, to me that self sacrifice only truly makes sense when the population is so small that it in itself needs it like a last man on earth scenario. But altruism in larger populations doesn’t seem to make sense to me from an evolutionary standpoint.

    Of course to be clear, I am an agnostic, as much as I accept the physical reality I accept the probability that our senses and our sense extension tools can not engage all of reality and what it entails at this time, maybe one day.

  • 114. rover  |  August 11, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Brandon,

    I am still a Christian. I don’t think de converting is something one should do without a great deal of thought. I appreciate this site because I can ask former Christians for insight and I can also challenge the Christians that pop in from time to time. It has been a great learning experience for me.

  • 115. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks Rover for the heads up. If you have a chance could you email me @ InvisiblePills@aol.com, I want to pick your brain about somethings

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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