Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rising to the challenge, part I: My goose cooked?

Well, as I may have hinted in my last post, I have a number of subjects on deck, so to speak, and just haven't gotten around to polishing them up and posting them due to them being not up to my usual quality (insert self-deprecating blog humor here). In particular, let me foreshadow that I had a few things to say about the evolution vs. creation debate that I think will be thought-provoking, but maybe I'll break it down into several posts like I did with the separation of church and state posts (1 2 3 4).

At the moment, I am going to go back and revisit one of my previous posts that's one of my favorites, and has now become a much more popular one thanks to my sneaking a link into a much more popular blog. I think the post itself doesn't need much in the way of restatement, but various responses I have finally received lead to further discussion.

Francois Tremblay says something that I think cuts to the heart of the matter, partially because I asked for an opinion on whether the suggestion of God proving Himself or my responding challenge really has meaning. He says "it is quite impossible for us to know that any given event is non-natural" which I hope believers in the supernatural will see to be quite true! Hypothetically, if there was an event that was non-natural, how would we be able to tell? (I may take this in more detail as a future post soon.) He also points out that believing that God could exist implies living in a completely different mind frame than believing that God could not exist. What little significance the "atheist challenge" has, if any, depends largely on what sort of atheist a person is. A person who knows God does not exist will see it differently from a person who is of the opinion that God does not exist, who will in turn see it different from someone who simply doesn't know whether God exists or not.

On a side note to this last point, I've heard atheists make the clever comment that most people are atheists of some sort or another. I may believe in Jesus, but I am an atheist in respect to Zeus, get it? So one interesting restatement of the original question that will allow Christians and other theists to play along in this sort of philosophical train of thought is:

3: Give a hypothetical undeniable proof of the existence of the God of the Quran. (If you're a Muslim, you could still use the wording of challenge #2.) Essentially, suggest a way that "Allah" could send an unambiguous message to the world so that everyone could understand fully that our purpose in life should be to follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. You may have a good answer, or you may see from this perspective why the original question is not so meaningful.

Bookjunky makes some suggestions that I think are very good, but I will save for my next post. Partly because I he reposted much of his comment in my blog, and I'll respond to those posted here separately, and partially because his response is in an odd fashion related to Zachary Moore's response, in which he points out that while surely there may be miraculous signs that would make you give consideration to God, you might still not "worship a being so immoral". This is oddly enough a more difficult hurdle for people who do not believe than lack of physical evidence. People don't believe because they don't want to, and they feel perfectly justified in denying a perceived cruel deity.

Zendo Deb refers to the ending of Carl Sagan's book "Contact", which he says was "expunged" of all religious references when made into a movie. Oddly enough, I found "" to be an incredibly spiritual movie myself, so I'm more eager than ever to read the book, which is high on my list of books to read sometime soon. His suggestion?

Obviously non-random information would have to be hidden in various computations. The digits of pi, when expanded to some large number of digits would be seen to contain certain messages, and so on for other non-rational real number representations.
I find this a fascinating suggestion, and one that I could devote a whole series of posts to. I may do at least one. My thought on this? In the movie "Contact", Jodie Foster's character hears some radio pulses coming from outer space and says, "Those are primes! 2,3,5,7, those are all prime numbers and there's no way that's a natural phenomenon!" If the pulses did come from a natural phenomenon, say a radio source that had a fifty/fifty chance of either pulsing or pausing, the chance of that particular sequence coming up is one in 1,048,576. That alone was enough to convince her that this was not natural, but on top of that, there was encoded within the signal the blueprints for a massive and complicated machine.

For me, the idea that we could discover a complicated code that gave instructions for the building of an elaborate machine that was not created by human intelligence would be evidence enough for me to assume a higher intelligence was out there and was interested in talking to us. Of course, as far as I'm concerned, that's a good description of DNA. Living things, down to the very cellular level are perplexingly intricate machines that are far beyond the ability of any human engineer to design. This message is obviously not unambiguous enough for everyone to believe there's something more than mere random effects of evolution walking about on our planet, but for me it tends to be enough to wonder. Is it enough for Zendo Deb or any other skeptic to at least consider agnosticism?

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