Maurizio – Omnologos

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The End of Atheism

with 9 comments

From Scientific American, quoted in full on the Integral Options Cafe:

A mathematical theory places limits on how much a physical entity can know about the past, present or future…

David H. Wolpert, a physics-trained computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, has chimed in with his version of a knowledge limit. Because of it, he concludes, the universe lies beyond the grasp of any intellect, no matter how powerful, that could exist within the universe. Specifically, during the past two years, he has been refining a proof that no matter what laws of physics govern a universe, there are inevitably facts about the universe that its inhabitants cannot learn by experiment or predict with a computation…

As Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, puts it: “That your predictions about the universe are fundamentally constrained by you yourself being part of the universe you’re predicting, always seemed pretty obvious to me…”

What is therefore the point to atheism? Even if there is nothing else but the physical universe, there is no way for any part of it to “learn it all by experiment” or “predict with a computation“. In other words, the physical universe is the only thing that can fully know the physical universe.

How far is that from the definition of Divinity? And what does that leave to the atheist? Absurdities like believing in the non-existence of the physical universe?

If Wolpert is right, there is no logic left in atheism. And Dawkins’ “Ultimate 747” proof of the non-existence of God appears quaint: the Divinity cannot be any part of the physical universe.


One of course can and will always be able to reasonably state agnosticism. But post-Wolpert agnosticism becomes simply the belief that the Divinity cannot be communicated with or experienced as such).

There is one thing we can be certain of, in any case: that there’s more out there than a collection of physical entities.

Written by omnologos

2009/Mar/05 at 23:17:40

9 Responses

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  1. “If Wolpert is right, there is no logic left in atheism.”

    Luckily, he’s not. 🙂


    2009/Mar/06 at 00:19:59

  2. Pretty much.

    I think the universe is definitely within the grasp of intellect. Just because we can’t understand everything NOW doesn’t mean we won’t one day.

    And we probably will never know everything there is to know. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a great deal.

    Just sad I won’t be alive to see more of it than I will.

    Also, if Wolpert is refining a ‘proof’, that sounds more mathematical than scientific. In math there are definite proofs and definite knowledge.

    So perhaps we’re just using different definitions for the word ‘know’. When Wolpert uses it, he might mean “absolutely know”. In which case I would agree, we can never absolutely know something. But we can know to certain degrees of certainty.

    I don’t know absolutely that if I drop my pen it will hit the floor. But I know it certain enough to be able to use the word ‘know’ without regret.


    2009/Mar/06 at 00:55:33

  3. Sounds like you don’t understand what an Atheist or and Agnostic is. And Atheist doesn’t have to prove the non-existance of a god. An Atheist can simply believe that there is no god. While I certainly can’t prove there is no god… I wholeheartedly believe that this is true.

    An Agnostic is someone that admits that they don’t have a clue and that humans will probably never have a clue on this subject. So they just go about their lives without worrying about the question.

    You believe there is a god… but have no proof… why is it so hard to understand that others believe that there is no god… but also have no proof?

    Just because humans can never prove the non-existence of a supreme being, that exists beyond the physical universe, does not make it a fact that such a thing exists.

    That’s the one thing about the faithful that is beyond comprehension. They can’t prove anything yet believe it exists… and yet they can’t understand that other people take the same non-data and see a different answer.


    2009/Mar/06 at 03:06:20

  4. Exactly why (and how) would such “it-from-bit” Universe care about human ethics, which is the real crux of the debate between atheists and theists?

    Enzo Michelangeli

    2009/Mar/06 at 03:57:19

  5. Enzo,

    The universe doesn’t care.

    WE do care.

    That’s good enough for me.


    2009/Mar/06 at 15:37:50

  6. The universe may care.

    It is just that society hasn’t defined if it does (perhaps yet, but that still means it hasn’t).


    2009/Mar/10 at 16:41:26

  7. I fail to see how acknowledging the limits of the mind equals embracing theism. My personal motivation as a scientist is that the set “what I know” is always outclassed with “what I don’t know” — encouragement to never stop inquiring, not to start worshipping the unknowable.

    Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem illustrated, essentially, that math can never be completed. That doesn’t mean that we should stop doing math and start praying to what we’ll never know.

    You’re also certainly smart enough to know the folly of trying to prove a negative. The positive existential declaration bears the burden of proof. It’s up to you to make a falsifiable claim about the existence of God and then defend that claim. (The deistic view of God isn’t falsifiable, but the Christian (interventionist) view is, for instance.) The Gay Atheist, above, covers this well enough.

    Brian D

    2009/Mar/10 at 21:14:54

  8. The Atheist Counter-History

    Behind the pacifist and loving speech, the majority of the religions promote in fact the destruction of everything that represents freedom and pleasure. They hate the body, the desires, the sexuality, the women, the intelligence and all the books, except one. The religions promote the submission, the chastity, the blind and conformistical faith on behalf of a fictitious paradise after the death.

    Only an atheistic person can be free, because the idea of a god is incompatible with the freedom of the human being. The idea of a god promotes the existence of a divine dimension, which denies the possibility to choose your own destination and to invent your own existence. If god exists, the Is is not free; on the other hand, if god does not exist, the Is can be free. The freedom is never given. It is acquired day by day. However, the basic principle of a god is an inhibiting impediment of the autonomy of the man.

    It means that when a person does not content himself only in believing dully, but starts to make questions on the sacred texts, the doctrine, the teachings of the religion, there is no way not to reach these conclusions. It is about not to leave the reason, with capital R, in second plan, behind the faith, and to give to the reason the power and the nobility that it deserves.

    The mechanism of the religions is of an illusion. It is like a mysterious toy we try to decipher by breaking it. The enchantment and the magic of the religion disappear when we see the mechanism and the reasons behind the beliefs.

    The priests are limited to use only one handful of words, texts and references that allow to better assure the control on the bodies, hearts and souls of the followers. The mythology of the religions need simplicity to become more efficient. The religions make a permanent promotion of the faith, the belief before the intelligence and the reason, the submission of the followers against the freedom of the independent thought, the darkness against the light.

    The necessity of cultivate culturally a god is based in ridicules ideas. We don’t have nothing in the brain beyond what we put in it. Have you seen a child believing in gods? Religions and gods are human beings inventions, just like philosophy, arts and metaphysics. These creations have been made to answer the necessities of confront the anguish of the death; But, we can react in other ways: For example, using the philosophy.

    The believe in a god is an impotence signal. We must be conscious of our possibilities. When we cannot prove something is necessary to recognize these limitation and not make concessions to tale-stories or mythology. The idea of the divine child is a species of infantile illness of the reflective thought.

    The majority of the people is allured by the elected icons of the media, and believe more in them than in the physical truth. The truth is that the role of the religions was not the best one: Attacks against Galileu, genocide during the crusades, the Muslim radicalism, silence before the holocaust, etc. What history show is that the religions instead promoting peace, love, fraternity, friendship between the people and the nations, for the most part produced most of the time the opposite. It does not seem very worthy that the monotheists generated some good here and there. In compensation, they generated extreme human barbarity; and this seems much more important as prove of the impotence of the doctrines.

    We cannot make much about it, except to say what it is truth. The Christians have little moral to disapprove old truths, when they themselves promote old errors until today. The philosophy can allow each one of us the comprehension of what is the world, of what can be our morals, our justice, the rules of the game for a happy existence between the humans, without the necessity of appealing to a god, to the holy ghost, to the sacred one, to the skies, to the religions. It is necessary to pass from the theological age to the age of the mass philosophy.

    The weakness, the fear, the anguish before the death, are the sources of all the religious beliefs, and they will never abandon the humanity.

    The history of the Christianity has just as much value as the mythology of Santa Claus. It is in the same level of the fairies stories, where the animals talk and the witches eat little kids. A thought that only serves the children.

    It is necessary to allow the free construction of ourselves as independent beings. To develop the counter-history of the atheist, sexualist, hedonist and anarchist philosophy.

    Gino Barcal

    Gino Barcal

    2009/Mar/24 at 14:09:05

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