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Things That Are Made

I’ve evolved, and here’s my evolution: Richard Dawkins became Antony Flew who became C.S. Lewis. (Of course, I’m not in the same league as Flew or Lewis, and God forgive my Dawkins past.)

Things that are made. I have a faint recollection of this phrase from some ancient text I once read. Things that are made are designed and engineered. We all can recognize them.

I would like to offer the following hypothesis: The universe was rigged. It was designed for discovery (a thesis put forward in The Privileged Planet), but also designed in such a way that there would always be an escape clause in the contract for those who are committed, for whatever reason, to reject the obvious. If it weren’t for the escape clause, we would have no free will.

Random mutations, an infinitude of in-principle undetectable universes, and other such silliness are modern manifestations of invoking the escape clause.

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46 Responses to Things That Are Made

  1. I have always considered it a kind of backhand evidence for God, and more specifically the Christian God, that through scientific endeavor, people do not come to believe in God. ( …the world through wisdom knew not God ).

    Think about this for a moment. Everyone knows that some people do well in science, and some people don’t. I don’t hold it as something to take pride in that I do well in science ( …for what do you have that you did not receive ), but it must be acknowledged that we all have different aptitudes for different pursuits.

    IF God was knowable through scientific endeavor – that would give an unfair advantage to scientists in getting to salvation. But I believe that God is just. So he does not allow a path of scientific study to become the path to salvation. ( Faith cometh by hearing ). Anyone can believe.

  2. And I was a “naive theist” as a child, became a “rabid” atheist as a young man, but became a Huxleian agnostic Friend/Quaker/Zen Buddhist as an adult. Personally, I think that “God” (which I prefer to refer to as “That Which Is”) is quite literally unknowable. We are finite beings with limited perceptions and even more limited cognitive abilities, and therefore cannot “know” That Which Is. Here’s the way it came to me once upon a time:

    The Way of Liberation is not limited
    The Way of Liberation has no boundaries
    Everyone and everything everywhere
    Resonate within it endlessly

    The Way of Liberation cannot be named
    The Way of Liberation cannot even be described
    It is always eternally ever-present
    But it cannot be taken by deception or force

    The only entrance to the Way of Liberation
    Is through That Which Is
    Surrender to That Which Is
    And you shall be set free

  3. BTW (and I hope this is obvious) the Way of Liberation is not “made”, it is.

  4. 4

    JDH,

    Some great points. I think the early gnostics believed that God had a special ear for things esoteric, and so they decided that only people initiated into a particular esoteric right could be saved. That would make God highly unfair in my view. Yet, such are the leanings of many a materialistic religionist (read ‘liberal’) these days.

    And then there are those who refuse to believe because God has not explained himself nor ‘expanded’ Himself completely or enough to accord with their sophisticated understanding of things.

    I have this to say about that:

    Once you believe that God ought to bend over backwards to save you from your unbelief, you are in effect mandating that God not save those who don’t think like you.

    In your quote from Paul you missed the part about God choosing the “things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast.” God’s not interested in the intellect so much as he seeks out the heart of the matter. This is the kind of God I would expect in a world that shows evidence of things beyond the material – a God who is interested in the human heart, because that’s the way he designed humans to be – passionate. God is not simply an infinitely intellectual Creator, but a passionate lover of human beings and indeed of all His creation. We should expect more from Him than simply intellectual evidences for His existence. In fact, I would say that to seek only intellectual evidences is an example of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. The creature requires only the passion of the intellect, while the Creator requires the passion of the innermost expressions of the heart. When Jesus states that the Father seeks worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth, I sense that this is perhaps what he means.

    So in summation, once we decide that religion is only a matter of having our intellectual questions answered, and demand that religion answer them prior to a faith commitment, then it is easy to miss the fine points of the gospel – that we are more than simply the outward expressions of our thinking abilities, but we have passions, and God is passionate. The world shows evidence of passion. We could live in the dull world that C.S Lewis depicted in one of his short stories, or we could acknowledge that we live in a world, which, if created, was indeed created out of immense passion, the nature of which we may never know. But in the whole scheme of things, the Creator saw fit to reveal certain truths of this matter not only to those who could intellectualy process them, but to true babes, who were not endowed with any intellectual abilities whatsoever. But why did God do this? I suspect it is so that no one may boast.

  5. good point guys. God was around long before the scientific method, so God had to make his existence something that would be clear to the long lineage of humans who once had no luxury to sit around and think about how things worked. (I’m from the old earth camp, and therefore I’m talking about humans from at least 100,000+ years ago) If knowledge of new things made the existence of God more clear, it would not be fair to the cultures that had no access to things like printing presses, telescopes, scientific methods, etc. This is why belief in God has always been higher and more stronger in areas where “earthly knowledge” is not up to par.

  6. Sometimes I wonder if the things around us aren’t metaphors for life.
    Caterpillars are pretty ugly and then go through a kind of death and emerge more beautiful than ever. Maybe death is transformation. By showing us seeds turning into something different, God is showing us that we are like seeds. If you look at the stars and galaxies you can see how infinitely small we really are. But as far as we know, mankind is the only creature here that has a clue about just how large the universe is, which makes us special. We don’t know what awaits us, just as an acorn doesn’t know what it’s like to be an oak tree. Maybe the choices we make in this life determine what we are to become in the next. If we make choices that only serve ourselves to the detriment of others, then we probably turn out like some useless weed that’s poisonous or just food for the animals, or maybe an acorn that’s crushed on the asphalt to become ant food. And the ones who make the better choices are the acorns that grow into oaks. If you can’t be trusted with something small, who is going to trust you with something greater?

  7. 7

    Allen_MacNeill: ” Personally, I think that “God” (which I prefer to refer to as “That Which Is”) is quite literally unknowable. We are finite beings with limited perceptions and even more limited cognitive abilities, and therefore cannot “know” That Which Is.”

    You know Allen, I find myself agreeing with much of what you stated here, but to a point. The point where I depart from this analysis is in the area of revelation. God can be known if he reveals Himself to us. This is the whole point of Christianity – that God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit. Without these revelations we cannot know God. Others may disagree, and in fact have a pointed revulsion to this idea, yet it continues to be a strong belief among hundreds of millions of human beings, who don’t all hold them out of spite for those who disagree. On the contrary, the desire of the Christian is to welcome others to the same belief with the understanding that through this particular revelation God can be known.

  8. This is the whole point of Christianity – that God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit.

    God has also revealed Himself in the things He has made. Man was made in the image of God.

  9. 9

    Mung, my intention was not to minimize this point, but to stress that God is revealed sufficiently through the incarnation. But your point is well taken.

  10. 10

    Also, I think it should also be stressed – and in agreement with Mr. MacNeill, that “the world through its wisdom did not come to know God.”

  11. 11

    Sorry, I just realized that JDH had already made that point. :)

  12. I am distressed by any agreement with Allen and his “unknowable god.”

    I think that “God” (which I prefer to refer to as “That Which Is”) is quite literally unknowable.

    If God is unknowable, then it follows that no one can know God.

    If no one can know God, then Christianity is false.

    Here’s what Allen has to say:

    God is “That Which Is.”

    “That Which Is” is unknowable.

    Since that which is is unknowable, one has to wonder why Allen is a teacher. That which is cannot be known. So what is that that can be known? That which is not?

    Given Allen’s predisposition to foolishness, I have to take anything he write with a grain of salt, if that.

  13. Mung:

    “That Which Is” is the totality of everything that ever was, is, and will be. According to what you have written here, we can most assuredly know all of this.

    Please explain how we can do this, so that we can all become “all knowing”.

  14. As for being a teacher, I have to admit that when I started out three decades ago, I thought I knew quite a bit. Now, after more than 33 years of learning about biology, I am astonished (and humbled) by how little I know about it.

    But please, Mung, enlighten us. Tell us how we are to know and completely understand everything about everything, so that I may impart this totality of your knowledge to my students.

  15. Allen,

    Despite all of our disagreements I understand what you are saying about learning while you teach.

    Just when you think you are the top rung of the learning ladder- whack- something new comes along- or you dig a little deeper into something you thought you knew so well and find more mysteries await.

    But to me that is what being human is all about- exploration to gain knowldge.

    But anyway- Newton used science as a method to understand “God’s” handy-work.

  16. Caterpillars are pretty ugly

    And you would never via fossils be able to show that caterpillars were the same creature as butterflies. :-)

  17. Sometimes I wonder if the things around us aren’t metaphors for life.

    Of course, they can be if we wish them to be.

  18. Mr Tribune7,

    And you would never via fossils be able to show that caterpillars were the same creature as butterflies.

    Yes, if we had to rely on the fossil record, it would be obvious that most insects were created in the last few thousand years! ;)

    Finding a fossilized caterpillar half woven into a cocoon, and a fossilized butterfly half out of a similar cocoon would be incredibly unlikely. It is amazing that caterpillars and butterflies are captured in amber at all!

  19. Allen,

    “We are finite beings with limited perceptions and even more limited cognitive abilities, and therefore cannot “know” That Which Is.”

    I would argue here that moral absolutes clearly point to a moral law giver, which points to a personal God. I mean no one leans over their baby’s crib and wish their child to grow up and be a lesbian for example. There are some things we simply know are absolutely right and wrong. Taking that further one could argue that the God which most resembles this moral law giver is the personal God of Christianity.

    Growing up France – a very liberal country where truth (it is taught) cannot be known because of our limited cognitive abilities – I always found this argument weak and self-refuting. It sounds like “trust me when I tell you truth cannot be known.” Is that truth knowable? Would teaching anything to anyone make sense if there isn’t any truth there to be known. Sometimes we have to go with the best explanation.

    We can know a lot about God by looking at ourselves once we depart from the matter-only view (congrats on doing at least that). Once one contemplates that the immaterial soul exists (e.g., to make sense of rationality or our unified vision field) then by introspection alone we discover than a larger consciousness than our own may very well exist and in fact exists and can be known personally. I don’t know that you exist as a person but I can make a pretty good guess by looking at the information you presented that you’re a person who can be known personally, and that’s just from seeing a few alphabetical letters in a non-random order on my screen.

  20. Nakashima – 18
    Insects preserved in amber are pretty identical to the ones that exist now. What has never been preserved in the fossil record, which must have taken millions of years, is the forelimbs of a rodent gradually becoming more and more capable of flight.

  21. LOL… insects, fish, animals preserved giving birth can be and are evidences recognized as catastrophic events and rapid fossilization as well.

    Thx Nakashima ;-) for pointing out the many problems of different observations in the fossil record.

  22. Davem,

    I think Barney is evidence of dino to man theory. I’ve not observed the change taking place, but I think have narrowed it down to being behind closed doors. I suspect it happens rapidly.

    I realize this sounds radical, but not so much more radical than Darwin’s original Bear-to-Whale theory and insect eating while swimming. Only difference is, Darwin could observe bears. I cannot observe Barney. ;-)

  23. Allen – 2
    It’s true, we can’t “know” That Which Is.
    Nor can we “know” what an ant is.
    But we can know a real lot about an ant.
    For the sake of argument, I think it’s fair to say that matter can’t create itself. We can use the word Creator for whatever created the physical universe.
    As I said before, we are probably the only animal on the planet that knows about the countless stars and galaxies. In short, we are privileged to know that whatever Creator is, It has what appears to be immense and apparently infinite power, based upon the matter we are aware of. In addition to that, by studying the internal logic of physical laws and chemistry we have another insight into the intelligence of Creator. So at least we can know some things about That Which Is.

  24. Allen,

    You worship alters like this below?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

    and believe in rebirth cycles? in many forms? Like an animal? I never knew that about you. Or, have you taken parts of Buddhism that you like for yourself? I’m trying to understand if you accept Buddhist religion wholly or in part and if in part, which parts?

  25. 25

    “What has never been preserved in the fossil record, which must have taken millions of years, is the forelimbs of a rodent gradually becoming more and more capable of flight.”

    Sounds like a lot of work, and a big waste of millennia. Why didn’t they just develop their brains to such an extent that they could build airplanes like we did? :)

  26. Allen, when I was younger I was into Zen. It’s been a long time since I read what he wrote about it, and I didn’t read everything he wrote either, but it’s interesting to note that Christianity and Zen intersect in the writings of Thomas Merton.

  27. Why did we lose all the fur on our bodies except on the tops of our heads when we were changing from apelike creatures to human? If we figured out how to make clothing then I’m sure we could have made hats also.
    And eyebrows. Somehow we managed to retain hair over our eyes.
    Is it because the ones who didn’t retain eyebrows got deleted over millions of years because something got in their eyes at a crucial moment (like a charging saber-tooth) and reproduced less, whereas the ones who had the advantage of eyebrows survived to reproduce?

  28. Gil, back to your escape clause.

    Most people that reject Design or a Designer don’t need scientific explanations.

    Go to any hip hop, rock n roll, concert, rave, rap, any popular, well known, unbelieving artist and ask their fans questions along these lines. They will give ignorant reasons not based upon logic or science, and often angry and bitter resentment towards their peception of a Creator due to their own circumstances of that of the world around them. And they’ll be very ignorant about unguided evolution.

    Your point about Free Will is good for those who do think seriously and investigate possible options as truth seekers. That was my late path into the Design of Life after college.

    While there are disagreements here with many commenters, at least many are seeking truth. So many are not seeking anything but their next Rave dance or hiphop huggy.

    But according to the latest article posted here by a Determinist, none of us have free will.

    So are we arguing over nothing or determined to argue?

  29. Allen MacNeill:

    As for being a teacher, I have to admit that when I started out three decades ago, I thought I knew quite a bit. Now, after more than 33 years of learning about biology, I am astonished (and humbled) by how little I know about it.

    “You teach best, what you most need to learn!” – Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach

  30. DATCG in #24:

    Buddhism is an extremely large and diverse philosophy/religion. The particular version of it that I have concentrated on is the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, especially as depicted in the books of D. T. Suzuki and the poetry of Gary Snyder. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere (see http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html ), I have been a member of the Ithaca Monthly Meeting of Friends (“Quakers”) for thirty years, and so if pressed I would have to say that I am a “libertarian/Zen/Quaker”.

  31. Mr Davem,

    What has never been preserved in the fossil record, which must have taken millions of years, is the forelimbs of a rodent gradually becoming more and more capable of flight.

    Check out this article on bat phylogeny. If you wanted to imitate Neil Shubin and the Tiktaalik find, just look in North America for rock from 52 – 50 Mya that might be from tropical forests. The Green River fossil strata already produced the oldest known bat fossil (and extremely well preserved!) so perhaps you just have to dig a little deeper!

  32. #27: “Why did we lose all the fur on our bodies except on the tops of our heads when we were changing from apelike creatures to human? If we figured out how to make clothing then I’m sure we could have made hats also.
    And eyebrows. Somehow we managed to retain hair over our eyes.”

    I think most of us here know that it’s because God has eyebrows as well as hair on top of His head.

  33. To DATCG #28:

    Go to any hip hop, rock n roll, concert, rave, rap, any popular, well known, unbelieving artist and ask their fans questions along these lines. They will give ignorant reasons …

    What have you got against rock n roll fans ? Or the artists for that matter.

  34. Nakashima-san:

    If you wanted to imitate Neil Shubin and the Tiktaalik find,

    The guy who looked in the wrong place and time?

    The Green River fossil strata already produced the oldest known bat fossil (and extremely well preserved!) so perhaps you just have to dig a little deeper!

    Yeah dig deeper into your imagination because that is the only place bat transitionals exist. :cool:

  35. Interestingly, one can know all the material facts ever to be known in the physical universe, one will never know what it is like to be a bat or to be Nakashima. Some facts can only be known from a first person perspective.

  36. Allen,

    Thanks for the response. I’ll look into Rinzai Zen. But you did not answer the questions about rebirth. Do you mind? Does Rinzai dismiss rebirth? Do you? Thanks.

    And yes, I’m familiar with your other beliefs and curious about those as well. But for now, just curious about the Zen influences in your life. Thanks again.

  37. Graham1,

    Me? Against rock n roll? lol… no :)

    Not my point. Music is a fantastic blessing in our lives and comes in all varieties. I have a background in music.

    I merely pointed out that it does not take intelligence for an escape clause and where you can find many people that use escape clauses with absolute ignorance of scienctific methods, logic and philosophy.

    It is a counterpoint argument to the usual atheist or darwinist screed and rant about stupid, dumb, and uninformed Christians.

  38. Allen

    “I think that “God” (which I prefer to refer to as “That Which Is”) is quite literally unknowable.”

    To quote Geisler “Christian Apologetics”

    “Complete agnosticism is self defeating: it reduces to the self destructing assertion that one knows enough about reality in order to affirm that nothing can be known about reality. This statement provides within itself all that is necessary to falsify itself. For if one knows something about reality , then he surely cannot affirm in the same breath that all of reality is unknowable. And of course if one knows nothing whatsoever about reality, the he has no basis whatsoever for making a statement about reality. It will not suffice to say that his knowledge about reality is purely and completely negative, that is, a knowledge of what reality is not. For every negative presupposes a positive; one cannot meaningfully affirm that something is not -that if he is totally devoid of knowledge of the “that”. It follows that total agnosticism is self defeating because it assumes some knowledge about reality in order to deny any knowledge of reality”

    Vivid

  39. Allen_MacNeill,

    Personally, I think that “God” (which I prefer to refer to as “That Which Is”) is quite literally unknowable.

    “You cannot take the region called the unknown and calmly say that though you know nothing about it, you know that all its gates are locked. That was the whole fallacy of Herbert Spencer and Huxley when they talked about the unknowable instead of about the unknown. An agnostic like Huxley must concede the possibility of a gnostic like Blake. We do not know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.
    ~G. K. Chesterton

  40. #39

    <b?We do not know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.

    True – but that does not mean that everything is knowable. One of the consequences of common descent is that it connects us directly with creatures who clearly have fundamental limits to what they can know. So it seems plausible that there are things that we also are incapable of knowing.

    It is interesting to try and think what the signs would be of a question for which we are incapable of understanding the answer and how we would naturally react to such a situation. To my mind such questions might include:

    * How did reality come into existence?

    * What is the difference between a conscious and an unconscious entity?

    I am not saying that we cannot know the answer to these questions but we should allow that for the possibility that we are incapable of understanding the answer.

  41. Well… this all ties back into Goedel’s incompleteness theorem too, yes?

    I think the responses to Allen are quite good. Curious if he has anything to add.

  42. Mark said,

    * What is the difference between a conscious and an unconsious entity.

    Are you asking between a rock and human?

    Or between a computer and human?

    The rock has no ability of understanding and learning. It merely exist as is and cannot create anything knew via accumulated knowledge. Nor is a rock aware its a rock.

    What am I missing in your question?

  43. Gil, offtopic, but thought you might enjoy the article.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.....e-dyslexia

  44. DATCG

    #41 I agree that it may also be a consequence of Godel’s theorem that there are some things we cannot understand. This is, of course, a topic for philosophical debate.

    #42 I am thinking more of the difference between unconscious and conscious knowledge and action. There is a sense in which a computer knows and acts – but we would say it is not conscious. The difference is expressed very clearly in the famous example of Mary’s room.

  45. Mr Joseph,

    Yeah dig deeper into your imagination because that is the only place bat transitionals exist.

    Are you claiming certain knowledge that bats were flying, echolocating creatures from their beginning?

  46. Mr Frank,

    There is a sense in which a computer knows and acts – but we would say it is not conscious.

    Your discussion uses “computer” in a loose, conversational sense. I’m pretty sure you actually mean a computer program.

    I agree that it isn’t clear that computer programs have an obvious distinction between concious and unconcious knowledge or action. (Not that the distinction is sntirely cleary clear for humans!)

    There are symbolic AI programs that seem to act like Mary while she is in her monchromatic room – they “know” all about color in symbolic terms and can compute the likely reaction of a human subject to a particular frequency distribution of light. (And could perhaps predict the response of bees to frequency distributions in the UV that would leave us unmoved.)

    There are also neural network programs which model the response of cells to chemical and electrical stimuli. In these second type of program it would be laborious to construct the first type of progam, but it could be done.

    Let’s say we build one of these models and call it ‘Mary’. Mary has been fed visual data to the parts of her database corresponding to the retinal nerves, which have been decoded into symbolic forms, manipulated in the model’s simulated temporal lobes.

    Now we begin sending data to both the rod and cone cells – Mary is seeing color! Is she having new qualia? Sure, a whole new part of her brain is being stimulated. Is it a part of the brain she can describe easily? If Mary is a model of a human brain, no. Her subjective qualia are locked away. Since she is in fact a computer model, the program can be reflective and open in ways humans cannot.

    Still, that is enough to show that the Mary thought experiment does not undercut physicalism. Mary’s new experience is new knowledge but it is still new physical knowledge. The fact that we need to use models or fMRI to access it doesn’t make it less so, it proves that it is so.

    Besides, we built the Mary model to be ready and able to see color. But we know that in real animals, the brain is being rewired based on early life experience. If Mary was trapped in the monochromatic room from birth, it is quite possible that her eyes and brain would no longer be able to respond to color when she was released. In this case she would experience no new qualia.

    BTW, I had an interesting discussion recently with a physicist working with surface scattering spectroscopy. He told me that he was jealous of insects and other creatures that could see UV and polarization and phase differences which our visual systems ignore. Like Mary, he knew intellectually that a quartz crytal in polarized UV must be extremely beautiful, judging from the spectrum it generates. But he will never see it.

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