Cloudy With A 15% Chance of God

Question from Anonymous:
To whoever receives this message,

I was raised from birth as a Muslim, but as I began to study science, the stories that are told- such as Noah’s ark, Jesus, Moses etc.- seemed, well, improbable. I’m on the verge of becoming an atheist but there’s a couple of questions which I can’t seem to answer using scientific thought, I am after all only a second year university student. I feel as if I can’t just quit my religion without being at least 98% certain that there is most likely no God (I understand God can’t be entirely disproven, much in the same case the flying spaghetti monster can’t be either 😛 ). I’m hoping you’re able to.

The first is:

1. How could the universe begin if there was no creator that has been around since the beginning of time?
– Because if you can deny the creator, you can’t deny that at the very least energy would have had to have been around and had to have existed since the beginning of everything, and in this case:

Would energy be God? Can energy be God? Does this mean energy cares about what human beings do?

2. Life ceases to make sense, there is no drive, does this mean there is no point in life ultimately?
-I understand from an evolutionary perspective it is imperative we believe there is a reason to live. Humans are very reliant on being self centered and believing that everything must be about them. But I don’t like the idea of everything- this temporary struggle- to be about nothing.

3. Can you explain in terms of evolution how a new sexually producing species can be formed- in the sense that once the mutation occurs to cause a change in the species inside of a member of a population, how a male and a female version of the same different ‘evolved’ species (that has become reproductively isolated) is able to ‘come about’ at the same time in order to allow a continuation of this new, evolved species?
^ If I’ve explained that right, this is really dependent on chance and perhaps increases the likelihood of a God-like influence on the construction of a new species.

At the moment I’m at a 60-85% sure point that God doesn’t exist– it varies depending on the day, as I’m sure you would understand if you have been brought up on another faith, it is rather hard to get rid of that part of you which stubbornly doesn’t want to change no matter what the facts are.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I truly appreciate it. Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve never known anyone with such a specific threshold for the probability of the existence or non-existence of a god (other than those futilely seeking certainty). Perhaps we should all be as demanding of reality, and employ this brand of aggressive curiosity.

Anyway, let’s see if we can help you out.

1. It’s possible that the universe has always been around in some form, just as the creator god is assumed to have been. Indeed, it’s the simplest inference from the commonly understood law of conservation, which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. According to that, matter exists now, therefore it always has, and the Big Bang was just one event in an ongoing timeline. No creator is necessary in this case. As for the matter/energy which may always have existed, we have no reason to suppose that it’s anything like a god itself – that it answers prayers, or cares about humans at all.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that the universe really did emerge from nothing, because quantum physics strongly infer that what we think of as “nothing” is highly unstable and generates new particles all the time. If you want to research this scenario, read A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. (If you instead interpret this to mean that the “nothing” is really something, that changes little because it’s still an unintelligent object which renders a creator god unnecessary.)

2. You may not like the idea that we have no divinely bestowed purpose, but how does your personal taste for an idea (or anyone else’s) affect whether it’s true or false? The universe does not owe us comfort.

Evolution has endowed us with a strong survival instinct, yes, but it is not the only reason we have for existing. We give ourselves plenty of other reasons: science, art, the pursuit of happiness, the care of other creatures, each other and so on.

Any divine purpose which has ever been proposed appears to have actually been invented by humans anyway, so I think it’s better to be honest about it. Other theists maintain the vague belief that God has a purpose for them, but they’re not meant to know what it is. What’s the point of that, besides generating an unsupported sense of self-importance?

3. New species do not evolve as individuals, but as populations. The shared genome changes very, very slowly over hundreds or thousands of generations, and beneficial mutations spread across the group through new offspring. Both genders come along for the ride; gender is determined by a single chromosome, and the rest of the DNA is pretty much identical. Once the population has become different enough on average to qualify as a different species than it was before, there are plenty of new males and females around.

Happy new year to you too.

4 thoughts on “Cloudy With A 15% Chance of God”

  1. Some stuff on the first two points:
    For your point 1) above, there is also lecture by Lawrence Krauss available on You Tube – apart from his book. Just type “universe from nothing”. I found the lecture pretty engaging, especially the match between the computer generated picture of the early universe (a few hundred thousand years after the big bang) expected if the universe was a flat universe (a flat universe has zero total energy) with observational data from the WMAP probe.

    Regarding your point 2) – I have an observation and an explanation.
    I think a lot of religious people, when they start “losing their faith” come ultimately to this question of life not having any meaning / purpose at all if there is no god – I was one of them.
    I think the problem is simple – religion makes humanity the center of the universe. And on top of that religion, in order to make followers adhere, gives each one of them the illusion of “being special”. Each one has a “special” purpose in god’s divine plan. Religion thus provides an easy “purpose” and takes away the usual existential turmoil involved in actually defining one’s own purpose or of living without one – depending on one’s personal choice and circumstances.
    When you start tearing away from religion, you face the task (from which you were insulated till now by the big brotherly religion you were part of and that set up a comfortable purpose for you without much soul-searching on your part – excuse the “soul” bit) of deciphering a “purpose” for yourself, or of getting comfortable with having no purpose. As with any difficult activity, the usual human reaction is of dread, restlessness, fear and foreboding. Some atheists will argue that the question of purpose is irrelevant. In a way it is. But I think that within the confines of scientific and practical knowledge, one can come up with / decide on a purpose for oneself which is not incongruous with science and rationality – a broad humanitarian purpose for example would be congruent with science and rationality.
    In a way that is exactly what you did when you were religious – you accepted a purpose that was congruent with your religion. All you are doing now is deciding on a purpose and accepting a purpose that is congruent with science and rationality – which are essentially descriptions of and inferences about factual reality (instead of being fairy tales). There’s just no supernatural, all knowing big-daddy who will be happy if you follow a reasonable purpose or who will punish you if you follow an unreasonable one. And the rewards of either are likely (but not always) to be borne by you in this life only … isn’t that neater than religion?

    Now, humanitarian purposes may not be “big” compared to the religious purpose of “helping in God’s plan” but I suspect you will end up doing the same things anyway – whichever purpose you choose. One just feels good if what one’s doing is a part of some grandiose, mysterious plan. Its like in high-school – you feel happier if you are part of a group on an important mission, even if the mission is imagined and the group’s just playing a game during recess. Its the desire in each of us to feel that we are important, that we matter, that we are part of something bigger.
    We all probably do matter in some way or the other – given that life is at best a chaotic, non-linear, dynamical system. So an action even by the smallest individual can bring the biggest change (remember the Tunisian fruit-seller?). But mattering in a scientific way (randomly, thru chaos theory for e.g.) or in a general humanitarian way is probably not as comfortable/ engaging for us as mattering in a god’s blue-eyed boy/girl way. Requires time and thinking for us to grow out of old bad habits – it sure took me a while.

  2. Hi,

    Several points I would have mentioned have already been well covered, so I will skip those.

    1) If something can’t come into existence without a creator, then who created the creator of the universe, and who in turn created that creator? If the creator himself does not need a creator (which obviously is the case, otherwise we have infinite regression), why does the universe need one?

    2) I would argue the opposite is true, if we only have this one life, it is *VERY* important, but if this life is just a glorified waiting-room before we go somewhere else where is the purpose in that? Atheists do many great altruistic things for the sake of it, not just to curry favour with an imagined deity.

    3) A Google of ‘Ensatina salamanders’ with relation to speciation should give you a good start in understanding the principals at work.

  3. Rohit, I just thought I’d point out that religion makes GOD the centre of the universe…at least, that’s what its supposed to do. And Mex5150, just out of curiosity, is there any evidence to say that this universe had a beginning?

  4. Just heard the magnificent performance of Dr. Krauss in his debate with Dr. Craig, and was surprised he was shaken some by the ‘resurrection evidence-argument”. The Bible itself mentions plenty of other resurrections, including all those arising from their graves when Jesus died in the cross and another whose body brushed the skeleton on a saint previously buried.
    The Bible also quotes God as saying (Ecclesiastes) that only those selected by Him were to be witness of Jesus resurrection, not others which mars their testimony somewhat.

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