Saturday, May 21, 2011

Apocalypse Now or Royalties For The Royal Tease

Much of the coverage of the church that expects the world to end today has been fairly jocular.  If the media wish to treat such expectations as silly, that's their business. Still, what these people believe is no sillier than lots of religious beliefs all around the world, beliefs that are generally treated seriously.  The mistake this church made was to believe something easily falsifiable.

The radio and TV coverage sure allowed a lot of people to pull out this R.E.M. gem:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the great problems of society is, as Richard Dawkins argues, we accord far too much respect to craziness that callis itself "religion". Mr. Camping deserves as much respect as crystal-healers, astrologers and popes.

Mock away. Its the most effective enemy against ignorance

6:14 AM, May 21, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We made it. Phew!

1:37 AM, May 22, 2011  
Blogger QueensGuy said...

Maybe my least favorite bumper sticker ever is the one that says something like "Warning: in case of Rapture this car will be suddenly driverless!" Just the worst possible combo of ignorant and pompous that I could imagine.

2:34 AM, May 22, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

QG: I totally agree. The idea of the Rapture was invented in the 1830s in Scotland, back when people rode horses. But now that we have 747s and freeways, having a random assortment of people magically vanish would lead to massive death, pain, and destruction.

And by these Evangelical Dispensationalists' own logic, these people will be the worst off. Everyone who is already a Christian gets taken away at the Rapture. Then there are seven years of tribulation, during which many of those "left behind" will realize that their Christian friends were right, and will become Christians. (By the way, if it really happened like it does in the "Left Behind" books, I think that virtually everybody would realize that they had been right.)

But what about the ones killed in the Rapture car-crashes? They won't have time to consider the evidence!

And in many parts of Europe, only the rural people are still religious. If they all vanish, the result would be mass starvation.

1:17 PM, May 22, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

LAGuy and Anonymous # 1: I see your point, but I think it is very difficult to objectively measure the silliness of a doctrine. The best way to do it would be to find a group of people who had never heard of doctrines X, Y, and Z, and then have this group learn about these doctrines (from their adherents) over the course of several months, until the initial shock of unfamiliarity had worn off, and then have them give each of them a "silliness" rating.

I certainly know that I am unable to objectively measure silliness. I was raised Catholic, and after a couple decades of agnosticism, neopaganism, and confusion, I ended up returning to Catholic Christianity. When I try to be as objective as possible in measuring silliness, I would rank Xenu blowing up a billion aliens with atom bombs on the Hawaiian volcanoes 75 million years ago as the silliest. A humanoid god who now lives on the planet Kolob and governs our planet Earth, seems quite silly to me as well. The idea that the universe just happens to exist, and just happened to have physical laws that allowed a self-aware species to evolve to the point that this very species is now able to understand the entire history of the universe and even predict its infinitely long future (admittedly, a future that is pretty boring from 10^150 C.E. until Infinity C.E.) seems fairly silly as well; an accidental blob of matter evolving into something that actually understands its own self is absurd to me. Whereas a God who creates a universe with natural laws that allow the evolution of a self-aware species doesn't seem silly to me.

But as I said, I am unable to be objective about such evaluations!

1:37 PM, May 22, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Without going into the most general philosophical arguments about how the universe, life and everything got here, I would think that people who make claims about magical events happening (such as a supernatural intervention that ends the world as we know it) have at the very least the burden of proof. I suppose some magical claims are a bit more outrageous than others, but really, even the simplest ones aren't that far off from more ornate theories. I mean, magic is magic, after all.

By the way, if you have the slightest problem with how human evolved from the simplest life form through natural means, please let me know which specific step along the way you find unbelievable.

2:48 PM, May 22, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

No, I don't have a problem with that. The things that seem unexplained (and unexplainable) to me are:

(1a) Why does matter (or more technically, "mass-energy") exist at all?

(1b) Why are there laws that govern how this mass-energy behaves?

(2) How did the original life appear? Note: I would not, by myself, be certain that this can't be explained scientifically -- but my friends with advanced degrees in science (all of whom scorn "intelligent design" and "irreducible complexity" and the like) tell me that the initial formation of life still defies explanation.

(3) Why does consciousness / self-awareness / personhood exist? As someone who has worked with computers for decades and who knows how they work on the small and large scale, I am totally convinced that the most complicated and advanced computer that we could ever build in the future, even if it could easily pass the Turing test, would not have self-awareness. (I know that I myself am, on a fundamental level, a monad. And my knowledge of this in no way depends on whether I myself could pass the Turing test.)

(4) Finally, even if each of these were given, there is one more thing that doesn't exactly seem impossible, but seems incredibly improbable. Even if we suppose that a universe existed, and was governed by physical laws, and within that universe a self-conscious intelligent creature arose naturally, it seems amazing that this creature could, using a brain that evolved to obtain food and shelter and sex, actually figure out the laws that govern its own universe with such precision that it could figure out the physical lay-out and structure of the universe throughout space, and the past of the universe back to its beginning, and the future of the universe to its end. Yet that amazing thing is exactly what a materialist must believe in.

But when it's all said and done, it comes down to Bayes' theorem. If you assume that the a priori probability of a God is sufficiently low, then even if you agree that # 1, 2, 3, 4 are astronomically unlikely, that won't suffice to raise the a posteriori probability of God to a significant value.

I'm not really trying to argue for God's existence here (if I were, I would use a different argument). I'm addressing the issue of "silliness", and it seems to me that the materialist universe -- which believes in 1,2,3,4 -- is pretty darn silly.

8:10 PM, May 22, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I should rephrase my final sentence.

There are materialists who might say, "I believe in an atheistic materialistic universe, and yet I find things like #1,2,3,4 astounding, verging on the unbelievable, except that all the other options seem even less conceivable to me." I do not find such a person's views silly.

But there are other materialists -- Dawkins seems to be one of them -- who are basically saying, "Theists believe in amazing, bizarre, and ridiculous things. We atheist materialists just believe in modern science, which makes sense, and doesn't require belief in absurdities." I find that kind of view silly. If I were to wake up tomorrow as a materialist atheist, I would spend the rest of my life in absolute wonder and marvel at the universe and its amazing unexpectedness.

8:18 PM, May 22, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I may try to give you my answers, such as they are, to these questions, but it'll be later in the week, after I'm done with the Lost stuff.

10:58 PM, May 22, 2011  

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