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Good question, with no easy answer. One might ask "Do we exist?"
I think Descartes handled this one fairly well with "I think therefore I am."

Beyond that, it's all speculation. But we can use parsimony and other logical tools to help us generate ideas that are more likely to be true (or, to be more precise, less likely to be false).

and, if so, for what purpose? Paix, mon ami.
This question assumes that there is some purpose, and that we simply need to find it. I much prefer to start with the null hypothesis, that there is no purpose to existence, as this leaves us free to create whatever purpose and meaning we want out of our existence.

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I personally believe there is a God!
Well, you're obviously in good company, but, as we shall see below, the reasoning you cite is utterly fallacious.

- Look into the human body, DNA, the unbelievably complex makeup of the human body n how absolutely perfect it is
Unless you have a very different understanding of the meaning of 'perfect', or completely lack any knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, molecular/cell biology and development (or that of any other organism for that matter) this is utterly incorrect.

- The way that only a select few scientists determine the (billions n billions of years) ages of things is unscientific and extremely unacurate
Oh really? Care to explain how you come to this conclusion?

in actuality the earth is very young around 4000 - 7000yrs old, look at the coast lines disappearing they used to say these events took millions of years...
:rolleyes:

I take it you failed geography in high school?

- There is more real evidence/proof that Jesus existed than there is that Cleopatra existed!
Your point being what, exactly? That the existence or non existence of Cleopatra or Jesus proves the existence of an invisible magic sky-daddy who created the universe? That trout live in trees? That if you buy kippers it will not rain?

Your logic is astounding.

This is me... this is what I believe, I will not be shaken!
This is the core of the issue. You have Faith(tm). So you don't need evidence, and in fact no evidence could convince you that your beliefs are incorrect (please correct me if I'm wrong... tell me how I could prove to you that God does not exist).

This fact, that you believe without (or, rather in spite of) evidence, seals the argument. Your belief is irrational. That doesn't make you a bad person, and obviously many other people have similar or other irrational beliefs. But the popularity of this particular delusion does nothing to make it any more rational or any more likely to be true.

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bravo bravo... the non-believers always love to seek a way to destroy another's beliefs.
I'm a scientist. This is what I do. I use reason and evidence to determine what is not true. Your belief that a supernatural entity created the earth a few thousand years ago is easily falsified by empirical evidence. However, the more generic form of religion - that some supernatural entity exists outside of the constraints of our empirically measurable universe - is not scientifically testable, and therefore will never be falsified.

That, however, dose not give it any philosophical merit as a premise. Indeed, postulating supernatural causes is essentially admitting defeat with respect to developing a meaningful understanding of the universe.

Would it have made any difference if I would have called him Allah or Buda or something else....probably would have!
Nope. I have exactly equal skepticism regarding all supernatural claims... if you want to worship the tooth fairy, that's fine with me, but don't try to make the claim that you have scientific evidence for her existence, or that we need to give tax breaks to tooth fairy houses, or that we should teach kids that biological organisms are so complex that the tooth fairy must've guided the evolutionary process to generate the diversity of life we observe today.

go n find out for yourself from many sources... dont just be spoon feed information from school! I just included a few facts... :eek: Ya I called them facts... that go in direct conflict with the theory of evolution... but that's a whole other subject!
This is exactly what I do for a living. I collect facts to test hypotheses. These facts are not in books and they are not (yet) taught in schools. These are raw facts painstakingly extracted from nature. All of these facts (as well as all of the facts collected by all the other scientists who've ever worked on relevant questions through out all of human history) support evolutionary theory. If, someday, someone finds reproducible facts that don't fit this theory, the theory will have to be altered or abandoned. That hasn't happened, and evolutionary theory is now one of the best supported theories in all of science, and it forms the foundation for all modern biology, as well as it's applied branches (like medicine, agriculture, biotechnology, forensic science, etc.).

As Richard Dawkins put it so eloquently, "for someone to doubt the validity of evolutionary theory today, they would have to be either ignorant, stupid or insane."

Incidently, Dawkins was on The Hour recently, and gave a nice interview you can see here.

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Not, strictly speaking, true. The universe as we know it is expanding from a point source (the Big Bang) and there are estimates for how long ago that was -substantially greater than ~6000 years but not infinite.
As I understand it (and, bear in mind that I'm a biologist, not a cosmologist), the dimensions of space and time are expanding, and have an inferable 'origin' (the Big Bang) however the concept that existence (what might reasonably be called 'reality') could be infinite (i.e. given that it includes space and time and other dimensions it is not constrained by them) is not precluded by current data.

Certainly, answering the question of 'where did the earth/universe/existence come from?' with 'God made it' simply begs the question of where god came from, and answering that 'God exists outside of time' is an answer that is just as easily applied to existence.

Metaphysically, this boils down to the question of why is there something rather than nothing? And the best answer we've got is that there is no reason to think that existence is somehow less probable or otherwise more amazing than non-existence.

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I would agree with him on this - although his thrust that evolution disproves the existence of God I find plain silly.
I certainly didn't get the impression that Dawkins thinks evolution disproves the existence of god(s). He simply uses evolutionary theory to explain the evolution of religions. As it happens, this explanation fits the data quite nicely, so it provides a nice, logical, testable model of how religions and other ritualized behavior changes over time, but it says nothing about the existence/non-existence of god.

Another committed evolutionist, and practising Christian answers Dawkins assertions on religion very well - although the thrust of his book is the relationship between faith and science:...
I haven't found time to read Collins' book yet, but I've read synopses (I'm planning on reading it over the summer). However, from what I can glean, the argument devolves into several fallacies (argument from design, argument from credulity, the fallacy of the heap and several others). Fundamentally, Collins *wants* to believe, and there is certainly no proof that god does not exist, so he finds a way to fit his god into the gaps in our understanding of the universe.

Interestingly, Dawkins does not rule out the possibility of a supernatural 'designer'
He can't. Dawkins is a scientist, and no scientific evidence can ever rule out the possibility of supernatural interference. That's why hypotheses that invoke supernatural forces are not considered by science.

Philosophically, we can consider the idea of god(s), but it is quite obvious to me that it profits us not at all to do so. Invoking such concepts results in no better understanding of anything, and almost inevitably distracts us from the important and interesting questions.

Sadly, an unimaginable wealth of human (and other) resources have been wasted throughout history on these superstitious fantasies. One of the primary reasons I hope to see organized religions (and superstitious behavior in general) continue to fade is so that these resources can be better allocated in society.

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bryanc: you won't get anywhere with that line of reasoning. You'll get told that the speed of light was--at one point--different from what it is today, or that dinosaur bones were created with all of the attributes of an object millions of years old to test you.
Alas, you're probably right. However, even if the proponents of such ludicrous arguments are not swayed by reason and evidence, one can hope that those that read the exchange may be more intellectually honest.

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The major conflict I see arising between science and religion is fundamentally psychological. In order to be a good scientist, you have to teach yourself to question your assumptions, doubt your theories, and design experiments to falsify your beliefs.

For an idea to have any value to a scientist, it must be falsifiable, and it must have withstood testing. In essence, science is practical skepticism.

Faith is the exact opposite of science. As I understand the psychology of faith (and I will be the first to admit that I don't really understand it), religious adherents see the ability to hold these beliefs without any evidence (or even in the face of contradictory evidence) as a good thing.

So to be religious in modern society you have to cultivate the exact sorts of thought patterns that prevent you from doing good science, and believe exactly the sorts of things that scientists are trained to doubt.

Obviously, it is true that there are some people who are both good scientists and religious, and I simply can't understand how they do this sort of mental gymnastics. However, it is also true that, unlike the rest of society, the scientific community is dominantly non-religious. Furthermore, it has certainly been my experience that scientific training causes many people to re-examine the faiths that they learned as children, and this often causes a crisis leading to either the loss of faith or leaving science. So science and religion are certainly incompatible in many people's minds.

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What I find difficult to tolerate is the "holier than thou" attitude of those who stand steadfastly by science alone.
Were you being intentionally ironic here? If so, this is a pretty good line :)

Science is fallible and not absolute.
Yep, this is one of the fundamental ways in which science is different (and better, IMHO) than religion. Science gets things wrong, recognizes the errors, corrects them and moves forward. Religion is stuck with what ever was revealed to the mystics in their magical cave forever.

Of course, religion does have science beat in several ways: it's much easier to understand (as long as you don't think about it too much), it's got a much better soundtrack (organs are awesome, and the acoustics in churches are generally fantastic), and religions are much better at getting money than science.

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Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions.
Christian Scientists and medicine.
Dietary restrictions built into most religions.

Creationism is the big one. Age of the Earth and the Universe is another.
There was also that little thing with Galileo and the Earth not being the center of the universe a while ago.

I think over the next few decades we'll start seeing more conflict between religion and science. As biotechnology continues to develop and genetic modifications become more viable as therapies for humans (especially in utero) we will likely see religious arguments being made against the use of such technologies. And then, of course, there is the neurobiology research into the mechanisms of these irrational beliefs... what if we could 'cure' religion like we cure other infections... should we? What if the infected individuals don't want to be cured? Very interesting times.

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Please provide a link to an empirical, peer reviewed, scientific study proving that religion is an infection.
Given that I cannot provide a link to a scientific, peer reviewed study proving that the cold is due to an infection, or that AIDS is due to an infection, or any other illness is due to an infection, this is an unreasonable request. Empirical science doesn't prove things, it *DISPROVES*. Hypothesis that remain unfalsified after extensive testing are considered well-supported and we operate on the basis of their validity until evidence that calls them into question is discovered. So our model that viral infections cause diseases like colds or AIDS is just that... a model... a well-tested, well-supported hypothesis, like evolution or quantum mechanics. But we could be wrong (maybe diseases are caused by evil spirits, and the body becomes infected with these viruses *because* it's sick).

I don't want a link to a description of what a meme is, nor do I want you to explain what the concept is. I know both of these things already.
Good. Because that's part of what I'm referring to. There are plenty of credible scientists working on testing the hypothesis that religions spread like viruses, and there is good evidence (in published, peer-reviewed research papers) that this is the case. Similarly, there is good evidence (in published, peer-reviewed studies) that there are specific neurological events that correlate (which, it should be noted, does not necessarily imply causation) with religious experiences. The linkage (if any) between these self-replicating information systems (memes) and the neruophysiology is a very exciting field of inquiry.

I want a link that shows a legitimate and recognized study proving empirically that religion is an infection that alters the mind.
Obviously I can't give you one for the reasons I've cited above. However, I think you will be willing to agree that religion alters the mind, and further that religion is learned (i.e. transmitted from one individual to another by the communication of specific information), so your objection must arise strictly from my use of the word 'infection'.

I don't expect you to agree with my use of such a pejoratively loaded term, but I do hope you agree that I have a right to hold such an opinion, and further, I hope you understand that my derogatory view of religion does not in any way extend to you or other religious people... my distaste is strictly for the religion, and not for the religious).

But my point is simply that progress in psychology, neurophysiology, and memetics has given rise to the feild of neurotheology, and I am hopeful that a better understanding of the phenomena underlying religious adherence will help society rid itself of what I view as an exceedingly costly encumbrance.

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"I have nothing against you, I just think that your brain is infected and needs curing, resulting in you having a view on this matter that is more like mine."
This is an unfair characterization, and I'm surprised you would take such a simplistic view. Firstly, I never said anyone *needed* curing... In fact I specifically brought this up in the context of asking if it would be ethical to treat someone for irrational superstitions if they didn't want to be treated (assuming we develop an understanding of the mechanisms by which such beliefs become entrenched). Personally, I think it wouldn't be ethical, even if we could do it, but you can bet there will be arguments made on both sides should such advances be made. I think it's better to think about these things before the science drops such opportunities in our unsuspecting laps.

If this was just about the workings of the brain and how unchallenged assumptions get lodged in there, why they remain unchallenged or how people stack the deck against their assumptions being challenged in their own thinking, then the fixation on religion looks a lot more like personal issues...some sort of infection maybe, that prevents people from using just logic and analysis without the pre-spin cycle.
This is a bit hard to follow but I'm inferring that you'd see such research as okay if it were done simply to understand how irrational beliefs become established. This is sufficiently outside of my field that I can't claim to know, but my discussions with people in this field led me to understand that that is certainly one of their major questions. Religion is already one of the best-studied complex behaviors that fit the criteria for this sort of investigation, so it's among the most commonly used examples. There are obviously others.

Of course, without the pre-spin, one may find that the mechanism that results in adherence to beliefs is a net benefit and that without it we could not function as well. There could be a continuum and some people are just really fanatical about their own personal sky-daddies (even to the extent that they think other people are infected and need curing) and, at the other extreme, so unsure that they reside only on the internet and in their mother's basement. All interesting stuff with no reason to pre-spin.
I'm not sure if you have a point here. Parsing this after filtering the implied ad-hominum attacks and other innuendo doesn't leave me with much signal.

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Please provide a link showing that the hypothesis that religion is an infection remains unfalsified after extensive empirical peer reviewed testing.
I can find you papers discussing various religions as memetic viruses, but I thought you didn't want that.

And it's also worth noting (here is where I think you should be focusing your attack) that this is a relatively new theory, and it has not yet been extensively tested.

Indeed, the major focus of the emerging field of neurotheolgy is establishing testable hypotheses and meaningfull measurements. We're a long way from having a rigorously tested theory here, but it looks like exciting times in an unexplored territory.
 

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However I don't think it's so crazy to believe in a higher power.
How do you define 'crazy'?

Since there is an apparent limit to how close science can get to observing the beginning of time and the cause and effect relationships at play, I don't think it's unreasonable to conclude that it's currently unknowable whether an intelligence of some kind was at work.
So if something is unknowable, isn't it a bit 'crazy' (I would say irrational) to have strong beliefs about that topic? I have no idea what George Bush ate for breakfast today, so I don't have any beliefs about that subject. I don't know what caused the universe to exist (or if, in fact, it needs any cause) so I don't formulate beliefs about that subject either. Furthermore, I am without knowledge regarding the existence of any supernatural entities to which many people attribute the existence of the universe, so I do not form beliefs about these 'gods' either. Being without beliefs in gods, by definition, makes me an atheist.

It seems to me that, by default, all rational agents must be atheists unless presented with evidence that god(s) exist. Some people claim to have such evidence, and they may therefore be rational theists. However, all such evidence I have seen presented dissolves under rational scrutiny or is otherwise inadequate, in my opinion, so I remain an agnostic atheist.

but I firmly believe we should continue asking those questions.
I agree. But I also think it's worth making a point of the fact that it's much better to admit we don't know than it is to fabricate a myth and call it an answer.

As I read recently, Religion offers certainty without evidence, whereas science offers evidence without certainty.

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As long as we don't wind up with a theocracy, I see no problem with individuals believing whatever they please.
I should make it clear that I too have no problem with individuals believing whatever nonsense (or sense) they feel comfortable with. My objection is largely with the institutions and vast societal resources that are wasted on supporting and propagating these various mythologies. (Not to mention the few egregious examples of religious institutions interfering with science education and meddling with the political system).

In fact, despite the fact that I see the belief system as no more valuable or likely to be true, I'd like to see more social resources allocated to preserving (if not propagating) some dying myths (like the First Nations myths) simply out of my (perhaps irrational) belief that information should be preserved, and cultural history and anthropology are valuable studies.

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