Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Skeptic on god

Michael Schermer:

As I wrote in my book The Believing Brain:
Either the soul survives death or it does not, and there is no scientific evidence that it does or ever will. Does science and skepticism extirpate all meaning in life? I think not; quite the opposite, in fact. If this is all there is, then how meaningful become our lives, our families, our friends, our communities—and how we treat others—when every day, every moment, every relationship, and every person counts; not as props in a temporary staging before an eternal tomorrow where ultimate purpose will be revealed to us, but as valued essences in the here-and-now where provisional purpose is created by us. Awareness of this reality elevates us all to a higher plane of humanity and humility, as we course through life together in this limited time and space—a momentary proscenium in the drama of the cosmos.

#1. God

According to Oxford University Press’s World Christian Encyclopedia, 84% of the world’s population belongs to some form of organized religion, and a 2007 Pew Forum survey found that 92% of Americans believe in God “or a universal spirit”.
God or a universal spirit  92%
Heaven                                 74%
Hell                                       59%
Miracles                               79%
I realize that calling belief in God a “weird thing” will be offensive to some, but to be intellectually honest and consistent it should be correctly classified as a supernatural belief because by most traditional believers’ accounts God is conceived as all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and all good (omnibenevolent); who created out of nothing the universe and everything in it; who is uncreated and eternal, a noncorporeal spirit who created, loves, and can grant eternal life to humans.

I do not believe in any such god. Further, I believe that there is substantive evidence to show that God and religion are human and social constructions based on research from psychology, anthropology, history, comparative mythology, and sociology. I present this evidence in my book The Believing Brain. As well, the burden of proof is on believers to prove God’s existence—not on nonbelievers to disprove it—and to date theists have failed to prove God’s existence, at least by the high evidentiary standards of science and reason.
I also note a problem we face with the God question: certainty is not possible when we bump up against such ultimate questions as “What was there before time began?” or “If the Big Bang marked the beginning of all time, space, and matter, what triggered this first act of creation?” The fact that science has yet to answer these questions with certainty doesn’t faze scientists because theologians hit the same epistemological wall. You just have to push them one more step. For example, in my debates and dialogues with theologians the exchange usually goes something like this for the question of what triggered the Big Bang:
God did it.
Who created God?
God is He who needs not be created.
Why can’t the universe be “that which needs not be created?”
The universe is a thing or an event, whereas God is an agent or being, and things and events have to be created by something, but an agent or being does not.
Isn’t God a thing if He is part of the universe?
God is not a thing. God is an agent or being.
Don’t agents and beings have to be created as well? We’re an agent, a being—a human being. We agree that human beings need an explanation for our origin. So why does this causal reasoning not apply to God as agent and being?
God is outside of time, space, and matter, and thus needs no explanation.
If that is the case, then it is not possible for any of us to know if there is a God or not because, by definition, as finite beings operating exclusively within the natural world we can only know other natural beings and objects. It is not possible for a natural finite being to know a supernatural infinite being.
Thus it is that skepticism in this realm, as in so many others, is altogether appropriate. As the bumper sticker says:
Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either.
© 2015 Michael Shermer, All rights reserved

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