Ep 64 – The God and Science and Stuff

Panel Discussion

Posted April 4th, 2014

Randy exposes his great red-headed passion, and so much more, in this engaging conversation about God and Science and Stuff. Glenn, Jake, and Bob take turns antagonizing as they all float down the river of time in the galactic inter-tube of imagination. Yeah…. that.

  • Silver

    Question; is it more probable that aliens exist that have visited Earth, or that God exists and he visited Earth? I think I will go with aliens over God. It is easier for me to believe in aliens than the Mormon exalted sky daddy.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Aliens visiting earth is more probable but still highly improbable due to the vastness of the universe. The anthropomorphic Elohim is implausible, absurd, and contrary to all the available evidence. In my opinion of course. 🙂

  • Scott Evans

    My personal favorite term…one that fits ME the best…Apatheist. I am apathetic about theism. If there is a god, great, if not, fine. Doesn’t really matter much to me personally and how I make choices today.

  • John

    Materialists say things like, “The mind is the brain,” which makes as much sense to me as saying, “Circulation is the heart.” Consciousness is something the brain does, an action, which in principle, at least, could be performed using different material, a brain bypass machine, if you will. I prefer naturalism to materialism because nonmaterial things exist and are thought to cause stuff. If there’s no material difference between naturalism and materialism, I’d appreciate it if a materialist could explain how they are the same.

    • Scott Evans

      John, what do you consider “non-material” and yet existent?

      • John

        Credit, numbers, force fields, space-time, movement, for example.

        • Randy_Snyder

          I think your definition of material is too narrow. Abstract concepts don’t have to have mass to still fit within the material world. They are byproducts of our physical brains and require encounters with the material world to exist. Electromagnetic fields and space-time are well understood within the current laws of physics. The supernatural claims are not. Or those who want to find what currently would be considered supernatural (premonition, psychic ability, ghost in the machine, etc) within quantum theory are just reaching at this point but have become the modern form of dualism.

          Basically what I’m saying is that naturalism and materialism overlap in one huge area, there are no grounds based on what we know for the supernatural to be presupposed.

  • JT

    Two of the most thoughtful and accessible discussions that touch on most of the topics you all addressed in this discussion (Atheism/Agnosticism/Dualism/Naturalism/Materialism) were delivered by the Philosopher Philip Kitcher as part of the Yale Terry Lecture series [1] and the Philosopher John Shook, on during an interview on the podcast “Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot” [2]. Both Kitcher and Shook follow in the tradition of John Dewey’s pragmatic naturalism.

    Kitcher is one of the most preeminent living philosophers today and is best known for his work in the philosophy of science.

    Shook specializes philosophy of science, psychology, religion v atheism, and secularism.

    The”Conversations” podcast is now defunct, but it is an amazing repository of interviews with secular philosophers of religion.

    [1] Secular Humanism: Beyond Doubt.

    [2] Dewey, Quine and Some Varieties of Naturalism

    Dewey, Quine, and Some Varieties of Naturalism

    Thanks for this (notwithstanding TMI about crotches)

    • Randy_Snyder

      Great. Now I have homework. Thanks professor JT.

      Just kidding. 🙂 But you know I have to listen now.

  • Megan

    Couple thoughts on the claim that materialism is a ‘baby science’ at the moment, and particularly the assertion that the earliest years of that science is not relevant or meaningful.

    First – one reason that materialism has a relatively short history is because dualism was so thoroughly entrenched in the belief system. It is extremely difficult to hypothesise against a powerful ‘known’. Further, people doing that were challenging not just the nuts and bolts of the cold hard world, but the human soul. That’s pretty daunting stuff. A bit of credit should go to those early pioneers who had the (hopefully clean) balls to take that leap. {ETA: This actually is pertinent to the discussion on dogma – dualism WAS the dogma, and the ‘wishful thinkers’ had to follow the increasing evidence to challenge it. So actually materialism in brain research is a beautiful example of how the scientific method facilitates forward progress through ‘wishful thinking’, with the one vital point that the ‘wishes’ are not all equal – they have to be based upon and explain the observable evidence]

    Second – early research in science is not irrelevant to modern understandings – it’s fundamental. It is that research that shaped where we are now, often through the negative by chasing down wrong assumptions. But those negatives are vitally important as they highlight the most likely and potentially fruitful areas to study.

    Third – in that century of research into materialism, in spite of that massive dualistic bias mentioned above, evidence has been steadily piling up against dualism and more and more strongly towards materialism. Evidence from split-brain research, epilepsy and stroke, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s all support a materialistic model.

    Having said all of that, it seems that dualism is an interesting philosophy and one worth examining, but it is not doing as well as a scientific hypothesis.

    [NOTE = committing the crime of commenting whilst still listening. Maybe these points will be made and I’ll come back and say Mea Culpa and give full props.]

    • Glenn

      Loved the comment. Especially this:

      “So actually materialism in brain research is a beautiful example of how the scientific method facilitates forward progress through ‘wishful thinking’, with the one vital point that the ‘wishes’ are not all equal – they have to be based upon and explain the observable evidence]”

    • Randy_Snyder

      Fantastic comment. The only thing I’d challenge (and this is just semantics) is your use of the term “wishful thinking”. My definition is ascribing to something that you want to be true but have no basis in reality to back it up. Your definition seems to be challenging the established dogma because it isn’t where the evidence is pointing.

    • Cylon

      Yes! This is what I was thinking the whole time! It’s not just that there’s no evidence for dualism, it’s that dualism was the working assumption and science has provided all sorts of evidence that contradicts dualism. And maybe you guys go into more detail about that later on in the podcast, because I’m only halfway through this episode.

      So far, I just want to say Randy is a badass. Everybody keeps trying to knock him down but he just keeps swinging and coming out on top every time. 😉 (I realize you guys are in the agree one 95% and just disagreeing on the 5%, but this is still a fun discussion.)

    • Excellent point. I use the same point about the book of Mormon and Gender. With Mormons and the essential premise of the Book of Mormon, it isn’t that non mormon scientists are unwilling to consider the possibility of jews having come to the New World (as is often claimed), in fact that had once been their default and then it was overcome.
      And for those who think contemporary scientists are unwilling to consider the possibility that gender is merely a cultural construct (as I’m beginning to hear claimed): That was the default position of science for about 5 decades and was then overturned through evidence.
      I think this point actually works in a variety of areas and is a strong one.

  • Mike

    Recently watched, DMT: the spirit molecule on netflix hosted by Joe Rogan. Interesting take on the use of psychedelics to unblock the filter of our brains to spiritual awareness. It’s trippy but surprisingly compelling. This coming from someone who leans towards Randy’s way of thinking and has never come close to any form of psychedelics. The quorum should watch it, have some peyote and return and report.

    • Roger

      I’ve seen that “documentary” and didn’t think too highly on it. The drug clearly cuts your stream of consciousness off from your normal sensory perceptions, but it in no way creates a new sensory apparatus. Taking the drug will teach you what your brain will do when the visual cortex is stimulated by something other than the optical nerves, but it’s not going to teach you any truth that does not already lie inside of your body.

      However, it made me want to try some ayahuasca (DMT Tea).

      • Mike

        Ya, I thought pretty much the same thing. It can’t tell you anything outside yourself. It did illustrate to me how much we don’t know about the brain and perhaps reality. The inner workings of the brain are as unknown to science as deep space or the deep ocean. The dualist position boils down to personal experience through feelings, wants, hopes and desires with little or often contradictory evidence against such belief. What is compelling about the video is how convinced, across the board, the participants were that they had a transcendent spiritual experience much like those who experience near death experiences. I agree, watching it makes me want to sign up for the next DMT study. So again, in the name of Science and by the power of grey skull, I challenge the quorum to test the effects of DMT and then submit the results for peer review..

  • Roger

    This is longer than I meant it to be…

    I’m going to rebut the idea that the
    null hypothesis is a conversation stopper, especially in the context
    of dualism. The conversation stopper is fallacy of thinking that has
    arisen in the modern world in that evidence only exists in the form
    of logic and quantifiable measurements. There are other kinds of
    evidence. Rather than just hoorah the null hypothesis, talk about why
    the null hypothesis is not easy to accept.

    Group consensus is a really good reason
    to believe most things most of the time, because beliefs that are
    useful to the believer tend to be the ones that survive best, and the
    ones that survive best tend to be closest to the truth. If everyone
    believes in the soul, there is probably a good reason for the soul.

    Authority of time is a good reason to
    believe something, because if an idea has been believed for a long
    time, it is a good idea to believe it, since that idea has failed to
    die. If people have believed in souls for a long time, then it’s
    likely that’s the case.

    Intuition is a really good reason to
    believe a lot of things. Dualism just kind of feels right. I think
    that all of us feel like our bodies are meat machines that is driven
    by our mind, which is a real thing that has no specific appearance.
    We have an internal monologue which seems to drive every aspect of
    our lives, and we know that everyone else has a mind that is racing
    while hiding from view.

    So if all we know is what we’ve been
    told and what we feel, and what we’ve been told is that we have a
    soul inside of us, and it feels like a soul is moving your body,
    that’s a really good reason to believe that you have a soul… except
    for the massive weight of what science is teaching us. Science is
    showing us time and time again that it is the physical brain that
    operates both the body and the internal monologue. Every single claim
    to know anything about the soul as a high fidelity personality
    storage medium to get slotted into a new field of experience after
    death comes bundled with blatantly false pretensions to authority and
    assertions about the rest of reality that are patently false.

    I don’t know if I’m weird or not, but I
    think a lot of my faith was lost because my own materialistic
    worldview ate away the space for Christ in my life. I wanted a sound
    theory to describe my soul, a theory to describe how my bad behavior
    left a stain on my soul, and how suffering of a third party made that
    taint go away. None of that seemed to wash. No matter how badly a
    third party suffered, it didn’t affect me, it wouldn’t change me or
    what I had done. Thus after a few years “For god so loved the
    world that he sent his only begotten son” started to sound like,
    “For god was so douchey that he made a world where someone else
    must suffer before he could recognize that you learned from your own
    mistakes.” The meaning of Christ in my life is the notion that
    justice can only be served by the creation of additional sentient suffering… a concept I completely reject.

    Back in my angry apostate stage I was
    one of those “millennials” living with Mom, and I got to
    occasionally engage with the missionaries. I pointed out that the
    faith tests in the Book of Mormon really require that the belief
    either be already held, or a wish for that reality has to exist. One
    missionary responded with, “Do you want it (the Gospel of Christ)
    to not be true?” I didn’t have a response then, but now I would
    definitely say proudly that, “No, I do not wish to live in a world
    where one less crucified man means eternal disaster for all mankind.”

    • Randy_Snyder

      Roger please forgive me if I misunderstand you but are you arguing for group consensus, authority of time and intuition as strong evidence to grant dualism and materialism ontological equivalency? I’ve never scored high on reading comprehension tests so I just want to be clear before I respond. 🙂

      • Roger

        No, I’m saying that group consensus and time give provide WEAK evidence that correllates well with personal experience. Weak evidence is still better than no evidence.

        Jake was saying that the Null Hypothesis so often is just a conversation stopper, and I’m saying that it doesn’t happen to be. Once you’ve accepted that evidence comes in multiple flavors, and not just in the form of logical construct and inductive analysis, the conversation can resume… then you can say why the historical record is or is not reliable, why group consensus has or has not lead to trustworthiness, why personal intuition does or does or does not yield accurate understanding.

        I am saying that in this case, the weak evidence for dualism can be invalidated, and the presence of invalidated data gives strength to a negative argument. (scriptures are bogus, pagans were intimidated into christianity, and different locations in our brain geometry process our social and physical interactions)

        I’ve not read much modern Philosophy, but in “Sense and Reason without God,” Richard Carrier gives a rundown of epistemic systems and their relative strengths, which is something worth talking about when you don’t want Science trumps Tradition to end discussion.

        • Randy_Snyder

          I see. Good point. We didn’t really go that deep in those “evidences” probably bc we’re all so close in agreement. Jake mentioned NDE a couple times (which to me have an easy naturalistic rebut) but not much else.

          Glenn in our after email exchange mentioned some regret not doing what you proposed here or something similar. We really didn’t have a format. It was a free flowing discussion that started w Glenn watching SNL and going “Ooooo, look what CK said! Randy’s favorite comedian just dissed atheists!”

  • Cylon

    I want to chime in on the transporter question Randy brought up at the end of the episode. I actually would have a big problem getting into one of those, but not because of some vague “essence of me-ness” or something, but precisely because of a lack of any such essence. As I understood it, the transporter completely destroys all the atoms of my body and then immediately makes a complete copy of every molecule and atom, with memories intact. Now, from the perspective of someone else, the newly created person would be me. Not a reasonable facsimile of me, me. It would be indistinguishable. And that new person would also completely have my identity.

    But unless I’m misunderstanding something, if I’m the original person, my consciousness stops when I step into the transporter. The new person would remember stepping into the transporter and everything that happened beforehand, but there’s no mechanism to have the original consciousness continue to the new person. If all the atoms of my brain are destroyed, my consciousness goes with it. The ability to make an exact copy of my brain and all of my memories doesn’t change that, even if the new person and everyone who knows me sees it as business as usual.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Interesting and well thought out and stated response. People I respect and admire agree with you. Why I brought it up was it’s a philosophical question that hard-core materialists seem split on and I find that interesting. Thanks for indulging.

    • What is the ‘original consciousness’?
      If i put a file on my thumb drive and then eliminate the source file off my computer is this somehow a ‘new file’ despite being identical in every way? What is the ‘mechanism for the ‘original file’ to continue onto the thumb drive?
      If our consciousness is merely the product of our biology, in the same way a digital file is merely the product of the 1’s and 0’s imprinted in silicon, what is the difference?
      Your view of consciousness seems to be that it is something…more than merely what emerges from the atoms, if so, you belief in some type of spirit or soul, no?

      • Cylon

        No, I don’t believe in a spirit or soul, and I’m rather mystified how you could get that from my comment. I specifically said I there is no non-material essence, and my whole point rests on that fact. Your example of the file on the thumb drive doesn’t really apply, because I already admitted that from an outside perspective, there is no difference. If you’re the one accessing the thumb drive, it’s exactly the same file. Likewise, if you’re the person watching me go into the transporter and then see the copy come out the other side, then it’s the same person, there’s no difference at all.

        But if you’re stuck in the original hardware, as it were, it makes a big difference. If all you can see is the hard drive the file was created on, then it doesn’t matter if the file was copied onto the thumb drive or not, the file is still gone once it’s deleted from the drive. My point is that if my consciousness is a product of the physical hardware of my brain, I don’t continue to have consciousness once my brain is destroyed even if you immediately create an identical consciousness in a new brain that is identical to mine.

        I don’t know if that helps, because I kind of feel like I just repeated myself, but hopefully you get where I’m coming from.

        • Re: My asking about your belief in a soul:
          I was using a rhetorical device to suggest that in order for such a thing as you are proposing as a ‘original consciousness’ to make sense, it would be the equivalent of a soul or spirit. Some THING that is separate from the actual mechanics of the biological machine.
          When you say ‘if you’re stuck in the original hardware’….’if all you can see is the hard drive the file was created on’.
          Who is this ‘you’ viewing the hard drive? What is seeing ‘the hard drive the file was created on’?
          This is the ‘thing’ that perceives is what I am saying either does not make sense as a concept, or is something external, non-phyisical, like a soul.
          Without employing something external to, or other than the physical workings of the body, (ie. a soul or spirit) it has no meaning to say ‘if you are stuck in the original hardware’. What you? The software is gone, how could anything continue to perceive? The body is gone.
          So what is perceiving being left behind and not liking it?
          The spirit? It must be, since none of the physical aspects remain, The 1’s and 0’s have been written over. The molecules have been re-arranged. The consciousness that emerged from it is in a different location…or perhaps two locations (if the original wasn’t destroyed. Both persons would be equal to the original, even if they were no longer equal to each other, since they would instantly develop unique memories from each other’.)

          The ‘you’, the perceiver, is a by-product of the mechanics of the brain.
          If that ‘you’ is then duplicated and the original destroyed, what is observing? What is left on teleportation pad to observe it’s surroundings? Nothing of course. There ceases to be an internal perspective anywhere expect in the new being, which is identical in every way to the original, including the internal perspective.

          • Cylon

            “If that ‘you’ is then duplicated and the original destroyed, what is observing? What is left on teleportation pad to observe it’s surroundings? Nothing of course.”
            Exactly! There is nothing left! That bundle of meat and neurons was me, and I was irrevocably tied to that bundle of meat and neurons. Once it’s gone, so is the consciousness that was in it.

            “There ceases to be an internal perspective anywhere expect in the new being, which is identical in every way to the original, including the internal perspective.”
            Yes, I agree with all of this. The fact that you’re using it to argue against me leads me to believe that you still don’t understand what I’m actually trying to say. The fact that the new being is identical up to and including the internal perspective does not negate the fact that the old being is gone. Try thinking about it this way. Let’s say we had the technology to make a perfect copy of someone down to the atom, duplicating their consciousness just like in the teleporter example, only in this case you can keep the original person. Now there’s just two of you. Would it it be ethical to kill the original person just because a copy exists?

          • Despite saying otherwise, you still seem to be assuming that there is something tangible about the being which ceases to exist, that is in some way unique from the duplicate.

            If the new being is identical to the old one in every single way, including the internal perspective, what does it MATTER that the old being no longer exists?

            The only way for that to work, is if there is some quality OTHER THAN THE MATTER which makes it unique, since the matter has been exactly duplicated.

            Unless there is something tangible about the being that ceases to exist, something that exists beyond the mere functioning of atoms, then nothing, absolutely nothing, is lost when that being is destroyed IF an exact copy has been made.

            (I think we may be speaking past each other because your example does not speak to my point, and I even specifically mentioned what you are saying about having two copies within my point, but I will go ahead and answer anyway)

            The ethics of killing the original being would depend on the expectations going into the event….but I believe what you are asking with that question is, would the duplicate, TRULY be identical, even though the molecules are identical, and the sense of whether or not they are identical would be illuminated by whether or not it seemed ethical to kill the original when you have a duplicate.

            The problem with this is, as soon as a duplicate is made and the original continues to exist, the original and duplicate are no longer identical to each other, since each has now formed new memories.

            So, although the duplicate is the same being as the one who stepped into the transporter, and the person left standing on the transporter is (obviously) the same person they were when they stepped onto the transporter, the duplicate and the being left standing on the transporter are NOT the same being anymore (but just by a little bit) because of newly formed memories. You now have two distinct beings that were at one point only one being.

            Now, if in your question you said that the original person, immediately after duplication were placed into some type of stasis so they were no longer conscious and no longer forming new memories, then yes, it would be ethical to kill them. (i mean, probably. I think the ethics of killing the original would deal with several other issues beyond just duplication, but thats neither here nor there)

            I get what you are saying, when you think of a duplicate being made of yourself, and then your current body being destroyed, you think ‘well, that duplicate is not me, that would not be ME being carried on within it’.

            However, I think that sensation is merely an illusion, albeit a strong one. Because, from the perspective of this duplicate, it would know zero distinction between that old body and the new one, since there would be no break in consciousness.

            I think this gets to the heart of our differences:

            When you say:

            “The fact that the new being is identical up to and including the internal perspective does not negate the fact that the old being is gone.”

            it does not MATTER that the old being is gone, because the FRUIT of the old being, the consciousness which arises from the biology continues to exist. So, you need to argue that something tangible is lost with that old being, since it is not the consciousness, memories, disposition etc. What is lost by that old being being gone? I say nothing, you say something, but you have yet to have defined it and I can’t comprehend such a thing without invoking a concept such as a soul.

  • KC

    randy, you lost me with all the F bombs, and was finally done after the Jesus Christ “F bomb”. Its just disrespectful to your listeners. It seems when you are on defensive or frustrated your point is not taken, you resort to the F bomb. I appreciate your perspective, but this time your words were so loud I couldn’t hear what you were saying.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Why does the word fuck trouble you so much? Not being snarky but I’m fascinated with this phenomenon. Jake and I plan to do a podcast on this and maybe it would be a good idea to have you on.

  • Eric

    Sorry, this got long…

    I’m someone who has pretty much always agreed with Randy’s take on things. But I’ve grown wary over the past many months of materialists’ unflinching dismissal of positive evidence in psi research and near-death experience research. I still consider myself a materialist, but I think I’m drifting toward a sympathy toward researchers like Rupert Sheldrake and Dean Radin. I’ve listened to many debates between skeptics and psi researchers now and it’s becoming clear that the skeptics simply haven’t truly examined the data, or they use straw man arguments to refute the data. There are famous skeptics, like Richard Wiseman, Steven Novella, Patricia Churchland, and many others, who claim to have thoroughly torn apart the psi research. But when you hear these guys actually defend their “tearing apart”, their positions are actually really weak. The psi researchers just make a better case. Dean Radin controls for every conceivable variable and gets results above noise.

    One other thing worth pointing out is Sheldrake’s take on consciousness being an emergent property of the brain. Randy kept saying that all research shows that when you alter the brain, personality changes and that that points to the brain causing consciousness. Sheldrake uses the radio analogy. He says your brain is like a radio tuner and consciousness is like radio waves. So, of course, if you change the workings of the radio tuner, it’s going to pick up and interpret radio waves differently. So, if you alter parts of the brain, it will change the way it handles consciousness. Obviously, I don’t know if that’s true, but just that little spin makes me think about things differently.

    My point in all this is that, Randy, you dismiss psi research, saying things like, “there has not been one single piece of evidence above noise”. And, a year ago, I would have agreed with that completely. But then I actually took it seriously and looked into it. Yes, some of the research is weak. This area is a minefield of bullshit and new age uselessness. But some of the findings appear legit and are provocative enough for me to keep a door open to the possibilities in this field and to not say materialism is the end-all-be-all. I just think a lot of professional skeptics dismiss stuff with little more than skimming the data and then readers/listeners repeat these dismissals as if they’re thorough and reliable.

    • Well said, Eric. Let’s leave the unflinching dismissal tactic to the religious folk.

    • Randy_Snyder

      The radio waves analogy seems to be a good analogy for the material brain. Please elaborate on how it points to an undamaged immaterial executive in the machine.

      As for your Psi comments, please listen to the SGU episode #294 from about minute 42:00 to 101:00. It highlights some important things about Psi research which include probably the most prominent figure Daryl Bem who even landed on the Colbert Report to talk about his research. He not only is a Psi researcher but a well established and respected social psychologist and a chapter in a recent book he published encourages Psi researchers to massage the data. There is other good stuff in this interview such as Bayesian vs P value statistics as well.

      But a great paper on the state of Psi research is called “Give the Null Hypothesis a Chance” by James Alcock which is actually critical of the critics of Psi but paints a broad and accurate picture of the field. It’s easy to find on google.

      • Randy_Snyder

        That’s minute 42:00-1:01.

        • Eric

          I’ll definitely check out that episode. I’ve cautiously been listening to the Skeptiko podcast a lot, just to see what’s “out there”. The host is a real asshole, to be honest, and he delves into a minefield of woo pseudo science. The name is a extremely misleading because he’s actually skeptical of the skeptics. But his interviews with the more prominent psi and near-death researchers are valuable to listen to, in order to see where the other side is coming from. They address so many of the issues that skeptics bring up. But if you’re going to listen to Skeptiko, I’m warning you now, the host will make you want to punch him in the face and many of the subjects will make you cringe.

          As for the radio tuner and consciousness, I agree, the analogy also works for a material brain/mind. Sheldrake isn’t necessarily saying there is “ghost in the machine”. He doesn’t claim to know what consciousness is, other than that it extends beyond our brains. He would say that our brains are a tool we use to access some kind of universal consciousness. I know, I know, this sounds very new agey and it largely is. The reason I bring it up is because it’s just a different way to interpret all the research you were referring to on how brain alterations change personalities. So for some scientists, that research doesn’t necessarily point to a material brain. I’ve even heard Sam Harris say he’s agnostic as to whether consciousness is a product of the brain. Maybe that’s something else you’d call him out on. Haha! That was great!

          Anyways, good podcast and discussion.

          • Randy_Snyder

            Oh I know about the Skeptiko guy. He came on the SGU to debate Steven Novella on Psi research. They were supposed to do it a second time but it never happened. I asked Jay Novella what happened and he said “That guy is a crazy asshole. He was impossible to work with so I just cut off communication.” That’s the Novella side of that story anyway.

            I know there are many neuro-scientists and neurologists that don’t subscribe to the material brain model. I know one personally and over several alcoholic beverages at Matt’s house he and I debated it.

            The quantum god or quantum consciousness of the Universe you alluded to is people trying to use quantum mechanics to explain how we are all interconnected. Sean Carroll, a physicist and writer, once said of it “The questions are these: what form does that spirit energy take, and how does it interact with our ordinary atoms? Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments. Ockham’s razor is not on your side here, since you have to posit a completely new realm of reality obeying very different rules than the ones we know.”

  • The word is ‘Emergence’ not ‘CONvergence’.
    I lol-ed when I heard Randy, by far the most dogmatic member of the panel, say he was all about fighting against dogma.
    As for the theory of consciousness, I think one of the prevailing theories now (along with emergence), and the one I find most compelling, is that it evolved as a part of the brain to help with information processing. Conciousness, rather than having emerged through some quasi-mystical phenomenon through the machinations of the trillions of neurons, is a specific part of the brain that evolved to serve specific purposes and exists in degrees.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Well done Christopher. I made the mistake in real time of getting convergence (Jake’s question) mixed up with emergence and pontificated on about it. I picked it up after listening and asked the guys if anyone would notice.

      But your pejorative that I’m dogmatic. Please back this naked assertion up.

      • Thanks Randy.
        Clearly I am in delicate waters and now, having to address you directly I feel much less comfortable than before when I was getting to throw a pejorative out to a faceless ether, but here it goes:
        As I understand the word dogmatic, and after having consulted 3 or 4 dictionaries, I understand that a person who is Dogmatic, asserts their beliefs as if they are absolutely true in a way that cannot be denied.
        Does this not feel as if it describes you? I mean this in all respect, i appreciate your chiming in for the side of science, and I value a variety of opinions being heard, even the dogmatic, but I have never heard you express beliefs in a way that seemed to suggest said beliefs could be wrong.
        I’ve never heard you question your beliefs, I’ve never heard you even briefly entertain the possibility that your beliefs could be wrong. I don’t even think i’ve heard you acknowledge such a possibility when backed into a corner.

        However, what most stands out to me, is your unwillingness to entertain, in any way, beliefs or world views other than your own . (For example, Krista, mike etc.)
        You make no effort to even listen and understand them, let alone consider them. To me, that gets to the heart of dogmatism, an unwillingness to entertain and understand ideas that don’t jive with your pre conceived ideas. (think of Lds folk unwilling to even consider the possibility of ‘anti-mormon’ claims.)
        Of course, seriously considering or entertaining other views does not mean one need ultimately accept them or even give them equal weight as ideas you cherish, but to approach one’s beliefs as if they are not ‘incontrovertibly true’ demands giving other beliefs some level of consideration.
        At the other end of the spectrum is Glen, who, like you and I is an atheist with a scientific worldview, yet he is more than willing to listen to and indulge in a variety of ideas, whether or not they seem to jive with his own.
        In general I believe your world view is fairly similar to mine, but the overwhelming majority of claims I’ve heard you make (having listened to every episode, but no doubt I’m forgetting some things) are dogmatic.

        • Randy_Snyder

          So you’re saying that I think my positions are incontrovertible? I’ve never once hinted to the possibility I could be wrong? I actually have but perhaps you’ve felt it rang hollow as merely lip service. I would phrase it that I think my positions have earned their place in the arena of thought and can be backed up and my frustration comes when people take positions that haven’t earned their place and think that granting a false equivalency is the truly open minded thing to do. The same problem lies in journalism when a UFO story happens. Is the proper journalism technique to give both sides of the story equally and let the audience decide? I say no. Sure, let the guy with the UFO claim tell his story but when the government gives the infinitely more plausible side that they sent out flares I feel it’s the journalist’s responsibility to give the appropriate weight to the more plausible side.

          Another point. After all that we know about physics, etc how many psychic stories, alien abduction stories, NDE stories, haunting stories, demon attack/possession stories, etc do I need to hear before I am justified in finally rolling my eyes at the next one. Am I to listen with I’m sure the pseudo interest you and Glenn do? That seems to be making patronizing a virtue. There is currently a room in a hospital where people often code with a message to read that only someone who has truly had an out of body experience could easily read and to date, as far as I know, nobody has ever returned from near death to relay that message. The highly more plausible description is lack of oxygen to the brain affected the area that constructs the individual’s position in the Universe resulted in a perceived out of body experience. Believe me, if someone in that room came back after coding and relayed that message I’d be thrilled. Like I said, I’m not opposed to living forever (is that not itself a clue my mind is not absolutely closed?). But until something more than anecdotes and testimonials surface, I’m not going to be compelled. Don’t mistake passionate defense of a well-established and earned ontological position for dogmatism. I think it’s more my delivery that is off putting and you’re not alone in that opinion. 🙂

          I think your point is better suited to political beliefs. Politics is a messy, complicated thing. And if we echo chamber ourselves to the point where we won’t even listen to the counter-argument, we are in a dogmatic political belief system.

          • I think the fact that you can’t imagine Glenn or I having a sincere interest in something we do not believe is telling about the different angles we are coming from. To the point where it is unlikely we could even come to some point of understanding, but lets give it a shot.

            I don’t know how to explain it other than, I have a sincere interest in certain things, even if I don’t think they are true. Such as science fiction novels, and even things that I radically disagree with, like conservatives, conspiracy theorists, astrologers etc. The fact that they hold beliefs I think are wrong does not anger me or make me want to make sure
            Although there are certainly some topics that DO make me feel that way because, like everyone, there are some areas where I can’t help but be dogmatic

            Granted, you don’t need to be interested in every single topic ever, but to be actively antagonistic towards them is another thing, which is, I suppose, what other people respond to and what comes across as Dogma.
            If you merely ‘rolled your eyes’ at such things, I don’t think we would be having this discussion. It is the fact that beliefs you disagree with make you angry that comes across as dogmatic. Just put yourself in the reverse shoes. THink if, whenever something contradictory to Mormonism came up, some TBM (Boyd Packer?) exploded in anger and refused to listen to it…you would think he was dogmatic, even if in his heart it turned out he wasn’t.

            I am not sure what you think about your beliefs all I have to go on is how you express them on the podcast, which I would guess is a decent reflection of your beliefs. I believe you EXPRESS your beliefs as incontrovertible, but if you say that is not how you actually feel, I have no reason but to take your word for it, so I will.

            What I hear you as saying is that ‘I am not dogmatic’ but then going on to explain why, because your position is so solid, it is okay to be dogmatic’. Which I think is a reasonable stance, I think everyone is dogmatic about some topic or another.

            I like you Randy…I like that you are on the podcast and I enjoy the perspective you add. If you say that in your heart you are not dogmatic, I believe you. It sounds like you have already gotten a lot of heat for how you sometimes express yourself and I don’t want to add to that.
            And you are, of course right about it being the delivery system that is off putting, I think that is the key point I’ve been discussing, is your delivery system, and I think you accurately see why someone like myself would view the way you express yourself as dogmatic, even if that isn’t how you feel inside.
            I know that even if we don’t want to get mad, even if it doesn’t actually express our levels of dogma, it can just happen, so i’ll make sure to keep that as a footnote in my mind when I listen…and granted, you had even made an effort to express that, it’s just that everything else came across stronger. But from now on I will try harder to give you the benefit of the doubt and know that even if you sound dogmatic it may not be what you are feeling.

          • Glenn

            I am very interested in hearing and evaluating anecdotal evidence, not because of what it tells us about Truth, but because of what it tells us about people.

          • Perhaps because of what sort of Truths it tells us about people?

          • Oh Glenn…now I see why the guys tease you the way they do! Here I am, trying to defend and compliment you and that is how you respond?

          • Randy_Snyder

            Thanks for taking the time to push back and challenge me. You’ve made me think and I like that.

            I don’t like using the word dogmatic so broadly. When I speak of dogma my intent is an unjustified, authoritarian list of laws of morality, ontology, etc which is then used as a justification to impose that dogma into public policy and science education. When you use dogmatic so broadly it puts me into the same category in my mind and it triggers me emotionally because I’m now being placed in a category with a position that has not earned it’s place. I’ve also had it used on me by people that see themselves as “nuanced and open-minded” to dismiss my arguments out of hand. Perhaps my definition is too narrow but at least, maybe, you see where I’m coming from. Furthermore, I have always had a temper problem. At age 4 I chased my 11 year old sister w a baseball bat for teasing me and when she hid in a bedroom, I knocked 3 holes into the door. My dad thought he had a violent psychopath on his hands until he realized my non-angry rest state was bleeding-heart compassion and gentle.

    • Cylon

      Sometimes it seems people think dogmatic means “holds opinions strongly.”

      • Randy_Snyder

        To quote Inigo Montoya. “You keep saying dogmatic. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

        • I kinda think this is one of those cases where perception is reality? That is, sure, one could technically make an argument for how Randy isn’t dogmatic and “the other side” (for lack of a better term) is more typically dogmatic…

          But when I google dogmatic, the first definition that pops up is “inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true” and I can see how it’s not so clear cut that Randy gets a pass on this pejorative term whereas it clearly is descriptive for that other side…

          I’m just saying if we have to repeat one more time how Randy isn’t dogmatic but others are and/or explain this theoretically huge difference with a series of subtle and nuanced differences… um, maybe perception is winning, which is unfortunate because I do think Randy’s dogma (er, I mean, “incontrovertibly true” perspective) isn’t quite the same as the other side’s dogma even if I’m not ready to say the word somehow is magically hands off for him but is totally fine for the average straw man dualist.

          Regardless, if I’ve just turned this into a semantics conversation, sorry.

          • Randy_Snyder

            Two hours wasn’t enough I guess Bob. I’ll make it short and sweet. I defend positions that have earned their place. Not as incontrovertible truths but the best we have now against positions that have simply not. I do it strongly. If you call me dogmatic you are just trying to dismiss the one arguing so you don’t have to deal with the arguments. It’s a cheap rhetorical trick.

          • But the definition of dogma (insomuch as I understand it) does not include a clause that makes it more relevant as a descriptor for principles with a lack of credibility. It’s credibility agnostic. So what’s to stop a dualist from arguing your point right back at you as a cheap rhetorical trick? They argue their positions strongly based on the best they have in terms of their own personal experiences.

            For the record, I don’t think you’re dogmatic but I understand the inference based on confusing dogma with a form of passion and strength. And, apologies for the rehash, but I I also think your side institutionalized can not be accurately described with a term like dogma whereas the other side institutionalized absolutely can be.

            The problem lies within the comparison of one person on one side and one person on the other side. In this scenario, the distinction is blurry and if one side throws around dogma as a descriptor for the other side… it cuts both ways, no fair calling foul if/when one person calls another’s personal experience/position dogma and somehow expects the term to be hands off for their own personal experience/position. On a personal level (1-to-1), it’s very difficult to find a scenario (remember, credibility agnostic) that makes you only strongly defensive but the other side dogmatic. Best to stick with the golden rule here… in my opinion, of course!

          • Randy_Snyder

            The answer lies within using Bayesian inference which, unlike P value, takes into account not only the null hypothesis but the alternative hypothesis and its probability provided you have specified the alternative hypothesis beforehand. Prior probability plays heavily into this and this, Bob, is where we agree, prior probability of the paranormal. Where we diverge is how we respond to claims of the paranormal like NDE’s. You say be nice and don’t rush to not give them a comfortable place in the arena of thought. I say in person, that’s how I respond but in an arena where I’m allowed to give my authentic response where people have to choose to listen? I will not mince words. Not even four letter ones to express my position that dualism has been chipped away for a long time and the future doesn’t look good for it.

      • probably because that is not too far off from the actual definition.

  • Bryan Wales

    I struggle with identifying myself as atheist, even though strictly by definition, that is what I am. The problem I have with atheism, is it does not specify where you stand concerning religion. The thought question that I think is interesting, that was not specifically stated on the podcast, is if a religion had proof that their god was real, what would you do? Would you become Muslim if they were proven right? Would you become a Jehovah Witness is they were right? I think it gets assumed in arguments between atheist and religious folk, that if sufficient evidence was produced to prove that said God exists, then the atheist would join into that religious group and follow that God.

    I have given this some thought, and I can’t see myself joining any religion on the earth today, even if evidence existed that proved their god was real. This decision can be made based on analysis of a groups beliefs, practices, and doctrines. Evidence, just really doesn’t matter.

    So I guess this makes me more of a apatheist. Like someone already posted about. Someone who considers the argument on the existence of God, unnecessary to how I live my life. Of course a true apatheist would not be listening to this podcast and wasting time posting about it. So I can’t fit all the way in that box either.

    Maybe secular humanist is a better fit. That is a better description of where I stand than strictly atheist. Or actually, I kind of like being more of a cafeteria human. I’ll consume whatever I want from any and all groups or affiliations. After leaving the church, you want to find a word that encapsulates everything you are, but I don’t think such a word exists.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Interesting post Bryan. But can you really separate the misogyny, violence of the Qur’an, and silly rules of Islam from evidence of it’s ontological probability that their Allah is the one true god? Maybe you’re imagining that despite all the evidence it’s a bad idea by men instead of a real thing that Allah appears on the evening news and declares his existence and authority. If that happened I guess the philosophical dilemma would be whether you would want to align yourself with the one true god despite your contempt of his behavior and morality. That would be a helluva dilemma!

      • Bryan Wales

        Yes, it is that dilemma I was talking about. Can you imagine the balls you would have to have to tell Allah to shove it? Luckily, the probability of that scenario actually happening, is around the same probability of being given a choice of which superpower you get to have, flight or invisibility. Actually I think the chances of developing a superpower are probably higher.

  • Polly Anna

    I’m not so sure about no useful or interesting discoveries with the brain happening later than the past 10 years or whatever you said. When I heard about Phineas Gage in my Psychology 101 class, that was the moment I seriously consider materialism as a possible reality for the world. In case you’re unfamiliar the story, Phineas was working on the rail road in 1800s. A railroad spike shot through his head and destroyed his frontal lobe. He lived, but his personality was and preferences where permanently changed. When I heard this story in Psych, I started questioning what this story said about whether there is a soul. I concluded it seems unlikely if one head injury can change every thing about your personality. What are we if not our personalities? What is a soul if not our personalities?

  • simateoako

    I’ve been thinking about this episode much lately. The argument for a soul because we cannot point to a storage location of memory (versus personality being entirely physical) I believe can be solved in numerous well-documented examples.

    People who have sustained head injuries often times lose memories. Sometimes the memory loss is temporary, which persists until the neurons can remap to access the still in-tact areas, or permanent because of severe damage.

    Memories are a function of natural selection. The animal that remembers attempting to drink lava is bad is more likely to survive. The animal that recalls eating certain types of flowers/mushrooms/rocks will not repeat the same behavior, and will pass on that trait to their offspring.

  • Tuko

    I love you guys, but this was one long rambling mess. 30 minutes of material at most in a two-hour podcast

    • Glenn

      Sheesh — what happened to “beggars can’t be choosers?” 😉

    • Randy_Snyder

      I actually agree with you Tuko. But it was just a recording of friends bullshitting spontaneously. There was no format or real plan.

  • Possibly Gods i could imagine:

    Our decedents, in the distant future, all merge together through technology into one super being that can control space and time. This super being, able to control time goes back to the beginning of the universe and, initiating the big bang, creating the universe and itself in an eternal round.

    Someone sitting at a desktop, running a simulation that is our universe.

    Beings on another planet that has evolved for billions of years and seeded ours (essentially dawkins view).
    or beings in another universe, who evolved into super beings and created our universe (essentially the mormon view via science ie. transhumanism)

    Also, it could easily be a group of scientists, using advanced software, running a simulation as part of an experiment, totally unaware that within their fine grained simulation of galaxies, life evolved.

  • Vitamin T

    I am a materialist who believes in a non-metaphysical form of dualism. I believe that a person’s consciousness, their mind, could be uploaded to a computer. Obviously, we don’t know how to do this yet, but I believe it is possible. If so, then the mind is something distinct from the brain. The brain is just a type of biological computer hardware that can run the software of the mind. I think this is an important distinction. It allows for immortality, even if only in theory.

  • Jeff

    I just wanted to say that the “River of Time” idea is something like the philosophy of men mingled with science.

  • Lyle

    Really, Richard
    Dawkins, a true believing materialist/determinist and high priest of “settled science”
    as spokesman? Watched a couple of his “debates”, the guy is so arrogant. Is it
    possible there is something that is just not knowable? Like pre Big-Bang maybe?
    If the cosmologist says everything comes from nothing (a non sequitur of the
    first order), I guess I must believe it. After all, if you can’t do the math
    you can’t wear the black robe. It’s just
    too difficult for the unqualified mind (have you studied for the priesthood?);
    best leave it to those who can. As currently
    practiced, modern science is just another religion and just as narrow minded and
    high handed. The high priests just make it up as they go. If it the observation doesn’t fit the theory,
    deny the observation (check out Halton Arp -Intrinsic
    Red Shift in Quasars and Galaxies, The Electric Universe model, and current
    well done parapsychology research found everywhere). Materialism is no more satisfying than is
    Christianity. In the first case you’re nothing and the second you’re not
    enough. In both cases you’re born a victim,
    to suffer, and to live and die in fear. Neither materialism/determinism, nor Dualism is
    a satisfying choice. But wait, there are
    other options. Non-Dualism – maybe the Buddhists
    have something worthwhile to add? Another:
    A Course in Miracles – the western Vedanta – give it a look and maybe give Love
    a chance! Or even Thomas Campbell’s My
    Big T.O.E – it’s all digital simulation, but it has a purpose! I think you guys are kind of funny, but
    please get over your bitterness and grow up. Sure Joseph Smith was a conman and
    a liar, and the Brethren are creeps, but life goes on and eventually we’re
    compelled to look for more satisfying answers to the ultimate questions: what
    am I and why do I exist? I believe the unthinkable can be known. Love and Best Wishes, Lyle

    • Randy_Snyder

      Lyle, I don’t know what format you typed in but it was a chore reading your post. Anyway, when someone says modern science is just another religion and just as high handed, and in the same post tells us to grow up, I lose interest. Thanks for listening though. 🙂

  • Jennifer

    I’m not very skilled on putting things into comments from other sites without messing things up, but I was over at a blog called Kbotkin.com and she talked about, well, here it is — I’ll just cut and paste.

    “Watching the Ken Ham-Bill Nye debate on evolution and creation last night took me back to when I was 14. I got familiar with both men’s work that year. My largely-homeschooled youth group was going through a video series put out by Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, featuring him doing a lot of talking about why the earth could only be 6,000 years old. After each video, we took a quiz to test our knowledge of it. I remember that I was a little uneasy about replying to the query on what you said to someone who believed in evolution. The proper response was “were you there?” which seemed both belligerent and stupid, but I nodded along, and did better than everyone else at regurgitating what had just been presented. I even had a friendly little rivalry going with an 18-year-old male over who got the most answers right. It was posted, in a list, and I wanted to be at the top of the list.”

    So it seems the “Were you there??” line is actually a response kids were taught to give.

    Now when I tell my husband something and he says, “Is that really how it happened?” I say in my worst Aussie accent, “Were you there? Huh? Where you? Where you there?”

  • Olivia

    My favorite thing about this episode are the tags used in its description.

  • Phil Hampton


    I re-listened to this episode today and around the 50 min mark you begin talking about “Emergence” which you confused with “Convergence”
    I remember months ago when I first listened, I went to search for the Radiolab episode on Convergence but it didn’t exist because it was actually called, “Emergence”.

    Just wanted to give you shit. 😉