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uncle ebeneezer
07-09-2008, 11:38 AM
Usually I stay out of the more philosophical threads because my knowledge is admittedly limitted and frankly after reading 15 back and forths on philosophy, my head is usually spinning to the point where I lose interest. But this morning I was thinking about a somewhat philosophical subject that I find myself engaged in on a regular basis...is there something else (ie God.)

One of the most common "proofs" I get from friends of mine is the old "the world is so beautiful/amazing/complex, that it makes me think that there just HAS to be something else." And it always sticks in my head because admittedly, the world as we experience it IS pretty wonderful/amazing etc., and the level of complexity and the incredible coincidences and interactions of phyiscal systems required for us to get to where we are where we could actually ponder these questions are so extraordinarily fortunate that it does boggle the mind. But I've still never seen logically why our perception of something as beautiful or fortunate implies any kind of purpose or design.

So I started thinking about some thought-experiment questions that arose in this line of thinking and I was just curious to hear what my fellow BH commentors think or have to say on them. I apologize if there is no logical order to them or if they're not as concise as they could be, but I only took one philosophy course in college and barely passed. Anyways a couple thoughts:

1.) If "X is so beautiful, it must have been created/designed" was a valid line of logic, at what level of diminishing beauty would we start to say that obviously there wasn't a God? For example, if instead of seeing in color, the world was only shades of grey, would we still find it beautiful? If not, what about God?

2.) Can beauty be generated by the random? If you drop sand or smoke and let the wind take it, sometimes the result is "beautiful." If that is generated by random (or extremely complex) forces, how does that jive with the beauty=God meme?

3.) If complexity illustrates the presence of God, what about a less complex world. We often make the presumption that because the many systems of the universe interact in just the right way to allow us to be here that that is somehow evidence of a creator. But let us imagine a world where a bunch of Microbes are floating in an endless sea of nutrient-rich liquid. With their limited sensory abilities they somehow become sentient and realize that the world is just right for them to exist. The planet is just far enough from the local star, the ocean is filled with just the right nutrients for them to eat, etc., etc. Would they come to the same conclusion that the whole enchilada must have been purposely created for their existence? Or is the belief in God just the inevitable result of an organism being able to grasp that possibility (ie sentience and abstract thought?)

We love to think that we are "special" in this universe, but would other organisms at the top of the food chain on other planets have that same species-centric outlook? If we suddenly discovered that we were NOT at the top of our food chain or that there HIGHER organisms than us, would our perspective change?

Anyways, just a little time-wasting thought for hump day. --Uncle Eb

Thus Spoke Elvis
07-09-2008, 12:00 PM
We love to think that we are "special" in this universe, but would other organisms at the top of the food chain on other planets have that same species-centric outlook? If we suddenly discovered that we were NOT at the top of our food chain or that there HIGHER organisms than us, would our perspective change?


Nietzsche once wrote a charming little essay suggesting that if we could somehow communicate with a mosquito, we would learn that it believed it was the center of the world. Every sentient creature, and most especially humans, believes they occupy a special, exalted place in the universe. This belief is almost certainly false.

AemJeff
07-09-2008, 06:39 PM
The argument that goes X is true, and it's impossible for X to have become true with some outside help, e.g. a deity, or aliens, or trans-dimensional rainbow ponies fails in lots of ways.

The proposition that the quality X - whether X stands for a level of complexity, or beauty, or some other abstract attribute - cannot have come into being spontaneously, is simply an assertion and lacks the force of logic. Before you can argue this you'll need to show why not. The latter argument seems always to be something like "because I can't understand how that could posiibly happen."

Secondly, subjective attributes like beauty bespeak a psychological relation, rather than naming something that would be identifiable without reference to experience. So, instead of looking for an external explanation for something like beauty, look to evolutionary psychology.

Also, any such explanation prima facie assumes a fact that isn't otherwise evident - the existence of the deity, or alien, or whatever macguffin is being postulated as an explanation. So these arguments fail on the most basic level: they're circular.

I'm sure this isn't an exhaustive list of the problems with kind of reasoning.

By the way, I highly recommend Timothy Ferris' Coming of Age in the Milky Way (http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Age-Milky-Timothy-Ferris/dp/0060535954/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215641979&sr=8-1), which is a lucid and charming history of our understanding of the universe, and which makes the point that our entire history has been involved in the gradual discovery of just how not special we really are.

uncle ebeneezer
07-09-2008, 07:14 PM
Jeff, thanks for the book recommendation. I'll put at on my list. Have you read George Johnson's "Fire In the Mind?" I just read it a month ago or so and it was really great at showing the flip-side (how clueless we are in many ways.)

I'll get started on the "What Would Trans-Dimensional Rainbow Ponies Do??" bumper stickers asap.

AemJeff
07-09-2008, 07:28 PM
Jeff, thanks for the book recommendation. I'll put at on my list. Have you read George Johnson's "Fire In the Mind?" I just read it a month ago or so and it was really great at showing the flip-side (how clueless we are in many ways.)

I'll get started on the "What Would Trans-Dimensional Rainbow Ponies Do??" bumper stickers asap.

Heh. Maybe we could persuade BHTV to market the bumper stickers. (Coffee cups too?) George's book is in my to-read pile - I loved his bio of Murray Gell-Mann.

uncle ebeneezer
07-10-2008, 12:29 PM
For tackling some pretty heavy topics (quantum physics, universal expansion, complexity etc.) George does a really good job of making it all relatively accessible. And his tie-ins to the people of the Santa Fe area really give it all an interesting slant. Makes me want to visit Santa Fe sometime.