I’m Special

Now that more folk seem to have come out of the woodwork, I thought I’d put this essay up.

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I used to hold the idea…the belief if you will…that I was following the “right” religion. I was Episcopalian, a devout Christian, and I believed Jesus was my savior. And of course, pretty much everyone around me at the time confirmed that yes, this was not only an accurate, acceptable way of thinking, but more importantly it was TRUE and the only CORRECT way of thinking! To contrast it, I (well…really…“we”, that is, the congregation in the church I went to) were reminded from time to time that “others” who did not accept such were not only wrong, but (and admittedly this was someone softened in many cases, which I now find rather odd) DAMNED! So, in other words, for years I bought into the idea that “I’m Special” because, of course, I was one of God’s chosen, loved, and forgiven people and…well…there were other folk who…well…weren’t.

There are a number of the things I find particularly head-slapping about this thinking when I look back on it now: the arrogance of it, for one, and the conceit, for two, but mostly the ridiculous anthropocentrism.

Here is an analogy to illustrate my thinking:

Let’s pretend for a moment that the entire Earth is the universe. Everything about the current Earth is there: rivers, lakes, massive oceans, abundant and diverse flora and fauna, powerful weather systems and geological forces like earthquakes, volcanoes, and subduction molding and changing areas of the planet, and so forth. And of course, us humans, with all our creations like cars and planes and houses and skyscrapers and farms and malls and tanks and missiles and satellites and movies and, and, and…and so on.

One day the Creator of the Earth-Universe comes down to admire His Grand Work. He looks around, placing his hands upon his hips and taking in a deep breath, he nods in appreciation. And then, for all the world to see, He floats over to a tiny, tiny, tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and drops a small air gun BB in the sand on the beach. He looks down upon that BB, tears lightly streaking His cheeks, and declares, “this…this is the most beautiful, most important thing to Me in all of My vast creation! All else I can ignore, for this is where I shall focus my attention!” And then, He takes out a tiny, tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small pin and etches a tiny, 0.0001 percent area of BB and declares, “And this portion shall be the special focus of My most important creation and shall be in my likeness!” And taking the pin again, He pokes a dot in a part of the tiny etched area and says, “And this portion of special focus shall be the Chosen of My Creation! This I shall nurture and give great abundance and in return for its faithfulness, I will grant it everlasting life!” Really?? C’mon!

We now have some pretty good indications of how massive the universe is. It is unimaginably enormous. With all our probing and peering and unmanned exploring, we’ve barely appreciated even a millionth of a percentage of the entire enchilada. Given the amazing and wondrous vastness of creation, I cannot reasonably accept that the Creator has a preference for any particular part of it, let alone a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny BB on the far-flung arm of one out of several billion galaxies. I find it even more absurd to think that this Creator then not only has a special place in His heart for one particular form of life out of literally billions of life forms on this BB (and quite likely, billions upon trillions of life forms throughout the entire universe), but then would chose some ridiculously small percentage of THAT life form and go, “yeah…them’s my besties!” I just cannot buy into such an absurdly disproportionate perspective.

And don’t get me wrong, I totally get the theology. I even, to some extent, get the history of our developing (and developed) ego-centrism and anthropocentrism. Back when our understanding of the “universe” was roughly 200 – 500 square miles, of course our ancestors thought everything was about them. And yeah…every event, every phenomenon, every disaster and death…felt personal. And our ancestors thought that maybe…just maybe…they could come up with a way to sway the spirits and gods who reigned over their 200 – 500 square miles and believed that they could woo and impress and worship these beings into not only ceasing their malevolence against our ancestors, but maybe turning them from malevolence to benevolence and protecting and loving our ancestors who practiced the correct rituals and held to their sacred traditions. I can certainly understand the thinking there. But that’s not the case any longer. We now have knowledge not only beyond the 500 square miles that we hunt and till, we have knowledge of 500 square miles of worlds trillions upon trillions of miles beyond our world. And sure, most faithful folk no longer think that sacrificing the first born lamb of the season will appease the omni-gods some now believe in, but many still do subscribe to the idea that such gods are not only appeasable, but would happily drink a few beers and hang with folk for a backyard bar-b-que. As chummy and comforting an idea as that is, I just can’t buy into such a God.

And mostly, I think, I’m disappointed and a little angry with myself for even buying into this type of thinking in the first place. Not just because I find it arrogant and self-centered now, but because even the Bible notes that this is a rather absurd way to view the universe, the world, and people in general. “Love thy neighbor as thy self” is pretty specific in its point that we should view all people equally. No one is special if everyone is equal, right? And I freely now admit that I don’t feel special compared to other people around the world. I don’t feel or think I’m special compared to believe the variety of things that are believed around the world. I certainly don’t think a God that created an entire universe thinks I’m special.

Maybe that’s what makes me special…

38 thoughts on “I’m Special

  1. And mostly, I think, I’m disappointed and a little angry with myself for even buying into this type of thinking in the first place.

    .

    Tribal thinking is very human and extremely hard to resist. It’s a good thing to keep reminding ourselves to be aware of this.

    I am enjoying the series so far, Robin. Thanks for putting it up.

  2. Sometimes I’ve regarded religion as a crutch to help us through life. Sometimes I’ve thought of it as a serious glitch in our collective sanity. Sometimes it seems a really kewl one-size-fits-all explanation of all we don’t understand, so that we don’t ever have to admit ignorance. Sometimes it’s maybe a set of rules or values to help us get along as a gregarious species. Or a muse behind great works of art or music. I don’t regard any of these views as head-slapping stupid.

    Of course, the details of any particular faith qualify as mind-numbingly stupid to everyone except members of that faith, and every single one of the countless gods we’ve invented for self-serving purposes is equally preposterous, but maybe those are the details where the devil lives.

    And maybe, as our knowledge of our universe continues to grow in both breadth and depth, and we realize how accidental, temporary, insignificant and meaningless we are, we find ourselves in even more urgent need of religion’s ability to enable us to lie to ourselves about our importance.

  3. Flint: And maybe, as our knowledge of our universe continues to grow in both breadth and depth, and we realize how accidental, temporary, insignificant and meaningless we are, we find ourselves in even more urgent need of religion’s ability to enable us to lie to ourselves about our importance.

    Well, maybe that is an evolutionary advantage, to tell ourselves reassuring stories, any stories, which satisfy that emotional need. And I feel that emotional tug, for example, when visiting some medieval cathedral. The subdued lighting through the stained glass, the smell of the incense and candles, the solidity, the tawdriness. I’m a lifelong apatheist but those emotional strings still get tweaked.

  4. What am I doing going into churches anyway, spoiling it for the enlightened, you ask? (Well, one of you might have wondered idly.) Catholic property was sequestrated by the French state after the revolution, and, though the Catholic Church has regained use of the buildings, the state retains legal ownership. So these days secular events such as performances by choirs and musicians are often held in churches.

    Now had four jabs (2 AstraZeneca, 1 Moderna, 1 Pfizer) so I’m getting out more.

  5. Indeed. And the idea that unborn fetuses are WAY more special and deserving of protection than Texas elementary school kids… well that really puzzles me.

  6. Fair Witness:
    Indeed.And the idea that unborn fetuses are WAY more special and deserving of protection than Texas elementary school kids… well that really puzzles me.

    Yes, this has puzzled many people. The simplest way of putting it is that abortion isn’t protected by the Constitution because it isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, but assault rifles are protected by the Constitution because *checks notes* wait what?

    Not only have abortion and gun rights both led the right to jump the moral shark, but they’ve led it to jumping the moral shark in opposite directions.

  7. If no one is special, and really its just arrogant to think that all these bags of far from equillibrium chemicals have any real meaning, why bother with all this punishing for murder, for war crimes nonsense, for morality laws. You are just a moving rock, afterall.

  8. phoodoo:
    If no one is special, and really its just arrogant to think that all these bags of far from equillibrium chemicals have any real meaning, why bother with all this punishing for murder, for war crimes nonsense, for morality laws.You are just a moving rock, afterall.

    Nonetheless, sometimes people learn from their failures, and sometimes laws make a difference.

  9. Alan Fox: You may not want to look but a thread at Uncommon Descent fits this to a tee. Link available on request.

    Yes, I’ve seen it. It’s horrifying, yet I can’t look away.

  10. phoodoo:
    If no one is special, and really its just arrogant to think that all these bags of far from equillibrium chemicals have any real meaning, why bother with all this punishing for murder, for war crimes nonsense, for morality laws.You are just a moving rock, afterall.

    Phoodoo, there’s a few different ways of looking at this.

    First, if no one is special in the eyes of some Creator, then within the system that we control (to the extent that we do control anything within the system to which we belong), we (the royal “we”) get to decide what is “right” and what is “wrong” and what “we” will allow and what “we” is not. And you know what, I’ve already been down this ridiculous “every action is equally moral and ethical and equivalent and “right” in a moral relativist system” path with WJM and that strawman has been burnt to the ground.

    Second, we “care” about things because there’s a benefit, individually and socially, to “caring” about things. So no, not all actions and not all effects and not all outcomes are equal – intellectually, emotionally, philosophically, digestively… In other words, if we can ascertain that there’s a difference between Na and Cl creating an emergent “salt”, we can ascertain a difference between providing care and comfort to someone with cancer and screwing a particular segment of the population over based on the segment’s ancestral heritage.

    Third, we have the capacity to assess the consequences of actions, not only on an individual level, but some of us can even make such assessments based on models and theories on a more social and global level. And I’m kind of frustrated and tired of conservative, delusional theists claiming some unimpeachable insight into what is “right” and “wrong” – and thus insisting that “bags of far from equilibrium chemicals” have no such emergent capability – simply because they claim their Casper-the-Friendly Zombie got killed by some Romans. The fact is, we as humans can ascertain through a variety of analysis (not all emergent by the way) that certain actions and activities lead to problems (lower quality of life for a majority of our species, more social issues among our brethren, greater unequal distribution of resources among us, etc). Thus, the vast majority of folk don’t need to be deemed “special” by some absent and impotent “omni-god” to weigh and determine whether certain actions and activities are “acceptable” or “not”.

  11. Robin,

    So let me get this straight, you have had this time to mull over these topics you are interested in and like to discuss more thoroughly. And one of them is about how arrogant and ridiculous it is to believe that a God would select humans over rust or salt as being any more special, and if there was such a ridiculous God that would select humans over buckets of rust as something to have a divine relationship to, you really couldn’t respect this silly, illogical God anyway, so…

    BUT, what you aren’t really interested in is hearing from some “conservative, delusional theists” who question your entire premise. You know, like how calling what ant colonies do and what brain chemicals do the same mechainsm of “emergent” for example. This you have no interest in delving into, because its really just the same thing to you. Forget about the fact that one we understand, and one we completely don’t, to you its just the same, so there. Ok, that doesn’t interest you.

    Next, you also aren’t interested in how “I am not special” completely contradicts the idea that when someone dies we feel it is a loss of something special, because there is no real contradiction to you. Its just that its best for the whole if we think that way, so that’s enough for you.

    And what also doesn’t really interest you at all, is considering the whole idea of intention, of does this world appear to have intentions, to have a path, to have intelligence implanted in this world. Nope, nah, not really your cup of tea for thought. You don’t see intention, its not there. Just not interested. Gottcha.

    And so you posted all these posts for what again? To say how ridiculous you were as a kid to think you were special or the world was special? And hopefully have some like minded folk nod and say, “Yep, yep, that’s right Robin, you sure were ridiculous as a kid, you sure were. Right on bro.”

  12. Kantian Naturalist: Not only have abortion and gun rights both led the right to jump the moral shark, but they’ve led it to jumping the moral shark in opposite directions.

    The death penalty is another one where they jump the shark in the opposite direction from “pro-life” stance.

  13. Thanks for another inspiring post Robin.

    A good antidote to your experience as a member of a church community is available in the book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. In the second chapter, “Having a Humble Opinion of Self”, he writes:

    If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel. To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself

    I think you were right to distance yourself from that community. I too would avoid any group who see themselves as sole bearers of the truth while outsiders are damned. I’m sure if Jesus had been by your side, he would have said, “forget this lot, let’s go to the pub”. 🙂

    In my opinion if you were looking for accuracy rather than irony, a suitable title for this thread would be, The “I AM” is special.

    I may be nothing special, but, because I have the potential to “know myself”, I can begin to see myself in a more truthful light. As Socrates said, “an unexamined life not worth living“. And on this earth, we humans have reached the stage where we have this ability to examine our selves, our motives, our weaknesses. Animals are not yet at this stage of development but we have this spark of the “I AM” which allows us to look in the mirror, even if this reflection is as St Paul said, “through a glass darkly”.

    How many of those members of that Episcopalian church had the same understanding as Thomas Kempis of what it meant to imitate Christ?

  14. even the Bible notes that this is a rather absurd way to view the universe, the world, and people in general. “Love thy neighbor as thy self” is pretty specific in its point that we should view all people equally. No one is special if everyone is equal, right?

    We should regard everyone as morally equal, but that’s compatible with recognizing that everyone is unique, therefore irreplaceable and non-fungible.

    Lately I’ve been reading the African philosopher Kwasi Wiredu — he was born and raised in Ghana, educated in Oxford — and he uses the phrase “the principle of sympathetic impartiality” for the idea that morality consist in the use of empathy, imagination, and reasoning. As he sees it, all that’s necessary for morality is the capacity to think “would society be able to function if people in circumstance X were allowed to do Y?” He also argues that this is how morality is understood in the Akan tradition.

  15. phoodoo:
    fvdcccccccccccccc,

    So let me get this straight, you have had this time to mull over these topics you are interested in and like to discuss more thoroughly.And one of them is about how arrogant and ridiculous it is to believe that a God would select humans over rust or salt as being any more special, and if there was such a ridiculous God that would select humans over buckets of rust as something to have a divine relationship to, you really couldn’t respect this silly, illogical God anyway, so…

    BUT, what you aren’t really interested in is hearing from some “conservative, delusional theists” who question your entire premise.You know, like how calling what ant colonies do and what brain chemicals do the same mechainsm of “emergent” for example.This you have no interest in delving into, because its really just the same thing to you.Forget about the fact that one we understand, and one we completely don’t, to you its just the same, so there.Ok, that doesn’t interest you.

    You seem to have mixed a few of my statements together and misunderstood some items.

    1) I made the point under the topic The Blind Watch Dropper that I have no interest in rehashing the arguments from 10 -20 years ago about emergent properties. That ship, as far as I’m concerned, has sailed. Maybe other folk will rehash the arguments with you and Steve, but I’m not interested in that. I will (likely) if someone posts such topics to me simply cut n paste comments I or Lizzie or Richard or Neil or KN or Allan or Petrushka or Mike or et al already made. Seriously…the topic has been covered ad nauseum and the well detailed explanations for emergence are still available to read on this site.

    2) What I wrote above regarding “right” and “wrong” is different from what I wrote concerning emergent properties. I am tired and frustrated by the arrogant stance many theists take regarding having the only insight (or in WJM former claim: only valid basis of understanding) into morality. It’s a silly position to take, not only because it’s hypocritical, but also because – as I’ve demonstrated – man-made systems of morality are perfectly valid and work fine. You may not personally like what some groups determine as “right” and “wrong”, but that doesn’t make the systems invalid. That said, I have no problem discussing this topic with “delusional conservative theists”. Have at it.

    3) “Emergence” is not a mechanism; it’s a label for a well-studied and well-noted observable phenomenon. If you’re going to try and discuss such a concept with folks, it would be beneficial if everyone was working from the same basic definitional understanding of the concept.

    That said, if you really want to retread the old canards that creationists have been trotting out about emergent properties, then no, I have no interest in such discussions. For example, that you think there’s some impermeable barrier separating the observed phenomenon of Na and Cl combining into a material wholly unique from its constituent parts and adrenaline, norandrenaline, dopamine, serotonin,Y-aminobutyric acid, acetylcholine, glutamate, and endorphins combining into material wholly unique from its constituent parts just isn’t of interest to me until and unless someone can point out what the impermeable barrier is and why it’s impermeable. Again, other folk might be more than interested in getting into such discussions all over again, but I’m not particularly.

    Next, you also aren’t interested in how “I am not special” completely contradicts the idea that when someone dies we feel it is a loss of something special, because there is no real contradiction to you.Its just that its best for the whole if we think that way, so that’s enough for you.

    Oh, I am very interested in discussions about “I’m Special”.

    To the point above, that we humans (and other animals for that matter) feel sad and a loss when someone with whom we share a bond dies does not in any way indicate something beyond the connection between the bonded folk. So I have no idea what you are trying to imply above. Nothing about our feelings of loss indicate that some mighty omni-entity is also feeling loss or…feeling anything or…even exists. I’d be interested If you could detail what you think such feelings indicate in terms of contradicting my point.

    And what also doesn’t really interest you at all, is considering the whole idea of intention, of does this world appear to have intentions, to have a path, to have intelligence implanted in this world. Nope, nah, not really your cup of tea for thought.You don’t see intention, its not there.Just not interested.Gottcha.

    Actually, I didn’t write anything about not being interested in discussing intention. To the point, I’ve actually posted a few comments on not seeing any entailments of intention in most aspects of nature. I’m more than happy to continue with those discussions.

    And so you posted all these posts for what again?To say how ridiculous you were as a kid to think you were special or the world was special?And hopefully have some like minded folk nod and say, “Yep, yep, that’s right Robin, you sure were ridiculous as a kid, you sure were. Right on bro.”

    Well, there are two main reasons I posted the essays:

    1) because I’m now back to being mostly healthy and thought I’d enjoy engaging in some discussions on some topics I’d been mulling over while ill (and some I’d been mulling over long before that).

    2) because upon dropping in here a few weeks ago, I noticed that there wasn’t a great deal of activity at all. So I figured I’d see if an essay I’d been working on would prompt some discussion. Well…would you looky there…it did! I originally had the intention of posting only one or two of my essays, but since some folk hereon seem to be into them and having such discussions, I’ve posted more. Who knows where this might lead.

    3) As to your last point, I’m not going to lie Phoodoo…I enjoy some recognition. I’d be thrilled if other people thought certain things I’ve done or said made me special in their eyes and minds. But I really do find the idea that a creator of a football field sized universe would somehow find one particular speck of dust in the field far and away more significant than any other speck of dust in the field to completely ludicrous. Clearly, your mileage may vary.

  16. Kantian Naturalist: We should regard everyone as morally equal, but that’s compatible with recognizing that everyone is unique, therefore irreplaceable and non-fungible.

    I think of the statement as covering more than moral equality. To me, it includes things like racial equality, cultural equality, social equality, and so forth. In other words, loving thy neighbor as thyself requires one to truly desire the best for all others, regardless of race, language, borders, sex, culture, religion, politics, etc, especially to the point of disregarding one’s own needs in the interest of other peoples’ needs. That, at least to my understanding, is what love is about.

    That said, I agree with you that this is compatible with recognizing that everyone is unique and therefore irreplaceable and non-fungible.

    Lately I’ve been reading the African philosopher Kwasi Wiredu — he was born and raised in Ghana, educated in Oxford — and he uses the phrase “the principle of sympathetic impartiality” for the idea that morality consist in the use of empathy, imagination, and reasoning. As he sees it, all that’s necessary for morality is the capacity to think “would society be able to function if people in circumstance X were allowed to do Y?”He also argues that this is how morality is understood in the Akan tradition.

    Interesting. I’ll have to take a look at that. Thanks!

  17. Very good. Tiny typo in the 2nd last sentence (proving I read to the end!).

  18. Allan Miller:
    Very good. Tiny typo in the 2nd last sentence (proving I read to the end!).

    Thanks Allan! Yeah, my fingers do some times get a little faster than my thinking. Appreciate the find. I’ll fix that in the original. 🙂

  19. CharlieM:
    Thanks for another inspiring post Robin.

    Thanks for the compliment! And you’re welcome!

    A good antidote to your experience as a member of a church community is available in the book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. In the second chapter,“Having a Humble Opinion of Self”, he writes:

    I think you were right to distance yourself from that community. I too would avoid any group who see themselves as sole bearers of the truth while outsiders are damned. I’m sure if Jesus had been by your side, he would have said, “forget this lot, let’s go to the pub”.

    I have heard of Kempis, but I have not read his stuff. I’ll have to check that out.

    In my opinion if you were looking for accuracy rather than irony, a suitable title for this thread would be, The “I AM” is special.

    That’s not bad. However, I am not just going for irony. A notable number of folks I’ve come across do seem to express this notion of their own individual anointed “specialness”, particularly among the evangelical and Calvinist groups.

    I may be nothing special, but, because I have the potential to “know myself”, I can begin to see myself in a more truthful light. As Socrates said, “an unexamined life not worth living“. And on this earth, we humans have reached the stage where we have this ability to examine our selves, our motives, our weaknesses. Animals are not yet at this stage of development but we have this spark of the “I AM” which allows us to look in the mirror, even if this reflection is as St Paul said, “through a glass darkly”.

    Nicely put.

    How many of those members of that Episcopalian church had the same understanding as Thomas Kempis of what it meant to imitate Christ?

    I did not encounter many. I think it’s more prominent for me these days as I watch groups of people who call themselves “Christians” brandishing guns and threatening “civil war” against an “pervasive anti-Christian liberal woke agenda” and other similar threats. I just don’t see Jesus taking up a 50 cal, slinging a couple of ammo bandoliers over his shoulders and setting off to mow down folks who are fine with gay people marrying and letting women make choices about abortion.

  20. Robin: I think it’s more prominent for me these days as I watch groups of people who call themselves “Christians” brandishing guns and threatening “civil war” against an “pervasive anti-Christian liberal woke agenda” and other similar threats. I just don’t see Jesus taking up a 50 cal, slinging a couple of ammo bandoliers over his shoulders and setting off to mow down folks who are fine with gay people marrying and letting women make choices about abortion.

    We have, especially in the United States, a very peculiar variety of pseudo-Christianity that consists primarily in the implicit assumption — an assumption embedded in practice, never articulated as principle — that the primary effect of Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection was to entitle us to be completely arbitrary with regard to which precepts of the Old Testament are to taken literally and which precepts are to be ignored entirely.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidental that such pseudo-Christianity appeals far more to the far right than to the centrist, liberals, or the left. Rather, I think that pseudo-Christianity takes on a lot of important psychological and cultural roles that are part of how the contemporary populist right is responding to the economic displacement due to neoliberal capitalism and the cultural displacement due to greater appreciation of cultural diversity.

    And of course these two displacements reinforce each other in several respects — each new demographic that merits representation in media is also a new marketing segment, and the Democrats have effectively fused neoliberal capital together with cultural diversity, with the result that the Republicans need to reject both in order to avoid being castigated as RINOS. We saw the first definitive rejection of both within the Republican party with Trump — but it’s still an open question how much Trump still owns the Republicans.

  21. Robin, are you aware of Michael Denton’s new book?

    “For years, leading scientists and science popularizers have insisted humans are nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things. In this important and provocative new book, renowned biologist Michael Denton argues otherwise. According to Denton, the cosmos is stunningly fit not just for cellular life, not just for carbon-based animal life, and not even just for air-breathing animals, but especially for bipedal, land-roving, technology-pursuing creatures of our general physiological design. In short, the cosmos is specifically fit for creatures like us. Drawing on discoveries from a myriad of scientific fields, Denton masterfully documents how contemporary science has revived humanity’s special place in nature. “The human person as revealed by modern science is no contingent assemblage of elements, an irrelevant afterthought of cosmic evolution,” Denton writes. “Rather, our destiny was inscribed in the light of stars and the properties of atoms since the beginning. Now we know that all nature sings the song of man. Our seeming exile from nature is over. We now know what the medieval scholars only believed, that the underlying rationality of nature is indeed ‘manifest in human flesh.’ And with this revelation the… delusion of humankind’s irrelevance on the cosmic stage has been revoked.”
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1637120125/

  22. Kantian Naturalist,

    A lot of truth in this … I struggle with the gun thing … on the one hand, it sounds good for everyone to be armed to “defend against tyranny” … but on the other hand, you’re right, Jesus and the Disciples were not armed and were mostly (if not all) martyred for their faith. By the way, I recently read something Chuck Colson said (Nixon henchman) … he was NOT a Christian up until 1973 I think … I’m not sure what changed his mind exactly, but he said the following which made an impression on me … “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

  23. HMGuy:
    Robin, are you aware of Michael Denton’s new book?

    “For years, leading scientists and science popularizers have insisted humans are nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things. In this important and provocative new book, renowned biologist Michael Denton argues otherwise. According to Denton, the cosmos is stunningly fit not just for cellular life, not just for carbon-based animal life, and not even just for air-breathing animals, but especially for bipedal, land-roving, technology-pursuing creatures of our general physiological design. In short, the cosmos is specifically fit for creatures like us. Drawing on discoveries from a myriad of scientific fields, Denton masterfully documents how contemporary science has revived humanity’s special place in nature. “The human person as revealed by modern science is no contingent assemblage of elements, an irrelevant afterthought of cosmic evolution,” Denton writes. “Rather, our destiny was inscribed in the light of stars and the properties of atoms since the beginning. Now we know that all nature sings the song of man. Our seeming exile from nature is over. We now know what the medieval scholars only believed, that the underlying rationality of nature is indeed ‘manifest in human flesh.’ And with this revelation the… delusion of humankind’s irrelevance on the cosmic stage has been revoked.”
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1637120125/

    I am aware of Denton’s book and I’ve read a bit of his works. I’m not a Denton fan. His arguments tend towards the fallacious; he’s particularly fond of begging the question, special pleading, and the fallacy of the general rule. As an example:

    “…leading scientists and science popularizers have insisted humans are nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things.” Well…no…that’s not accurate at all. Some science popularizers – like Richard Dawkins perhaps – have, but most could care less about the “cosmic scheme of things” and any place humans may or may not fit into it. As for Denton’s opinion of the cosmos’ stunning fitness for cellular life, well…that doesn’t actually say much about the specialness of humans, does it?

    Be all that as it may, as he doesn’t actually address the point of my essay, his opinions are rather moot as far as I’m concerned.

  24. Robin,
    It looks to me like this statement …

    “…leading scientists and science popularizers have insisted humans are nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things.”

    And this statement …

    “but most could care less about the ‘cosmic scheme of things’ and any place humans may or may not fit into it.”

    Are equivalent.

    As for Denton’s opinion of the cosmos’ stunning fitness for cellular life, well…that doesn’t actually say much about the specialness of humans, does it?

    That item doesn’t no … but presumably other items Denton lists do … I think it’s a very recent book … have you read it? Or just read other Denton books? I myself have not yet read this most recent one.

  25. HMGuy:
    Robin,
    It looks to me like this statement …

    “…leading scientists and science popularizers have insisted humans are nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things.”

    And this statement …

    “but most could care less about the ‘cosmic scheme of things’ and any place humans may or may not fit into it.”

    Are equivalent.

    My emphasis.

    To me, insisting something is different from not caring about that something. Clearly your mileage may vary…

    That item doesn’t no … but presumably other items Denton lists do … I think it’s a very recent book … have you read it?Or just read other Denton books?I myself have not yet read this most recent one.

    I have not read this one, but I have read others. As I noted above, he’s fond of the fallacy of the general rule and at least in other works and statements, he’s been fond of jumping from the general observation that conditions that are good for cellular life are conditions that are wonderful for human life, thus human life must be special. The problem, of course, is that while cellular life may well occur in a variety of well-suited environments (there’s currently a couple of planned missions to see if there might be cellular life on Europa or Titan for example), the majority of those environments are not well-suited to human life. Consider all the cellular life in and around deep ocean vents and methane pools. These are fantastic environments for a variety of organisms, but humans would die in either place in an instant without an incredibly protective submersible. That hardly indicates anything about humans’ specialness.

    Further, Denton’s arguments are not directed at my particular issue – the idea that a creator omni-god would hold a special “feeling” and focus upon an infinitesimally minute aspect of Its entire creation. That just makes no sense to me.

  26. HMGuy,

    The fact that we couldn’t have evolved if the laws of physics had been different from what they are doesn’t tell us anything at all about the origin of those laws.

    What one would need is an argument for why the fine-tuning of this universe for intelligent life is better explained by theism than by an infinite number of universes.

    If there are infinitely many universes, every possible combination of physical variables will be actualized — and in a universe with laws that allow intelligent life to emerge, it does emerge under the right conditions, and it just so happens that we exist on one of those planets that satisfies those conditions.

    This is not to say that infinite universes is more plausible than a creator deity who selects this universe as the one that will be actualized. I don’t think either position is more reasonable than the other.

    Strictly speaking, agnosticism is the only reasonable position, since there’s no reason to regard a God or a multiverse as more plausible than the other, if one is only going by what the sciences tell us.

  27. According to Denton, the cosmos is stunningly fit not just for cellular life, not just for carbon-based animal life, and not even just for air-breathing animals, but especially for bipedal, land-roving, technology-pursuing creatures of our general physiological design. In short, the cosmos is specifically fit for creatures like us.

    Denton’s position, which HMGuy is so taken by, was concisely parodied in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galazy, in which a puddle “comes to life” and is absolutely amazed that it fits the depression where it finds itself so precisely. Such an absolutely perfect fit could only have been engineered by the God of Puddles. What other possible explanation could there be?

  28. Flint,

    Strange that puddles never seem to come to life though.

    I guess only in science fiction parodies.

  29. Kantian Naturalist,

    Then to every atheist scientists who suggests multiple universes, surely you would say to them, or a God, because it’s just as likely.

    And probably more likely because you also have to explain consciousness, so add a few more points to the God column.

  30. I never saw the appeal of the fine tuning argument as an argument for the existence for God. An omnipotent God can create life in any universe so what is He fiddling with the bleedin’ physical constants for?

    Robin already made similar points in his other posts: Whenever omnipotence is involved, one never gets a coherent argument.

  31. phoodoo:

    Then to every atheist scientists who suggests multiple universes, surely you would say to them,or a God,because it’s just as likely.

    I think what I and others might say is, what testable evidence can we find for either one? Maybe the multiple universe notion can be supported with some sort of math, and maybe math has had a remarkable history of describing reality as we know it, but I don’t regard a mathmatical model as being much more persuasive than someone waving his bible around. I don’t know, maybe there is some theoretical test for multiverses. Certainly there is not, and cannot be, any test for any gods, despite thousands of years and at least hundreds of gods to test for.

  32. Corneel: I never saw the appeal of the fine tuning argument as an argument for the existence for God. An omnipotent God can create life in any universe so what is He fiddling with the bleedin’ physical constants for?

    Presumably the argument goes like this: God could have created any physically possible universe, but He chose to create a universe with the values of physical variables and laws of physics that would make possible the emergence of beings capable of knowing Him and loving Him.

    I don’t know how it works as an argument from fine-tuning of the universe for the evolution of rational animals to the existence of God.

    I think it’s supposed to be more like Peirce’s abductive leap: it seems surprising to us that the universe is such that it allowed for the evolution of rational animals, but if there exists a God who chose to create a universe such that it would contain beings capable of knowing Him and loving Him, then the fine-tuning is not surprising at all.

    However, the exact same abductive leap also works if are infinitely many physical universes: it seems surprising to us that the universe is such that it allowed for the evolution of rational animals, but if there are infinitely many universes, then the fine-tuning is not surprising at all.

  33. Kantian Naturalist,

    Infinite? Do you really mean infinite, or just like, many, many?

    You mean like the funny scenario these goofy theoretical physcists suggest, where everything that could ever happened has happened, that kind of infinite?

    So like in one universe you typed this sentence backwards. In another you are wearing a plastic squirting flower on your lapel and a giant orange wig made from cheetos? And still another you are wearing the same plastic flower but in that one you are writing that cheetos are the spawn of devil pygmies? All of these are happening at the same time, as well as in others where you are saying you are completely wrong about everything you are saying here and actually don’t believe any of this? In still others you are speaking in a brand new language no one has ever used before.

    So infinite then?

  34. Kantian Naturalist: Presumably the argument goes like this: God could have created any physically possible universe, but He chose to create a universe with the values of physical variables and laws of physics that would make possible the emergence of beings capable of knowing Him and loving Him.

    That is how I understand the argument. But doesn’t that imply that God is constrained by the laws of physics? I thought He made the laws of physics. Who decided that if the strong nuclear force were a little bit stronger, diprotons would be stable? He did! The effects that the properties of energy and matter have on the plausibility of intelligent life emerging are decided by Him!

    Kantian Naturalist: I think it’s supposed to be more like Peirce’s abductive leap: it seems surprising to us that the universe is such that it allowed for the evolution of rational animals, but if there exists a God who chose to create a universe such that it would contain beings capable of knowing Him and loving Him, then the fine-tuning is not surprising at all.

    Maybe it is just me, but I cannot get away from the impression that the whole argument boils down to “If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same”. No shit, but can things be different? Where did you show this? And is intelligent life only possible in a narrow set of physical constants? Where is your collection of alternative universes laddie? Did you check them all for intelligent life yet?

    We all like to think that we are special (and we get back to the OP, how fitting) and the fine tuning argument exploits that sentiment by requiring us to buy into the very premise the argument is supposed to demonstrate: that our universe is uniquely suited for inteligent life among the collection of infinitely many possible alternatives.

  35. phoodoo: Infinite? Do you really mean infinite, or just like, many, many?

    If there are no possible alternative universes, the fine tuning argument does not work either: then we are living in the only possible universe and there is nothing to tune.

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