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January 11, 2006




when you find me a man who used to be a mystic who became an atheist, then we have something to talk about. quoting rabid atheists as proof is like quoting crazy fundamentalists as truth.

Here's one from Stephen Kosslyn, Psychologis and Author of "Wet Mind" (check out his essay on his "Dangerous Idea" from the World Question Center, --http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html#kosslyn) -an excerpt:

"2.1. Emergent properties. There are many examples in science where aggregates produce an entity that has properties that cannot be predicted entirely from the elements themselves. For example, neurons in large numbers produce minds; moreover, minds in large numbers produce economic, political, and social systems.


3.0. Can we conceive of God as an emergent property of all living things that can in turn affect its constituents? Here are some ways in which this idea is consistent with the nature of God, as outlined at the outset.

3.1. This emergent entity is "transcendent" in the sense that it exists in no specific place or time. Like a culture or an economy, God is nowhere, although the constituent elements occupy specific places. As for transcending time, consider this analogy: Imagine that 1/100th of the neurons in your brain were replaced every hour, and each old neuron programmed a new one so that the old one's functionality was preserved. After 100 hours your brain would be an entirely new organ — but your mind would continue to exist as it had been before. Similarly, as each citizen dies and is replaced by a child, the culture continues to exist (and can grow and develop, with a "life of its own"). So too with God. For example, in the story of Jacob's ladder, Jacob realizes "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it." (Genesis 28: 16) I interpret this story as illustrating that God is everywhere but nowhere. The Ultimate Superset permeates our world but also stands outside of (or, more specifically, "above") it."

What is strange is, like fundamentalism, rabid atheists are too ready to proclaim that they know it all -when physics isn't even sure how many dimension actually exist.


"Know everything"? I think this is a mistake made more by religionists than atheists. The atheists I know are the first to admit they don't know everything - however, I find it strange that many religionists speak openly on subjects where they're totally out of their depth (intelligent design, anyone?).

Kosslyn's analysis falls far short of any satisfactory understanding of God - how does his scientifically-postulated God become one who forgives sins or imposes a moral code?


Hello Urbano, thought you might not be able to resist. First of all, best wishes for the new year to you and the excellent 100 years hence. However, I don't think Dawkins, Micketymoc or I said anything about "proof". Although the evidence against the existence of God seems to me overwhelmingly strong, I think we can only "believe" one way or the other.

I did't really understand what Stephen Kosslyn was on about to be honest. Yes, it is true that the "whole" (be that the whole brain or the whole culture or whatever) is constantly in flux because of changes to its constituent parts. I agree that that makes it hard to say that something "is", because, even as you are saying that, it is becoming something else. Still, this is an epistemological problem, I don't see that it says much about the existence or otherwise of God.

Finally, you are going to say this a cheap shot, but the horrible events in Mecca this week, when 365 people died in a stampede while trying to throw stones at a wall because it represents the devil are going to do nothing to persuade humanists like me that religion has much to offer the 21st century.

Micketymoc (I'd better not call you a kindred soul had I?), but thanks for putting the case much more clearly than I could. I agree, of course.



Kosslyn's argument is one of possibility. How do you, as an emergent property of neutrons, dna, cells and tissue come up with such interesting retorts? Or write blogs? Or have emotions?

If atheists are ready to admit that they don't know everything then would they admit that there is a possibility of a transcendent or emergent god? Is it too impossible to postulate in the era of (currently) unprovable concepts such as superstrings, membranes, and the multiverse?

I find it a waste of time myself and totally irrelevant to the belief in God, but as to "religionists" sticking their nose into everything, isn't that part of the nature of the discourse? (which is not to say ID is anything but idiocy)


read the whole essay.

as to the events in mecca, cheap shot indeed. card stacking. i could cite some horrible event to discount football, WHO concerts and going to school.

I'm not saying the fundamentalists are right. I'm saying you can't discount the possibility of god. and if you can't discount the possibility of god, then you cannot decide what that god is or is not.


Sure, there’s a possibility. But what if we limit serious consideration of ideas to possibilities supported by proof? Can religion offer better proof of God than “arguments of possibility”? Proof becomes harder to come by, the more attributes we peg onto God. Forgiveness of sins? Impending apocalypse? Spawning a human son? Not even Kosslyn can come up with “arguments of possibility” that can encompass these attributes!

As “unsupported arguments” go, superstrings and additional dimensions at least have the benefit of fitting into existing scientific frameworks – and despite their wide press, they’re still only tentative - as good as the arguments that support it. God as a scientific hypothesis must also be as tentative – yes, we must be able to discount the possibility of God, should the evidence fail to support it! Let me ask you, Urbano: could you do that? Assuming I do have the ability to consider the possibility of God, would you be willing to consider the non-existence of such a being?


of course I would consider the non-existence of such a being. it wouldn't be called faith if it wasn't. and yes, if you struggle with faith you struggle with the questions of "is-there-someone-there." anyone who tells you otherwise is into dogma, not faith.

"But what if we limit serious consideration of ideas to possibilities supported by proof?" -but that's whole point of transcendence - being beyond the natural. and if it is beyond the natural, how can we offer natural proof?

those who spend time trying to prove that god exists are just as foolish as those who spend their time trying to prove that god doesn't.

(as Niels Bohr was wont to say, "No, no, you're not thinking. You're just being logical.")

Kosslyn postulates the possibility of god -and if there is a possibility, then does it merit exploration? which is what the struggle of spirituality is - exploring the transcendence -exploring the nature of the divine.

I agree, proof does become harder the more attributes you peg onto you conception of the divine. but then that is why all faiths have talked of personal revelation and personal insight. faith again is the pursuit of the revelation.

In the same way, I can postulate your existence as a human being, by reading your blog, reading what you have posted here -and by reading about your anxieties, I can begin to imagine what kind of person you are. but i must take it on faith that you are a person and not some very well written software running a chatbot somewhere.

are you reacting against the possibility of god? or are you reacting against the caricatures of god that you have encountered? (btw, what about forgiveness offends you?)

I could say "i do not like micketymoc" or i could say "i think micketymoc is just a chatbot" -but my conception of who micketymoc is unbelievably superficial at this stage. If I really wanted know who micketymoc is -or what he thinks about, then I must be willing to engage him in conversation -even if my whole intent is to prove that he is nothing but a clever Turing machine. I must be willing to engage the possibility and may yet be surprised that micketymoc is an emergent property - a sum greater than his neurons - a person.

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