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Two interesting pieces in Sunday NY Times

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Posted

Read them both, more of the same old "Theists prove God!" "Oh no they haven't!" "Atheists prove no God" "Oh no they haven't" crap that cements my agnosticism

Still, in fairness, the articles are reactionary, and do a good job laying down the facts.

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Posted

I think the articles, especially the first one, demonstrate the limits and conceits of scientism. To say that quantum field theory explains why there is something rather than nothing (with nothing being one possible outcome of QM fields) is not to explain anything at all, for it dodges the question, why are there quantum fields? The author of the book under review seems not to have noticed that the "nothing" of QM is not the same thing as metaphysical nothingness.

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Posted

Just a quick contribution that might not even go anywhere, but I have to disagree with Dawkins as regards "the last trump card of religion." I think the religion debate goes beyond true or false, as there are also the effects it can have on society, politics, and even psychology. Whether they are true or false (and I believe them to be false), those effects are still there. If it is proved once and for all that all religions are false, and they are abandoned over night, or if they had never existed, how would societies look? Does mankind (or at least some of it) need a religion to cope with the psychological pressures of life on Earth, so that if we abolished them all, we'd end up creating another one anyway just to cope?

I'm an atheist, but I don't give a damn if somebody wants to pray before bedtime, and if the promise of eternal reward motivates a man to aid the needy and the vulnerable, I'm cool with him believing what I consider to be a lie; however, when people use God as an excuse to harm others, to steal land and oppress the neighbours, to treat certain groups as subhuman who are not allowed the same civil, social rights as everybody else, those are aspects of religion the world could do without.

As the reviewer says (more-or-less) in the final paragraph, reducing the whole religion debate into the simple, "I'm right, you're wrong; I'm smart, you're dumb," stuff is silly, boring, and pointless. The complexities of this centuries-old debate stretch much further than veracity alone. If a day comes when everybody is convinced there is no God, I wonder if people will then start asking why we believed in the first place, why we held the beliefs for so long, and why it was so hard to let them go. Perhaps that quest for knowledge will help us understand ourselves better, perhaps not, but hopefully it should be fun.

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Posted

Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago?

Surprisingly, Krauss nails it. He is answering precisely the question that is being asked. If that answer is not found to be adequate by those who asked in the first place, then either they do not understand their own question, or the question is physically incoherent.

The Parmenidean models of the world suggest that there should 'be' either being or an unthinkable void, the something or nothing of the question. The quantum fields are neither of these. They are *models* of probabilistic potentialities. The 'existence' of the hypothetical elements of the model (as against the mathematical relationships, which is all that physics can provide) arises from Platonic mysticism.

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