Re: Evidence for "Big Bang Theory"

Kai Henningsen (
21 May 1995 14:09:00 +0100

This is getting large. I'm setting followups. wrote on 18.05.95 in <>:

> In article <>, (Kai
> Henningsen) wrote:

> > The scenario I'm speaking of is someone claiming "here, X was caused by
> > God", or even "whenever you do Z, God does Y", with X and Z observable
> > and examinable phenomena. That's something science can look at, and come
> > to conclusions.
> And I certainly can't argue with that. However, that simply isn't the way
> most people describe God.

Well, it may not be the way they describe God, but it is the way his
interactions with the known universe have been described throughout
history. And science being what it is, such interactions are what it looks
at for any phenomenon.

> > In that case, we'd have some "real" phenomenon that is called "God" by
> > someone. Then we can look for more information on that phenomenon,
> > sifting facts from myth and arriving at an useable definition.
> But you would have only a phenomenon which a select group of people claim
> is one (of likely many) manifestations of God. This line of investigation
> is doomed to at best examine only partial and inconsequential aspects of a
> supreme being.

Why do you think that? It has worked with everything else, so why
shouldn't it work here?

Maybe you're still not quite getting what I'm thinking of. I'm not
thinking of discovering yet another phenomenon that fools people into
thinking of something supernatural. I'm thinking of the situation where
there _is_ a God who _does_ interact with the world in an observable way.
I'm kind of thinking of something like that burning bush giving demos and
interviews. You know, what he would do if he existed and _didn't_ want to
play hide and seek with us. Hard to claim that that's something your
religion is _not_ about :-)

Of course, in this hypothetical example, the existing religions - each and
every one of them - would have a hard time accepting that they were all
wrong in several important points, which would undoubtably the case.

[ Like in that story where two monks agree that, to solve their dispute
what afterlife was like, the one dying first should come back as a ghost
and tell the other one who was right; he does, the living one asks him
"now, how is it?" and he answers "totaliter aliter" (completely
different). ]

It's always been that way, and this question is quite central to them.
However, for a religion claiming "only one god" (which several of the
major ones do), it would be quite hard either to have a scientifically
proven God exist which was not theirs :-)
I don't know. Maybe Galileo all over again, or maybe they would do some
quick rearrangement to be able to claim that they had known it all along.

> > That's how it works - you always have only nebulous or even outright
> > wrong concepts as long as science hasn't had its pass at the stuff.
> > _Afterwards_, you have the precise definitions.
> Well, more accurately science works from precise definitions to develop
> models which are close approximations, but...

Ah yes? Examples?

> > However, as long as that doesn't happen, people like me will be convinced
> > that there is no God, whatever the definition.
> But given that God by any definition is taken on faith, regardless of the
> evidence, you cannot prove the nonexistence of God.

I didn't claim anything different. You also can't prove the nonexistence
of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

I _did_ claim that if this God existed and was as active as these
religious texts claimed, then we should be able to prove his _existence_.

And I claimed that his existence is not necessarily unprovable.

Of course, you can't prove him the religious way - this has been pointed
out lots of times.

> All, right, including the double negative (clearly a German mind at work).
> :-)

> Probably. Double negatives are very confusing in English.

Hmm. Maybe my studying math and programming computers has biased me there

> > _What_ I'm saying is: _If_ God exists, then he is some sort of natural
> > phenomenon, just like me and you. So, to get a grip on the subject, we
> > need to find some effects that are caused by him - which we have not
> > managed until now.
> But yours is a less common view of God. Most accounts of God are
> supernatural. In that case you are left with trying to test the existence

Most accounts of lots of phenomenons were supernatural before science had
a look at it. So what?

I'm looking at this from a science point of view. Here I have a phenomenon
that is (claimed to be) observable (that's how those religious texts are
claimed to be possible). Now, observable phenomenons, natural phenomenons,
same thing.
He does something, we observe an effect, standard cause-and-effect type of
thing - no reason to think it's "supernatural". That word is only an
attempt to tell scientists their place.
Look at al those psi researchers. They all seem to believe that those
"supernatural" phenomenons are, if they exist, simple natural phenomenons.
Why should God be different?

> of an all-powerful, sentient being capable of acting outside the laws of
> nature, indeed able to write the laws of nature to his fancy as He goes
> along. I submit that such a definition of God is quite out of reach of
> the scientific method and will always remain so.

I submit that these are just claims about what God is like. Like most
cases science looks at, I'd expect some of the claims not to hold up. Of
course, no way to know in advance which these will be.

> > If he doesn't exist, then not finding anything is, of course, just what
> > is to be expected.
> Or what would be expected if God exists and is hiding.

True. I believe I said so myself. Of course, lots of religions have failed
to give an explanation of why he should do that - most seem even to claim
he doesn't. Well, if they want _my_ faith, they'll have to be quite a lot
more convincing :-)

> Not likely. Reduced to the confines of a natural phenomenon, God would
> cease to garner the worship He now enjoys. Most accounts of such a

That may well be, especially in view of the fact that I can't see a reason
for said worship even assuming those religions were right. On the other
hand, it might be wrong in view of the fact that most religious people
don't seem to have that problem ...

> supreme being concur that said worship is extremely important although I
> can't personally imagine, with all that power, why a god would be so
> impressed with acts of self-deprecation. So then what is a god without
> worship? And what are the faithful without something TO worship? If
> science were able to reduce an attribute of God to some natural
> phenomenon, I submit that the religious would quickly construct a new
> definition, with separate attributes, which would lie outside the original
> parameters.

Perhaps. On the other hand, they might still worship him even under that
conditions. Unliklier targets of worship have existed - like, for example,
Hitler. No, I don't claim worshipping God is the same as worshipping
Hitler. I only claim that some people did worship Hitler. If people could
worship a homicidal nutcase like that, there's reason to think they could
worship a "demystified" God.

In fact, assume that the main christian claims were provable true - ignore
for the moment how they would be proven (especially since I don't know
how). God exists, he "made the universe" (whatever that means), and there
is an afterlife because of something he does. (Hmm ... so far, that seems
to include quite a lot religions :-))
Do you really think they would stop worshipping him under that conditions?

> What's this? Where are you to look for definitions of God if not within
> the institutions and sacred texts which make up religion? Surely now your

Umm, I believe I said this several times: I'll think of definitions for
God when I have observed some phenomenons, not the other way around.
(Which means that the first definition will probably be something like
"that which causes the following phenomena: ...".)

How do you define fire if all you know is that a lighning starts it, and
it's dangerously hot, it's bright, and when it's gone you have ashes left?

"Exothermic oxidation" is what you will eventually arrive at, not where
you start from.

Of course, all this assumes that whatever definition you finally reach,
has some significant overlap with current definitions of God, or else it'd
be something different altogether. That, of course, is what has happened
in the past - whatever was examined, had an explanation not needing
anything like God.

> But if you are able to find a natural phenomenon behind what was
> attributed to God, does it continue to *be* God? Not by most accounts.

Well, that depends on the phenomenon, doesn't it? If it walks like a duck,
quacks like a duck ... ermh, if said phenomenon should show attributes
commonly associated with gods, then what?

Suppose, for example, you could prove that there is something that does
grant prayers, under specific conditions?

> And will continue to be. You are looking at things from a stricly
> atheistic standpoint. That is to say that you are expecting that all of

Umm ... well, only sort of, since I'm talking about a situation where God
_does_ exist :-)

> the current attributes ascribed to God will be explained as natural
> phenomena. This is fine as a statement of personal convictions but
> utterly breaks down in the face of a body of human thought which maintains
> vehemently that God is something wholly outside the laws of nature.

Just as they have maintained that the earth is flat and the sun revolves
arount the earth, you mean?

Well, let's put it another way. The moment the religions stop claiming
that God causes any observable effects in the world, the question becomes
moot. However, the problem with this approach is that most religions then
become moot, either - if God doesn't effect the world, then, for example,
what do you do about Jesus? What do you do about "divine inspiration"? The
moment God retreats to the realm of philosophy _only_, lots of religions
would go bankrupt. (And I think most people would then stop caring about
God's existence, becoming in effect agnostics.)

> Actually, your example of the sun is a good one. I think it is pretty
> safe to say that the sun is not driven across the sky by Apollo. However,
> that really does nothing to say that Apollo doesn't exist, only that he
> doesn't waste his time thanklessly driving a very hot chariot.

Yes, but assume that, instead, you suddenly observe that there is this
chariot-like object attached to the sun ... I predict that worship of
Apollo would peak :-)

> But observations have been going on for years! You are suggesting the

Observations of what? By whom? In what details?

Going back to the fire example, it does me no good in re development of a
hypothesis to hear about fire from the local priest ("it will kill the
sinners"). The very least I need is to examine some ashes and maybe look
at some lightnings, and I'm not convinced that would lead to any useful
hypotheses ... or maybe it would. You might at least build a hypothesis
about which stuff burns easier and which burns harder.

Or maybe you could find a village where just the sinner's huts were burned
and the others unscathed and conclude that, after all, that priest _was_
right - fire is somehow related to morality :-)

> next step of developing hypotheses and theories which are going to require
> experiments with controls. I maintain that the development of those
> hypotheses to point worth testing is simply impossible without a
> universally accepted definition of God. Until you are able to get the

Well, I maintain that at this point, science _usually_ doesn't have an
universally accepted definition. More likely several people have
conflicting hypotheses. You then look for predictions that show the
difference between two or more such hypotheses, and try to find out who's

And you _don't_ first try to get everybody to agree to some definition.
That happens afterwards.

In other words, I think you're dead wrong here.

> Surely you're not suggesting that experiments will go the way you want
> them to, are you? I merely proposed plausible scenarios of some of the
> responses your impossible experiment is likely to receive regardless of
> the outcome.

Well, if it works like you describe, then it doesn't work like I describe,
and vice versa.

If you don't have hard facts, then you're not in the situation I was
talking about.

> > Not my problem. I've never said science could disprove God. I said that
> > _if_ there was a God, and _if_ he didn't play hide-and-seek with us, then
> > science should be able to _prove_ him. Just like we proved the existence
> > of the atom - when the idea was concieved, we had no better idea how to
> > do this that we have today how to prove God.
> But these are very large and bold "ifs" indeed. They rely on an entirely
> arbitrary set of defining parameters which are likely not to be widely
> accepted. At least the idea of the atom was founded on natural laws,
> unlike the *super*natural.

As far as I know, the idea of the atom was founded on philosophy, _not_ on
natural laws. In the fifth century before christ, there were no
observations at all that supported this idea. (And, by the way, the
atomists thought that _everything_ consisted of atoms, including the
gods.) My encyclopaedia attributes the theory to (German spelling)
Leukipp, Demokrit, and later Epikur and Lukrez.

> > Well, _if_ there was "something there", then I'd expect it wouldn't
> > exactly conform to anybodys expectation. That's what generally happens
> > when myths become science.
> But if there was "something" there which didn't conform to a groups
> expectations, then that "something" would likely not be God for those
> people.

See above - if it walks like ...

> > Well, _you_ certainly have not shown this :-)
> Then I would say we have been equally successful. :-)

Hmm ... so shall we agree to disagree?

> But there is a universally accepted definition of atom which can be tested
> and agreed to by the world at large. Once so defined, such a definition

Now there is.

My encyclopedia tells that Aristoteles opposed the atomists. Nevertheless,
since the twelfth century, there was a doctrine coming from the same
Aristoteles about "minima naturalia" which, until the sixteenth century,
had fused with the atomistic theory.

And none of these theories is the one we have today.

> cannot be changed outside the parameters of experimental evidence. Your
> analogy completely fails on this one point.

I still think you're way off base on this.

> > Bottom line: "The existence of God is NOT a scientific question" is not
> > the same as, but _very_ similar to "there is no God".
> How so? The former statement is an agnostic (some would argue a
> defeatist) position while the latter is an atheistic one. Admitting that

Well, if you assume a God like, for example, portrayed in the old
testament, then I argue that it is very unlikely that a God like that
would not be provable. However, if he were provable, then his existence
would be a scientific question. So, denying that it's a scientific
question is, indeed, quite near to denying that he exists as portrayed.

> God is outside the realm of scientific inquiry is neither a statement in
> support of, nor in opposition to, the concept of God.

_Which_ concept of God? :-)

> > Let's attack this at a slightly lower level. The existence of the
> > mythical tooth fairy is not a scientific question. However, suppose
> > someone could capture a tooth fairy - then it would suddenly _become_ a
> > scientific question. (And we'd probably get a "tooth fairy protection
> > liga" :-))
> Ah, but tooth fairies, like their gnome cousins, are clearly defined and

They are? That's news to me. However, supposing you're right, replace them
with elfs.

> aren't said to be everywhere at all times possessing infinite power and
> acting outside the laws of physics. They merely act outside the laws of
> business. I mean, where do they get the money to pay for the teeth?

By the way, I'm quite certain that not all gods are claimed to be
everywhere at all times or possess infinite powers. As to the laws of
physics, I've not seen them mentioned in religious texts at all :-)

Furthermore, I really doubt all these "omni-" attributes are important to
anybody but (professional or amateur) theologicians. Most people will be
quite content with "very very large".

Like in, you could in theory devise a mathematically optimal strategy for
chess. However, even assuming quite impossible advances in computer
technology, you'd still spend a _lot_ more time researching than the life
of the universe (assuming it's finite). A lot as in several zeroes more,
that is.

Now who, except a theoretician, will be interested in the difference
between "impossible" and "not in the life span of the universe"?

> Then you were never seriously discussing the idea of scientifically
> inquiring about God. If a hypothesis is unable to be disproved, then it
> is untestable and not particularly useful.

Nope. You are confusing two things here - a specific hypothesis about how
God works, that can be testable and disprovable, versus the general un-
disprovability problem.

The whole reason that having a disprovable idea is interesting is because,
occasionally, we _don't_ manage to disprove that disprovable idea. Thus,
the absence of a disproof (is that a word?) is an argument (not a proof)
that the hypothesis is correct.
Just like the absence of proof for God is an argument (not a proof) that
there really is no God. The atheistic position is a hypothesis; it
predicts that you will never find anything that will need God for an
explanation; thus it is testable and disprovable - just find something
that _does_ need God for an explanation, and it's disproven. Hasn't
happened yet.
On the other hand, the hypotheses that include an existing God seem to
have failed to come up with some testable prediction. As long as that's
the case, they aren't disprovable.

So, we could disprove the hypothesis that there is no God, in effect
proving God. We cannot, however, disprove the hypothesis that there _is_
God, so we can't prove there is no God.

It's not symmetric.

> Unless their movement gains sympathy on your side as well. Just today it
> made the news that the leaders of several American churches have
> co-authored a letter condemning research into genetic engineering. I am
> serious when I say that the religious right poses a "clear and present
> danger" to science.

Well, as far as I can tell, resistance to genetic engineering comes from
every part of the political and religious spectrum, at least on this side
of the pond - I suspect that it is the same motivation as with resistance
to nuclear engineering: We don't understand that, and some people tell
horror stories about it, so we're afraid of it.

I don't see it stopping science, only slowing it somewhat down, asking for
lots of assurances that everything is under control.

To really foul things up, you need the researchers (or the engineers)
doing a real show stopper. Hell, even after Tchernobyl, we still have
nuclear power. If it had happened here in Germany (instead of only raining
on us and poisoning all our food - that were interesting times), then
_maybe_ ... but I don't think so. As it was, it got the acceptable
radioactivity limits _raised_.


Bang: major_backbone!!kai
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