Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

22 August 2007

chatting with atheists

I've recently been chatting with a couple of atheists, Ian and Ken.

They're really nice guys, and I'm not just saying that to be P.C., either.

If you're a Christian (or any kind of theist, for that matter!), I whole-heartedly recommend dialogue with atheists. We Christians are guilty of saying many things that simply don't make sense, and dialogue with atheists can really help sharpen (and therefore strengthen) your beliefs. Here are a few things you'll want to do when talking to them (or anyone else as well!).

Use words carefully.
When conversations get past a certain point, you quickly realize that many words mean slightly (or very!) different things to different people. Words like 'objective', 'reality', 'supernatural', 'miracle', 'authority', etc., can be very, very slippery. Use them carefully (or don't use them at all!), and press their use of them as well.

Be willing to be sharpened.
There are many complaints of atheists that are very valid. Christians need to be open to learning, re-thinking, re-shaping their ideas. I dare say God would want us to do this! There are a lot of things that a lot of Christians say or teach or write in books, etc., that is really embarrassing, and quite often, one simply needs to agree with the complaint of the atheist and perhaps share the 'better' position that clears up the distortion that they are complaining about.

Focus on the topic of materiality.
I've learned that one of the most vital beliefs of atheists is that reality is only material. Press them on this, but don't make the mistake of claiming 'objectivity' in this area. Logic, reason, emotion, art, etc. - these areas are difficult to explain for materialists.

Highlight the logical absurdity of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang theory posits that the universe results from a Singularity - a non-dimensional point under massive atomic pressure. This non-dimensional point existed in nowhere, because there was nowhere for it to be, and it existed at no time, because there was no time in which it could be. In short; where there is no time and no where, no thing happens, and no thing exists.

Don't scientifically argue creation from the Bible.
Genesis (or any other place in the Bible) is not a scientific text. It is a theological one. Whatever you think you know about the age of the earth, carbon-dating or evolution (micro or macro), please don't bring the Bible into these conversations. It's like wiping your nose with an anvil.

Don't argue for the existence of God using some experience you had.
You will be quickly told that your experience is subjective and therefore not valid for evidence. Don't bother.

Press them on the word 'science'.
The Latin root for 'knowledge' is 'scienta'. Science, therefore, is a general term about 'knowledge'. Press them to specify what KIND of knowledge they are referring to. They will want to give supremacy to physical science, but remind them that this is only one kind of 'knowing'.

I could go on, but that should do for now.

Happy chatting!

-d-

22 comments:

John said...

Dale,
I am in agreement. I have one atheist blogger that has a link to my blog from his and one "not religious" person that also has lined to my blog. We can speak without listening to others and drive them away or we can dialogue into an understanding of how their beliefs have been shaped and share with them how we have come to our own conclusions.

great post!

Justin said...

i've become an atheist! we should talk !

dale said...

Justin, you make me feel guilty. Have I been so negligent seeing you on a regular basis that you have to change your foundational worldview just to have a conversation with me?

:)

-d-

Ken said...

Hi Dale
Recovering from replacement of a hard drive but have been pursuing the issues of science, scientific method, etc on OpenParachute and finding the discussion stimulating. I have put up the two episodes of Dawkins' "The Enemies of Reason" which showed in the UK in the last 2 weeks. These programmes created a lot of interest all around the internet. (they are also excellent documentaries).
I pose a problem with 3 of the points you made:

Highlight the logical absurdity of the Big Bang.

Focus on the topic of materiality.

Press them on the word 'science'.


These issues, of course, are not unique to atheists. The method of methodological naturalism (methodological materialism) is common to all scientists. I have worked with atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian scientists. This method was implicit in all their work and they have all been happy with this. (Their personal religious beliefs may not have been materialist, but that is a separate issue).
Similarly the so-called "Big Bang" theory, just as evolution theory, is held by scientists with a whole range of religious belief. They arose from science itself and have nothing to do with atheism.
So here is the problem (and it was one that Joe referred to when he said he was shocked to find people in his Bible-study group considered evolution to be an atheist idea):
Aren't some Christian's (and other theists) being dragged into an anti-science attitude when they start to attribute scientific knowledge to atheism? (I know some Christian theologists are concerned about this attitude coming from Intelligent Design ideas).
Won't this leave Christians and other theists behind, continually fighting rearguard battles, while society moves ahead utilising the benefits of scientific knowledge, and specifically those benefits coming from evolution, cosmology and investigation of the mind (consciousness, spirit, soul)?

dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dale said...

Heya Ken,

(too many typos - so hence the repost!)

Stink one about the hard drive! :(

Thanks for the comment.

You mention a variety of scientists who use the method of 'methodological naturalism/materialism'(MM). I have no problem with that at all, in principle. If they are working in natural/material fields, is it at all surprising that the method of 'MM' would be 'implicit in all their work'?
But, clearly (and I try to limit my use of that word!), any scientist would have to employ methods other than materialist ones in order to consider a hypothesis involving immaterial things. Is this not obvious? It seems obvious to me. :)

Re: Big-bang
And some scientists challenge it. I think the common attitude is perhaps 'we have no better theory' or words to that effect. I maintain that it is a logical nightmare, and about as testable as the 'god hypothesis'...

I agree that some theists can be dragged into an anti-science attitude, and that this is very wrong. Haven't I made this clear in our rather long discussion already? I do enjoy the dialogue, but it's tiresome repeating myself.

I don't really see that Christians need to fight 'rearguard' battles, as we really don't need to be 'guarding' ourselves... Indeed, we believe things that cannot be empirically 'proven', and this worries some; but (for example) the Bible leaves the 'how' of creation open to enquiry, so no need to 'guard' against any theories/observations; but (conversely) no need to refrain from critiquing them either. :)

-d-

Anonymous said...

I'm having problems figuring out how to respond to this post. There are just too many directions to go. I'm afraid I will be rambling beyond even my normal tendancy to ramble.

I think we are having more problems with definitions -- you are using "science" in a way I don't understand it to be used.

I like the definition on Wikipedia -- "Science (from the Latin scientia, 'knowledge') is a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as the organized body of knowledge gained through such research." Again taking from Wikipedia, "Despite popular impressions of science, it is not the goal of science to answer all questions. The goal of the science is to answer only those questions that pertain to perceived reality. Also, science cannot possibly address nonsensical, or untestable questions, so the choice of which questions to answer becomes important. Science does not and can not produce absolute and unquestionable truth. Rather, science tests some aspect of the world and attempts to provide a precise, unequivocal framework to explain it."

Science ONLY studies the "material". By the "material" I mean the "observable". By the "observable" I mean the "measurable". Things that are not "measurable" CANNOT BE STUDIED using the scientific method.

Here are some definitions:

Objective: I can measure something, teach you how to measure it, and we get the same results. It doesn't matter if we use the same measuring system (inches or centimeters) or the same measuring method. The measurement has to be independent of any personal belief system. The result should be the same for Athesists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, whatever.

Subjective: Unable to be measured. Different for different people. Think art, music, food (taste). Religious beliefs fall into this category.

The study of God is not a science because it is not objective and God is not measurable.

God created the physical universe and designed it to work by certain rules. Science is the study of these rules. That is not to say that God can't work outside of these laws (I believe miracles can and do happen, but they are not measurable), and I do not mean to say that there are not supernatural beings that can effect our reality. I only state that these things cannot be studied objectifiably.

The "big bang" theory of the creation of the universe was created by studying the stars and galaxies around us. Wikipedia has a nice write-up that describes the evidence that has been used to develop the idea. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang -- the introduction should be easily read by a non-technical person.

You are correct when you imply that the "big bang theory" is a work in progress -- all of scientific knowledge is. But this theory is the best description of the physical universe at this time.

And the "big bang" is NOT an ATHEIST theory! The "big bang" theory says NOTHING about a cause or a creator. It can't because we can't measure back to that.

I believe that the "big bang" model of the creation of the universe is the absolute, number one physical indication that God exists. But that is my personal belief.

When you "Highlight the logical absurdity of the Big Bang" you are arguing against God -- what, else is God but He that existed in nowhere at no time and who created the universe and time itself? If the big bang is a logical absurdity, then so is God! I am sure you did not mean to imply this!

I cringed when I read you say "Logic, reason, emotion, art, etc. - these areas are difficult to explain for materialists," where by "materialists" you meant "atheists". One of my best friends is an atheist, and he has a greater appreciation for literature, art, music, and food than I ever will have. He is also the most logical person I know.

I also have a problem with your denial of personal witness. "Don't argue for the existence of God using some experience you had." How else can we bring non-believers to know Christ other than with our personal testimony? We must plant the seed and the Holy Spirit will make it grow: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.

My greatest witness for God is that the personal touch of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit brought me back from the brink of despair at the lowest point in my life. He took my worries and troubles, and brought me back onto my feet.

Well, that's a lot there, and I'm sure I missed some things along the way.

I hope you don't find me too combative or lecturing.

God Bless (you too, Ken!)

Joe

dale said...

Thanks Joe,

Yes, I'm aware of the problem with the word 'science.' That's part of my point, really. I like most of the Wikipedia definition. No big problems, really.

My problem has been that there is nothing about the word 'science' - as far as I can tell - that necessitates that it, as you say, "ONLY studies the material" or "observable". There are types of 'scienta'/knowledge that I think can study immaterial things; logic, reason, mathematics, philosophy... I suppose I'm attempting to ensure that the word 'science' isn't used when perhaps 'physics' is meant. Does that make sense?

I am deeply in support of rigorous continued observation, testing, etc. in physics and other material sciences (note the use of plural). I think I'm simply saying that using the word 'science' in these conversations can often be too vague, and the way to help the vague-ness is, of course, to be more specific. Talk of 'science', therefore needs to be more specific, like 'physics', 'biology', 'cosmology', etc. - not just 'science'. I certainly hope that is not interpreted as even the slightest bit 'anti-science'! :)

I appreciate your objective/subjective comments, but to quote the wiki def: 'Science does not and can not produce absolute and unquestionable truth' - how can we call this objective? I think the objective/subjective divide is actually a spectrum. And it's only a spectrum that concerns our understanding! This is key.

Truth - at least truth about one thing in one place and one time, etc. - does exist. We don't know it objectively, but it still exists. Some things we sense that we're so close to full objectivity that we basically claim objectively to 'know' them. Other things, we sense that we know next to nothing about with certainty, and we often use (strongly) the language of subjectivity.

The various different scientific fields are ALL at various points on the spectrum. The fact that science never fully reaches 'objectivity' certainly doesn't keep us from using it! In this sense, enquiry into ANY field of 'knowledge' - however seemingly 'subjective' - can be validly called 'science'.

I know this definition is WAY too loose for comfort, but a word is only as good as how it is used, and I'm suggesting that 'science' is primarily about 'knowledge' (hence the Latin root). No 'knowledge' is subjective - but we still press to 'know' more and more, don't we? We may think that we're far closer to 'objectively' defining an atom than we are to, for example, demonstrating spirituality, but maybe our 'knowledge' of atoms isn't as 'objective' as we assumed, and maybe our 'knowledge' of 'spirituality' (at least the existence of it!) isn't as 'subjective' as many have assumed?

I know. It's a big jump from how the word 'science' is normally used, but I'm simply highlighting how the word can be too vague for some discussions.

Please press me further if needed! I really DO want to be understood. :)

Re: Big bang, etc.
Thank you for confirming what I suggested; that many will simply say that 'this theory is the best description of the physical universe at this time.' - or words to that effect. And I agree that it is not necessarily an atheist theory. Totally agree.

I don't think it follows that 'highlighting the logical absurdity of the Big Bang' means arguing against God. I think it's simply using logic well.

Are there not an infinite number of ways in which God could have created reality? Why, why, OH WHY!!! do we so often default to the old dichotomy between 'big-bang' and 'six-days'? Once you have recognised the possibility of a creator powerful enough to cause the universe to come into being (a possibility that is extremely remote according to atheists, of course!), I think it makes sense to allow that creator to do its creating however it likes.

Using cosmology to see how this happened, however, is something that the atheist and theist can do equally, regardless of their position on the existence of a creator. I am only suggesting that it stretches logic to talk of a 'thing' that existed outside of space and time! That's a fair amount of 'subjectivity' in your cosmology! :)

Other points:
I do apologise if I gave the impression that atheists cannot 'appreciate' literature, art, etc. But frankly, that's not what I said. I said that they are difficult to 'explain' - from a strict 'materialist' perspective. I have NO hesitation whatsoever in acknowledging the intelligence of many atheists, and didn't mean to imply that they were all dry and boring!

As for sharing 'personal witness', I simply was pre-empting the response that is sure to come after you do share it - if you choose to. :) If any feel it will be fruitful to share their experiences, then I suppose they can and should. Just be prepared to be told they're subjective. :)

Don't worry, you're not too combative/lecturing! I enjoy the dialogue!

'Amen' to your 'God Bless' - even if to Ken it might as well be 'F.S.M. Bless!'... :)

-d-

dale said...

Sorry! meant to say 'No knowledge is OBJECTIVE!!!'

It's always embarrasing to say exactly the OPPOSITE of what you mean! :)

-d-

Ken said...

Two brief comments:
"Highlight the logical absurdity of the Big Bang."
There is a problem with logic. We have evolved as a species to deal with "middle earth" - things of our sort of size and movement. Now, of course, we are dealing with the extremely small and large, and the extremely fast. Our old evolved logic can't handle that. That's why quantum mechanics is just not "common sense" - but it works extremely well! The formation of this universe surely is outside our "common sense". However, we can understand it back to a matter of a few minutes. We don't, yet, understand the physics of earlier times - but it's not in humanity's nature to give up just for that reason. Granted, it may take a long time - then again it may not!
Anyway, I strongly believe that where our "common sense" or logic can't deal with empirical evidence we have to start changing our logic. That's why I react so strongly to a system of knowledge which bases itself on "logic' and degrades, or avoids, empirical evidence.
literature, art, etc. ... are difficult to 'explain' - from a strict 'materialist' perspective.
Don't give up because things are difficult. There is a lot of exciting progress in cognitive science now. I recently watched an exciting lecture by Ramachandran on his research into understanding the neurological basis of the power of art and think things are becoming easier to "explain".
Anyway, new knowledge is always "difficult" to obtain. That shouldn't be a reason to give up on the methodological materialism of science which has proved so fruitful in the past. And what is the alternative? I have yet to see any credible explanation of art from a "non-materialist" perspective.

dale said...

Ken,

I disagree, and I don't follow your quantam mechanics (QM) example. Just because ('a') something works in ways we don't understand yet, doesn't mean that ('b') we need to 'start changing our logic'! Call that a logical (or other kind of) mistake if you will, but it leaves out the strong possibility that ('c') we don't fully understand it, and that future understanding may help it to make sense.

More than that, I don't even think 'logic' is the problem with understanding Q.M.! Logic simply suggests (among other things) non-contradition of ideas - i.e. two contradicting statements about the same thing at the same time in the same conditions, (etc.) cannot both be equally true.

Our difficulty with understanding Q.M., I suggest, doesn't mean that logic is undone or needs to be changed, but rather means that our understanding of how things worked before we encountered the 'problem' of Q.M. was incomplete, impartial or otherwise incorrect! It's not logic that changes, but our understanding of that particular field of study.

Still further, I can't help but feel you've opened a rather large can of worms by suggesting this:
"where our "common sense" or logic can't deal with empirical evidence we have to start changing our logic. That's why I react so strongly to a system of knowledge which bases itself on "logic' and degrades, or avoids, empirical evidence."

Empirical evidence doesn't collect, test, observe, interpret and explain itself! I dare say something like 'logic' is used in the entire process! You seem to equate 'logic' with 'common sense'. I strongly object! :)

Your statement even sounds dangerously close to expressing an epistemological method that could lead you to belief in a 'spiritual' dimension to life! It sounds one small step from saying, "where our materialist views can't deal with empirical evidence, we have to start expanding them to include the possibility of non-material things." How consistent in your overall thought is this strong belief of yours? :)

Again, our difficulty to fully understand and explain reality means not that ('a') two contradictory statements about the same things can now be equally true, but rather suggests that ('b') our observation, testing, interpretation, etc. is either incomplete or incorrect (or something).

How do you change logic anyway? Is 'logic' yet another word we have to tighten our definitions of? :)

I 157% agree on not giving up just because of difficulty, but the fact that the formation of the universe is outside of our 'common sense' doesn't necessarily mean we just need to 'try harder' - it may mean we're trying to do something like using a flashlight to see if the sun has risen. Get a bigger flashlight, I guess. Yes, difficulty is no reason to quit; sometimes the path is steep and you need to press on harder, but other times you're up against a wall and need to turn around. The singularity-exploding meta-theory seems to me to be a logical wall. But in a framework where things move from simple to complex, you will find yourself trapped between a rock (wall?) and a hard place.

Re art:
I've been avoiding discussion on the finer points of evolution - not least because I'm not the best person to engage there - but from what I understand, the evolution of species from one to another, and the evolution within species are both based on the event of a favourable mutation. So favourable, in fact, that it ensures the organisms' survival due to environmental conditions. It's hard to imagine an environmental condition where even the slightest, 'lowest' or 'earliest' inclination of anything like 'art' would ensure an organisms' survival. It might provide a more interesting existence, but survival? Please help me here.

Just to clarify, I'm not talking about how 'art' works in humans today. I'm talking about the gradual emergence of 'artful tendencies' in species over time. That... I don't get. The 'art' of a spider weaving its web has direct implications on its survival. A monkey/ape/'almost-human' beginning to make marks that have 'meaning' (for example) seem to have no effect on its survival. Please enlighten me!

-d-

dale said...

Forgot one thing (at least!),

You asked for a credible explanation of art from a 'non-materialist' perspective...

An aside...
(I hadn't seen it before, but 'non-materialist' is certainly not what I am. I fully endorse physicality! I just think there's more to reality than only that.)

Anyway, I don't see how any 'more-than-material' explanation of art will ever be deemed 'credible' by someone who things that reality is only material. I hope you're not shocked that you've yet to see such an explanation!

But classic monotheism has always suggested (for however long we might say 'always' is!) that the Creator God is reflected in creation itself. The character/person of the Creator (for example, 'creativity') is 'reflected/seen' in various attributes of creation.

Many strands of Monotheism have suggested that humans were created with more capacity to reflect God than anything else in creation. This capacity includes the highest ability to create-with, speak-to, love, build-on, govern-over, relate-to and care-for the rest of creation - including other humans.

Hence - art. :)

Gotta run now!

-d-

Ken said...

"Your statement even sounds dangerously close to expressing an epistemological method that could lead you to belief in a 'spiritual' dimension to life! It sounds one small step from saying, "where our materialist views can't deal with empirical evidence, we have to start expanding them to include the possibility of non-material things." How consistent in your overall thought is this strong belief of yours? :)"
Yes, of course. For me objectively existing reality always trumps subjective mental constructs (theory, belief, logic, "common sense"). If there is a non-material component of reality and we can ever get convincing evidence for this I would be quite happy to make corresponding adjustments to my beliefs.

dale said...

Now that's good logic Ken!

:)

Such good logic, in fact, that I make one of my shortest responses...

Our (yours and mine) understanding (mental knowing?) of 'objectively existing reality' (perhaps unfortunately) will ALWAYS involve the use of, involvement with or ideas based on... 'subjective mental constructs (theory, belief, logic, "common sense").'

Such is life. It's ALL wonderfully and frustratingly subjective; but, alas - the objective is still a reality that beckons us to seek after it (even if we'll never quite get there!).

-d-

dale said...

...at least that's my subjective opinion!

:)

-d-

Anonymous said...

Dale,

You seem to put a great emphasis on "logic". What does this word mean to you?

At one time, "logic" said that the world was flat. Then people like Aristotle made observations that suggested the earth was round and "logic" changed.

Then people thought that the earth was the center of the universe. Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus made observations that suggested the the the sun was the center of the solar system and that the earth revolved around th sun, and "logic" again changed.

Light at one time was thought to be a "wave" -- like sound or water waves. It was thought that it was carried on "luminiferous ether" (a fluid, like air or water). Measurements were unable to detect this fluid (the famous "Michelson-Morely Experiment", performed at my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio!). Einstein later received a Nobel Prize for his formulation of the "photoelectric effect" which quantized light -- it turns out that under certain conditions light acts as a discrete particle and other times as a wave. Later he invented "special relativity" -- his famous E=mc^2, and told us that discrete particles can act as waves and matter is equivalent to energy. "Logic" changed again.

Quantum mechanics describes the behavior of atomic and subatomic particles. There are aspects of quantum mechanics that are (for me and for many others) extremely non-intuitive. However, they ARE reality, and as we learn them, our "logic" has to change to accept them.

We can't say, "reality does not fit my belief system, therefore reality must be wrong" -- unless we believe that God is lying to us through nature. I don't believe God lies either in nature or in scripture -- so therefore, reality must be "logical" and if it apparently contradicts scripture we must be misinterpreting scripture.

So I don't think that our understanding of cosmology and the "big bang" contradicts the creation story in Genesis. I don't think our understanding of biological evolution contradicts the creation story either.

I think it is a huge problem when fundamentalists insist that logic demands that reality is wrong because it contradicts their understanding of scripture. I think that this drives non-believers away from a chance to get to know God -- it did for me for a long time. How could these "ignorant kooks" (my perception of them at the time) be right about God when they were wrong about reality? Now, I sometimes wonder, are they ignorant, or are they under a satanic influence? How many people have they driven into the athestic corner by insisting that reality is wrong?

There is a rather famous (probably invented) discourse between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr. Einstein wasn't happy with many of the implications of quantum mechanics. He famously said, "God doesn't play dice with the universe!". Bohr, one of the inventors of quantum mechanics, reportedly replied, "Albert, don't tell God what to do!"

Every time we make a scientific advance "logic" changes. Reality is an absolute as is Scripture. Our undersanding of both is in flux. Hopefully in both cases, we are increasing our understanding over time, and not going backwards.

take care,


Joe

dale said...

Thanks Joe,

(I need to be brief - sermon prep)

If you read all of my comments above, you'll see what I mean by logic. Logic is not thought. Sure, people 'thought' that the earth was flat, people 'thought' the earth was the centre of the universe, they 'thought' that light was only 'waves', etc. These are 'thoughts'.

Logic, however, says that contradictory 'thoughts' cannot both be true. That is the 'logical' law of non-contradiction. This is what I mean by 'logic.' For example, the world cannot be both flat and spherical; the earth and the sun cannot both be the centre of the universe (indeed, probably a silly notion to even ask where the centre is!), etc.

I honestly 'thought' this was basic. I'm stunned that it has needed so much clarification.

So, it's not 'logic' that changed in ANY of these situations - it's our understanding and/or thinking about something that has!

That's a key difference. Our conclusions/thoughts/ideas change (heck, we may even possibly change our ideas about the law of non-contradiction!??), but I don't think 'logic' really has (or does).

Make no mistake, I fully endorse that our perception of 'true logic' (or whatever) is never fully 'there' or 'objective', but the 'objective truth' or 'logical reality' is certainly there, even if we know it only partially.

I never said that the 'big bang' (or evolution) contradicted Genesis. I'm fully aware that the creation account is theological, not scientific. I'm not suggesting a literal 6-day creation. I'm simply questioning the big-bang theory on the basis of logic. Not the Bible! :) I'm not putting forward another 'more logical' hypothesis, I'm just pointing out what I perceive to be a logical problem. I hope that's clear by now! :)

More specifically, my problem is with the so-called 'singularity'. Essentially, you have all the matter in the universe contained in this 'non-dimensional' point. With quantam mechanics, we observe it 'working' whether we understand it fully or not. So, believing in quantam mechanics, then is based on observation - it works. Belief in a 'singularity', on the other hand, is far less justified, I'm suggesting.

Have I fully answered you questions?

-d-

Anonymous said...

Hey Dale,

I hope your sermon preparation goes well.

I'm not sleeping well tonight -- my 4-1/2 year old daughter just went home to her mother on Tuesday. She lives in Dallas and I live in Maine. I have her for 3 weeks each summer, this is the third summer, and it is always hard for me to sleep the first few days after she goes home. Compounding that, I'm in a hotel room on a business trip that started only a few hours after I dropped her off at the airport along with my mother who came out to Maine with her.

I'm afraid I didn't understand what you meant by the big bang theory being illogical.

As far as I understand cosmology, and I'm not a cosmologist, all of the existing data (the microwave radiation background, the velocity of galaxies away from each other, etc) logically shows that the universe started from a single high density singularity that we commonly refer to as the big bang. One of the interesting things is that the big bang "fits" the scientific method -- the theory predicted the existance of the cosmic microwave background radiation, which was then subsequently discovered (remember, in our discussion of the scientific method, we collected evidence, formed a hypothesis that made predictions, and then tested the hypothesis). This prediction and subsequent observation is what has caused the majority of cosmologists to adopt this model.

The model doesn't say what happened prior to the formation of the point. All it says is that the evidence we observe corresponds with the beginning of the universe at a point-singularity.

I did not understand why this was "illogical" to you. This is why I went into my discussion of our understanding of relaity versus what reality really is. Because you included it in a list of things to discuss with atheists, I took your objection to it to be religious in nature. Hence my discussion on truth in "reality" complementing truth in "scripture".

An aside:

Are you familiar with the idea that the universe is expanding? One great question in cosmology relates to the energy of the expansion and the mass of the universe. Simplifying things greatly, if the mass of the universe is enough, the expansion rate of the universe will slow down and reverse, leading to the opposite of the big bang (it is sometimes referred to as the "big crunch"). When all of the matter in the universe collapses again to a point singularity, boom! Another big bang.

There are other implications if the mass of the universe is less than required for the reversal of the expansion. Cosmologists are working hard on the problem.

My personal theory is that God created the universe by the "big bang" -- he concentrated all matter and energy into a single spark and from that he created the universe and everything in it, plotting the course of every speck of matter and energy for all time before time itself began. Unfortunately, there is no way to test this hypothesis until I come face to face with God on judgement day.

take care,


Joe

dale said...

Joe,

Thanks for the patient reply, and I certainly hope you get to sleep!

(In my defense, the original article gave no indication at all that the big bang objection was at all based on the bible or religion...)

:)

Yes, I am familiar with the idea that the universe is expanding and some have suggested that it will, as you described, reach a point where it stops expanding and will begin shrinking to the same point from which it came. And, of course, following from that, you have those that say this current 'expansion and collapse cycle' is but one of an infinite number. Which prompts the question, of course; what happened at the beginning of the cycles? Or is the universe eternal? That's a large claim!

My point was not about (A) the idea that the matter of the universe appearing to be expanding from a central point/area, but rather was about (B) the idea that all the matter in the universe (and there's a great deal of it, no?) could come from a 'non-dimensional point'.

This seems to suggest that matter can behave in a way which I'm not aware we've demonstrated or observed. I just don't get that! Non-dimensional means non-dimensional, right? This takes faith and/or very strong imagination to believe, does it not?

And I have another bone to pick as well. The flat-earth theory and the geocentric universe theory were based on what we could see at the time! We still are constructing our theories based on what we can see of the universe.

I'm not suggesting that the galaxies outside the reach of our strongest telescopes will be vastly unlike the ones we can see, but we might discover things that don't 'fit' with the 'expanding' view of the universe. If I'm not mistaken (and I could be!), I have heard that some cosmologists have suggested a more random movement of things, instead of the 'expanding' view.

Anyway, I'm not interested in denying whatever is actually happening in the universe (expanding pattern or otherwise), I'm trying to get my head around how matter can --quite literally-- come from nowhere. What is amazing is how countless books get away with calmly stating this 'matter from nowhere' view as if it were fact and not a theory, without batting an eye.

I believe in creation. I have absolutely no idea how God did it. The Genesis account is contrasting YHWH with the gods of the nations around them, so I don't improperly treat it as a cosmological, geologica or otherwise scientific text.

As believers in a Creator God, Joe and Dale are in full agreement. As a skeptical student of cosmology, Dale seems to be the only one that is amazed by the thought of all the matter in the universe, not only coming from a non-dimensional point, but exploding into an ordered cosmos, complete with orbits, atmospheres, and complex life.

Ken and Joe. I hope I've made it clear by now that my objections are not 'religious'. If you think my opinion that the big-bang, singularity-exploding meta-theory is illogical is itself illogical, then please do try to help me understand it. But hopefully we won't have to waste any more time on the idea that I'm turning a blind eye to observation, reality or the real world, all because of the Bible or my religion... :)

Cheers all,

-d-

dale said...

I should also quickly add that I've heard several times now, the idea that time and space (not just matter!) both also collapse into these 'singularities' at each 'total collapse' point in the 'expand-collapse' cycle.

That is a huge statement. Again.

Surely I'm not foolish to scratch my head when such things are suggested?

-d-

Ben said...

Yesplease!
Monkeys!

Damian said...

Dale, are you in Northcote on Auckland's sunny North Shore? If so, I'm right around the corner from you! I live and work in Potter Ave.

If you are in fact in Northcote and want to grab a coffee and chew the fat at some stage I'm always keen. There's a new cafe down at the Northcote shops called Tasser or something that is less abominable than the rest of them. Let me know. My blog is at damian.peterson.net.nz and my email address is very similar (just replace the first dot with an @).