God is Dead
“God is Dead” is a widely quoted statement made by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche used the phrase to express his idea that the Enlightenment had eliminated the possibility of the existence of God.
Optimistic nihilism views the belief that there is no underlying meaning to life from a perspective of hope. It’s not that we’re doomed to live in a meaningless universe–it’s that we get the chance to experience ourselves and the universe we share. The optimistic nihilist looks at a world lacking meaning and purpose and sees the opportunity to create their own.
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
– Carl Sagan
In the teapot analogy, British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell asks us to imagine a man claiming that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. The teapot is too small for us to see, and, since we can’t journey out into space (Russell wrote this in the 1950s), there’s no way to show that the teapot isn’t actually there. “Ah,” says Russell’s hypothetical man, “since you can’t prove the teapot isn’t there, you must assume that it is there.”
Of course, it’s patently ridiculous to claim that that we must believe in a teapot orbiting the sun simply because we have no means to prove it isn’t there. The burden of proof, Russell argues, is on the person claiming the teapot is there, since the default assumption is that no such teapot exists; the person claiming the existence of the teapot needs to provide positive evidence for us to believe his claim. He can’t just insist that we accept his belief as the default position.
God of the Gaps
The phrase God of the gaps refers to attempts to use statements about divine intervention in the physical world to fill in the “gaps” in scientific explanation. It is the attempt to introduce God as an explanatory hypothesis on the level of efficient causality to make up for limitations in current scientific understanding. The approach simply does not work because eventually scientific understanding closes the gap, making the appeal to divine explanation irrelevant. The approach is not taken seriously as a way of relating science and religion because it violates several fundamental principles of causal analysis and explanation in both science and theology.
Consider the story told by Marcus Tullius Cicero about the atheist Diagoras. He was shown the painted portraits of faithful worshipers who prayed and were later saved from a shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, “Where are the portraits of those who prayed, then drowned?” There were none. Dead worshipers, like the downed bombers, can’t advertise their experiences, so they get excluded from the sample. This is how people get fooled into believing in miracles (which are nothing more than positive low-probability events). Let’s say a disease is 99.99% fatal and 1,000 people get it. The single survivor will surely see his recovery as a miracle; of course, the reality is that the statistics of the situation simply dictated that “someone” would survive. The lucky survivor gets to stick around and tell his miraculous story; the 999 non-survivors, being dead, can’t tell their non-miraculous ones.
Aquinas argued that this first cause must have no beginning – that is, nothing caused it to exist because the first cause is eternal.
He argued that this first cause is God. God is eternal (has no beginning, was never started) and God caused the world and everything else to exist.
The first major problem is that we have no answer to the question ‘Who caused (created) God?’. If everything requires a cause (something to start it) surely this has to apply to God as well. We see that it simply leads to an infinite regress.
If some people can believe that God is eternal and requires no cause, then surely you could argue that the universe is eternal, and so doesn’t require God for it to exist.
If you can apply the principle that one thing is eternal (God) then surely that can be applied to other things (the world).
Occam’s Razor, or the law of parsimony, states that all else being equal, the simplest answer is probably the right one – “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”. Applied to science and God, the implication seems to be that if science can explain the world around us on its own, there is no need for science and God. There is no need for two explanations when one will do.
1. Lawrence Krauss, World-Renowned Physicist2. Robert Coleman Richardson, Nobel Laureate in Physics3. Richard Feynman, World-Renowned Physicist, Nobel Laureate in Physics4. Simon Blackburn, Cambridge Professor of Philosophy5. Colin Blakemore, World-Renowned Oxford Professor of Neuroscience6. Steven Pinker, World-Renowned Harvard Professor of Psychology7. Alan Guth, World-Renowned MIT Professor of Physics8. Noam Chomsky, World-Renowned MIT Professor of Linguistics9. Nicolaas Bloembergen, Nobel Laureate in Physics10. Peter Atkins, World-Renowned Oxford Professor of Chemistry11. Oliver Sacks, World-Renowned Neurologist, Columbia University12. Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal13. Sir John Gurdon, Pioneering Developmental Biologist, Cambridge14. Sir Bertrand Russell, World-Renowned Philosopher, Nobel Laureate15. Stephen Hawking, World-Renowned Cambridge Theoretical Physicist16. Riccardo Giacconi, Nobel Laureate in Physics17. Ned Block, NYU Professor of Philosophy18. Gerard ‘t Hooft, Nobel Laureate in Physics19. Marcus du Sautoy, Oxford Professor of Mathematics20. James Watson, Co-discoverer of DNA, Nobel Laureate21. Colin McGinn, Professor of Philosophy, Miami University22. Sir Patrick Bateson, Cambridge Professor of Ethology23. Sir David Attenborough, World-Renowned Broadcaster and Naturalist24. Martinus Veltman, Nobel Laureate in Physics25. Pascal Boyer, Professor of Anthropology 26. Partha Dasgupta, Cambridge Professor of Economics27. AC Grayling, Birkbeck Professor of Philosophy28. Ivar Giaever, Nobel Laureate in Physics29. John Searle, Berkeley Professor of Philosophy30. Brian Cox, Particle Physicist (Large Hadron Collider, CERN)31. Herbert Kroemer, Nobel Laureate in Physics32. Rebecca Goldstein, Professor of Philosophy33. Michael Tooley, Professor of Philosophy, Colorado34. Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry35. Leonard Susskind, Stanford Professor of Theoretical Physics36. Quentin Skinner, Professor of History (Cambridge)37. Theodor W. Hänsch, Nobel Laureate in Physics38. Mark Balaguer, CSU Professor of Philosophy39. Richard Ernst, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry40. Alan Macfarlane, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology41. Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson, Princeton Research Scientist42. Douglas Osheroff, Nobel Laureate in Physics43. Hubert Dreyfus, Berkeley Professor of Philosophy44. Lord Colin Renfrew, World-Renowned Archaeologist, Cambridge45. Carl Sagan, World-Renowned Astronomer46. Peter Singer, World-Renowned Bioethicist, Princeton47. Rudolph Marcus, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry48. Robert Foley, Cambridge Professor of Human Evolution49. Daniel Dennett, Tufts Professor of Philosophy50. Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in Physics
51. Frank Wilczek, Nobel Laureate in Physics, MIT52. VS Ramachandran, World-Renowned Neuroscientist, UC San Diego53. Bruce C. Murray, Caltech Professor Emeritus of Planetary Science54. Sir Raymond Firth, World-Renowned Anthropologist, LSE55. Alva Noë, Berkeley Professor of Philosophy56. Alan Dundes, World Expert in Folklore, Berkeley57. Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy, CUNY58. Bede Rundle, Oxford Professor of Philosophy59. Sir Richard Friend, Cambridge Professor of Physics60. George Lakoff, Berkeley Professor of Linguistics61. Sir John Sulston, Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine62. Shelley Kagan, Yale Professor of Philosophy63. Roy J. Glauber, Nobel Laureate in Physics64. Lewis Wolpert, Emeritus Professor of Biology, UCL65. Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard Professor of Social Ethics66. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Practical Ethics, Duke University67. Richard Dawkins, Oxford Evolutionary Biologist68. Bruce Hood, Professor of Experimental Psychology, Bristol69. Marvin Minsky, Artificial Intelligence Research Pioneer, MIT70. Herman Philipse, Professor of Philosophy, Utrecht University71. Michio Kaku, CUNY Professor of Theoretical Physics72. Dame Caroline Humphrey, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology73. Max Tegmark, World-Renowned Cosmologist, MIT74. David Parkin, Oxford Professor of Anthropology75. Robert Price, Professor of Theology and Biblical Criticism 76. Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology, Virginia77. Max Perutz, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry78. Rodolfo Llinas, Professor of Neuroscience, New York79. Dan McKenzie, World-Renowned Geophysicist, Cambridge80. Patricia Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego81. Sean Carroll, Caltech Theoretical Cosmologist82. Alexander Vilenkin, World-Renowned Theoretical Physicist83. PZ Myers, Professor of Biology, Minnesota84. Haroon Ahmed, Prominent Cambridge Scientist (Microelectronics)85. David Sloan Wilson, Professor of Biology and Anthropology, SUNY86. Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies, UNC87. Seth Lloyd, Pioneer of Quantum Computing, MIT88. Dan Brown, Fellow in Organic Chemistry, Cambridge89. Victor Stenger, Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Hawaii90. Simon Schaffer, Cambridge Professor of the History of Science91. Saul Perlmutter World-Renowned Astrophysicist, Berkeley92. Lee Silver, Princeton Professor of Molecular Biology93. Barry Supple, Emeritus Professor of Economic History, Cambridge94. Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Professor of Law95. John Raymond Smythies, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatric Research96. Chris Hann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology97. David Gross, Nobel Laureate in Physics98. Ronald de Sousa, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Toronto99. Robert Hinde, Emeritus Professor of Zoology, Cambridge100. Carolyn Porco, NASA Planetary Scientist
101. Sir Andrew Huxley, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 102. Steve Jones, UCL Professor of Genetics103. Yujin Nagasawa, Professor of Philosophy, Birmingham University104. Dame Alison Richard, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology105. Peter Millican, Oxford Professor of Philosophy106. Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge Professor of History107. Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry108. Michael Mann, UCLA Professor of Sociology109. Brian Greene, Professor of Physics, Columbia University110. CJ van Rijsbergen, Cambridge Professor of Computer Science111. Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, UMass112. Leonard Mlodinow, Cal Tech Professor of Physics113. Lisa Jardine, UCL Professor of History114. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry115. Herbert Huppert, Cambridge Professor of Geophysics116. Geoff Harcourt, Australian Academic Economist, Cambridge117. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UC Irvine118. Paul Rabinow, Berkeley Professor of Anthropology119. Sir Brian Harrison, Oxford Professor of Modern History120. Lisa Randall, Harvard Professor of Physics121. Gabriel Horn, Cambridge Professor of Zoology122. Jonathan Parry, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology123. Masatoshi Koshiba, Nobel Laureate in Physics124. Frank Drake, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UCSC125. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA 126. Sir John E. Walker, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry127. J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy, MSVU128. Horace Barlow, Visual Neuroscientist, Cambridge129. Baroness Susan Greenfield, Oxford Professor of Neuroscience130. Hermann Hauser, Science Entrepreneur (Cambridge)131. Stephen Gudeman, Professor of Anthropology, Minnesota132. Jim Al Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Surrey133. Mark Elvin, Professor of Chinese History, ANU/Oxford134. Stuart Kauffman, Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics, UVM135. Stefan Feuchtwang, Professor of Anthropology, LSE136. Ken Edwards, Cambridge Professor of Genetics137. Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Manchester138. Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge Professor of Sociology and Political Theory139. Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford Professor of Mathematics140. John Dunn, Cambridge Professor of Political Theory141. Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of Psychology, LSE142. Craig Venter, Synthetic Life Pioneer143. Paul Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego144. Christian de Duve, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine145. Michael Bate, Cambridge Professor of Developmental Biology146. Melvin Konner, Professor of Anthropology, Emory University147. Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard Professor of Zoology and Geology148. Arif Ahmed, Senior Lecturer Philosophy, Cambridge149. Christof Koch, Caltech Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Biology150. Peter Higgs, Nobel Laureate in Physics
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