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Disbelief as the default position

Hi, I've heard the argument that disbelief is the default position of any claim. Could someone elaborate? The rebuttal of that argument I've encountered is that ignorance is the only default position of a claim, that once one is aware of a claim, accepting it ( belief) or nonacceptance ( disbelief) are then the two ( equal) options, neither one being the "default" position. Thank you.

It's related to the idea of the "burden of proof". The person making a claim has the burden to justify the claim or offer proof. Until there is such proof, the position that one should take is not believing the claim.

This does not mean that you believe the opposite claim. It could well be that you take the default position there, too. In that case you're just saying that you have no belief either way.

Rxwoman said, "Hi, I've heard the argument that disbelief is the default position of any claim."

I doubt that disbelief is the default position of just *any* claim (for instance) claims made with sufficient evidence as a result of rigorous testing are believable. It would be very foolish to believe things without sufficient proof -religion is the only thing that operates that way.

Rxwoman said, "Could someone elaborate? The rebuttal of that argument I've encountered is that ignorance is the only default position of a claim, that once one is aware of a claim, accepting it ( belief) or nonacceptance ( disbelief) are then the two ( equal) options, neither one being the "default" position. Thank you."

The scientific method advocates disbelief in claims that are made without evidence. A hypothesis has to be submitted for peer review before it becomes a theory. That means you let all of the scientists in that field try to disprove the theory. The objective is accepting only theories that add actual knowledge to the scientific process and keeping bias out of the process.

Some theist try to use the argument "you can't prove it doesn't exist" to prove something about God. Carl Sagan's phrase in "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" (The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence) is a criticism of the appeal to ignorance -like "you can't prove it's not true so it must be". Carl Sagan's "The Dragon in My Garage" is the same kind of statement about an invisible dragon in the garage that cannot be detected by any means.

Caral Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For all I know we may be visited by a different extraterrestrial civilization every second Tuesday, but there's no support for this appealing idea. The extraordinary claims are not supported by extraordinary evidence."

In "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" Sagan presented tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent ones, essentially advocating wide use of the scientific method. He said, "The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by 'God' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying- it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."

When you start basing what is true on assumptions you wind up with religion.

I'd say, in any question, default position is chosen based on the consequences of the error. It's a question of risk management.

E.g. in quality control, there are 2 types of test errors: shipping defective product to the customer (consumer's risk) or rejecting a good product (producer's risk). Consequences of shipping defective product are far greater than consequences of rejecting a good product (loss of customer, bad reputation, and potential litigation vs. simple financial loss). This is why, when test data is inconclusive or unavailable, it is safer to assume that the product is defective.

When someone reports a bomb in a building, it is safer to believe the claim until it has been reasonably disproved.

When someone tells me it's going to rain, and I have no evidence either way, my default position would be based on what I dislike more - getting wet or carrying an umbrella.

In science, usually, there is no harm in disbelieving a claim. Scientists, in nearly all cases, can safely afford to wait for the evidence, and the risk of accepting a false hypothesis is greater than the risk of rejecting a true one. If hypothesis is true, the evidence will be found sooner or later, with proper effort. Not all life situations offer such luxury.

In summary, accepting a false hypothesis is an error, but rejecting a true hypothesis is also an error. Default position is chosen depending on which error we fear more.

I believe you're taking the approach of risk reduction when you're forced to make a choice.

Not believing in claim x and not believing in claim NOT(x) is the default position with respect to belief.

I think that if you confuse the two, you're in a position where you're trying to believe something because you want it to be true.

AG is saying we all should believe in God because there are some very nasty consequences if you don't and nevermind the fact that the whole story makes no sense to anyone with half a brain.

I like how you and Linda like to put words into my mouth. My post didn't even mention "God". I'm sure, a lot of stories make no sense to people with half a brain. I don't mean anything personal. Just like you, I suppose?

BTW, this is a perfect example of how people read one thing and add fantasies and interpretations that go far beyond of what is said. I thought, atheists should know better, but it looks like that belief wasn't quite true.

"My post didn't even mention "God"." AG-

It is a natural follow-up to your claim. Your claim leaves you open to the "irrelevant conclusion" fallacy. You said to make your decisions based on the possible conclusions, ignoring whether or not the evidence actually supports any of the negative conclusions you can draw.

If you only judge your decisions based on punishments for said decision or the consequences, more likely during philosophical discussions, then you have ignored the standards of evidence by which your conclusion could be deemed "true." It's not about what you fear more, but about what's most probably true.

DB: "I believe you're taking the approach of risk reduction when you're forced to make a choice."

Yes. Note that in science very few hypotheses are forced. People can wait to find out the truth. But by believing and publishing bogus results or, even, conclusions without sufficient evidence (not necessarily false), people put their reputation at stake. So, risk consideration is significant.

In other life situations, default position can be different. Imagine that you have a plane ticket, and someone tells you that the flight departs 15 minutes earlier than you thought. Suppose, you have absolutely no way to verify this claim - no phone, no Internet, and you have no reason to distrust the person. I would think, you would rather come to the gate 15 minutes earlier, because missing the flight is worse than wasting 15 minutes at the airport. Wouldn't you? Practically, this means that you would choose belief as your default position in the absence of evidence.

On the other hand, if someone tells you that the flight is 15 minutes late under the same circumstances, you would still come to the gate on time for the same risk consideration. A disbelief as default position is justified in this case.

I've heard people arguing that this situation has nothing to do with belief. People are simply "acting as if a hypothesis is true". I'd say, if we act in a certain way based on information presented to us, we express a certain degree of belief. Remember the James quote? "there is some believing tendency wherever there is willingness to act at all."

DB: "Not believing in claim x and not believing in claim NOT(x) is the default position with respect to belief."

If X is a true dichotomy, what you just said contradicts itself by the Law of excluded middle. Disbelieving both X and NOT(X) is only possible when both can be true or both can be false at the same time (e.g. light can be thought of as a wave or a flow of corpuscles, depending on what properties we describe); or when other options are possible (e.g. who is not with us is against us - false dichotomy).

DB: "I think that if you confuse the two, you're in a position where you're trying to believe something because you want it to be true."

Aren't we all in such position? Especially, on moral issues or any issues where passion is involved?

On your plane ticket analogy, I think it's fine as far as it goes. The decision to gather more information is always on the table. Given that the risk of missing a flight is higher if the flight is moved up, the reduced sense of certainty might merely encourage one to call the airline to confirm the actual flight time.

By the way, we can do that with god claims, such as by looking for evidence in the world that should be there if the religion/holy book were true. When we actively search for such evidence, we find it lacking. This search, one that atheists generally do before they come to call themselves atheists.

As for the law of the excluded middle, not believing in claim X is largely independent of not believing in a separate claim not(X). I can not believe in both claims because I find no compelling reason to believe either. If X matters, I think it makes sense to seek more evidence.

DB: "On your plane ticket analogy, I think it's fine as far as it goes. The decision to gather more information is always on the table. Given that the risk of missing a flight is higher if the flight is moved up, the reduced sense of certainty might merely encourage one to call the airline to confirm the actual flight time."

For the sake of discussion, I assumed that there is no way to gather any data other than at the gate. I agree that checking a claim always makes sense. However, as far as we discuss the default position in the absence of evidence, you seem to agree that automatic disbelief is not always prudent. Also, note that you calling the airline (taking action on the claim) indicates belief. So, in this example, belief as default position is hard to deny. Also, you seem to take the burden of proof on yourself. You don't ask me to present evidence for my claim, you go for the evidence yourself. Why? Because YOU carry the risk of the error. So, as, I hope, you can see, disbelief is not always a default position and burden of proof is not always on the one making claim.

Don, the example is simple and clear. Just admit that "disbelief as default position" and "burden of proof is on a claiming party" principles sometimes do not apply. As far as god claims go, those seem to be of no interest to you. If you don't have a ticket, it would be silly of me to tell you anything about some flight and insist that you go and check my claim. You would just send me away to call the airline myself if it matters to me. It's not "lack of belief". It's "lack of interest". If you had interest, you would have belief and you would take the burden of proof on yourself as well. That's how it goes, don't you agree?

DB: "By the way, we can do that with god claims, such as by looking for evidence in the world that should be there if the religion/holy book were true."

Don, the way I look at holy books, it is possible that the actual events there never took place. The value of these books is not in describing facts. The value is in describing human emotions, motivations, passions, attitudes, intentions, values, pride, cravings, envy, jealousy, perseverance, etc. All that people mean by "spirit" and "spiritual life" (I don't mean anything mystical. You admitted earlier that some meanings of the word "spirit" make sense to atheists). People believe in emotional and moral aspects of these books, not in factual aspects. The books are intense. They create powerful emotions. Literal interpretation of the Bible is impossible. Based on Matthew 5:29-30, all Christians should pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands. And based on Matthew 19:12 male Christians should become "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake". Just like atheists don't realize how far burden of proof should go, religious fundamentalists don't realize the limits of their "literalism".

But in "spiritual" sense, I CAN find evidence that biblical claims are true. I can *feel* the emotional benefit of renouncing pride, forgiving my enemies, doing good to others. One cannot have material evidence for happiness or feeling of peace. I'm sure, believers test biblical claims emotionally and "spiritually" all the time. That's why most of them don't pluck their eyes, cut off their hands, make themselves eunuchs, stone adulterers and sabbath breakers and allow women to speak in churches. Most (not all) are just not as interested in testing the factual aspects of the books. So, all this tension about "burden of proof" just does not make sense to me. Why do people require from each other things they don't care about?

DB: "As for the law of the excluded middle, not believing in claim X is largely independent of not believing in a separate claim not(X). I can not believe in both claims because I find no compelling reason to believe either. If X matters, I think it makes sense to seek more evidence."

We seem to be in perfect agreement here. I just might note that the most interested party has the burden of proof, not simply the claiming party.

I also might note that if X DOES matter, and X/not(X) is a true dichotomy (they cannot be both true or both false at the same time), rejection of X hypothesis DOES automatically mean belief in not(X). However, as you noted, if there is no interest, there is no belief either way. Which, again, is in agreement with the statement that belief is measured by willingness to act on the proposition.

Another note is that science never dictates our interests. It helps us achieve them. We derive our interests and desires from our emotions and feelings - "spiritual stuff" for which we can show no evidence.

AG's original text, "In other life situations, default position can be different. Imagine that you have a plane ticket, and someone tells you that the flight departs 15 minutes earlier than you thought. Suppose, you have absolutely no way to verify this claim - no phone, no Internet, and you have no reason to distrust the person. I would think, you would rather come to the gate 15 minutes earlier, because missing the flight is worse than wasting 15 minutes at the airport. Wouldn't you? Practically, this means that you would choose belief as your default position in the absence of evidence."

I think this is more of an example of the new evidence eroding your original belief about the plane flight. You don't necessarily believe the new information, but it may lessen your belief about the original departure time. If you hear enough contrary claims, you may not believe any of them. I do agree that it's the passenger taking the risk of error, so what remains of his/her beliefs have to be used to make a decision about how to act. Even if he/she had nothing but uncertainty, it's still possible they could make a reasonable decision and go to the airport at some time that was effectively a stab in the dark.

As for whether I have interest in god claims, I most certainly do. If there is a god, it would be the most important thing to know. Even if there is not a god, we live in a society where that is the ambient belief and it has a profound influence on people's behavior. Religious harm is real whether or not there is a god. I wish I could live in a society without religion, but my only path there is to expose it for the fraud it is.

I'm glad that you get an emotional benefit from the Bible, but I don't feel that has any bearing on its truth. If you're moved by a piece of classical music, does that make it somehow true? I look at all the REAL murders, torture, and persecution based on the Bible and other holy books and I see that as evidence they are a profoundly negative influence. I look at all the different sects of Christianity and their insurmountable doctrinal differences and I see no evidence of an objective god. It gets worse when you throw Judaism and Islam in the mix. I look at all the contradictions in the holy books. I look at the very questionable morality contained therein. I don't see anything of particular value.

I think we still disagree about whether you could disbelieve X and not X at the same time. Do you believe the 3 billionth digit in the decimal expansion of pi is even or odd? Are you willing to bet a significant sum on one claim or the other? As for me, I disbelieve in both claims in the absence of evidence and I would not bet either way. Yes, I do understand that one of them has to be right, but I have no reason to believe either claim.

From Rxwoman: "I've heard the argument that disbelief is the default position of any claim."

It seems to me that belief or disbelief are not positions, but attitudes. The question is incorrectly phrased.

"Default position" is what we already believe for whatever reason, "status quo". In statistics, current established belief is called "the null hypothesis", H0. The very term "default position" implies existence of a proposition challenging our established beliefs. Statisticians call it "the alternative hypothesis", H1.

When we encounter information contradicting our established beliefs, our natural reaction is disbelief. It's not because we should automatically disbelieve everything we hear, because it's somehow "the right thing to do". When we hear something that we already know, there is no contradiction, no "alternative hypothesis" and, therefore, there is no "default hypothesis". Both positions are equivalent.

In science, usually, people do not publish papers or even do research to confirm what everybody already knows and holds as true. Scientific papers, usually, challenge an existing belief or propose a new knowledge. "The null hypothesis", H0, is simply a proposition opposite to the hypothesis in question, H1. It is chosen to be so even if there is no prior belief or knowledge on the subject. So, yes, in science default attitude always seems to be "disbelief", but that's because of the very nature of a scientific dispute.

It is very possible that observation of H1 was a mere chance. There are statistical methods to test such probability. The metric is called "P-value". P-value depends on the number of observations. Significance level is a limit at which we consider H1 significant. "Significance level 0.05" means that the largest probability to observe H1 by chance is 5%. 5% is a fairly typical significance level at which H1 is accepted. This number is somewhat subjective and depends on application. However, if significance level is large enough (e.g. 0.2), H1 is rejected, and H0 stands. It does not mean that H1 is false. It still may be true or partially true. H1 can be accepted at significance level 0.05, but rejected at significance level 0.001. We still establish the criteria whether we want to accept H1. The whole process is very technical. It's not about beliefs or truths. It's about probabilities. "Significance level" is somewhat of a misnomer. Smaller numbers, in fact, represent higher significance of H1 observation.

Default position, to a great degree, depends on what the current established belief is and the nature of the new hypothesis. They should be chosen to form a true dichotomy and can be easily swapped. For instance, if common belief is that a brand name drug A is better than generic drug B for treatment of certain disease and someone claims that it's not, H0 would be "Drug A has better effect on patients than drug B", and H1 would be "There is no difference between the effects of drug A and drug B". But if someone introduces a new drug A and claims it is better than the old drug B, he might want to prove the opposite. So, H0 and H1 in the latter case would be swapped compared to the former.

By analogy, when a theist comes to an atheist forum and claims "God exists", that is the alternative hypothesis that challenges the default position. The atheists may not necessarily believe that "God does not exist", however, for scientific purposes, such statement may be taken as default position or "null hypothesis" H0. Unless the theist presents statistically significant evidence of his claim, H1 must be rejected, and H0 would stand. Is this a correct understanding?

By another analogy, if an atheist comes to a church and claims "God does not exist", that would challenge the established belief in the community where such claim is made. So, H1 and H0 would be swapped.

Most of what I said here can be found in books on statistics and scientific method. If one agrees to the statement two paragraphs above, one should also agree to the statement in previous paragraph as well. And if you do not agree, why? Any scientific reason or pure emotions?

Belief or disbelief is an emotional attitude. This is not my idea. It's Hume's: "Nothing is more evident, than that those ideas, to which we assent, are more strong, firm and vivid, than the loose reveries of a castle-builder." David Hume, "A Treatise of Human Nature", Book I, Part I, Sect. VII, "Of the Nature of the Idea or Belief". It can be found on-line on www.gutenberg.org.

Replying to From: AG (Posted Jul 13, 2012 at 12:49 am)

AG said, "I'd say, in any question, default position is chosen based on the consequences of the error."

Yes, indeed! I'm sure you do think your reply answers Rxwoman's comment "Hi, I've heard the argument that disbelief is the default position of any claim." Any claim? No, claims with an abundance of evidence do not require a default position. Claims made with no evidence should be disbelieved until sufficient evidence is produced to verify the claim; it's not about just any claim, and it's not the same thing as a question, your statement "I'd say, in any question, default position is chosen on the consequences of the error" is a totally "off the wall" random weirdness reply. A question can challenge the validity of a position, but it's not essentially the same thing as making a claim.

AG said, "It's a question of risk management."

Risk management involves identifying potential problems, and using your ingenuity to solve problems, but not believing a claim (default position) has nothing to do with risk management.

AG said, "This is why, when test data is inconclusive or unavailable, it is safer to assume that the product is defective."

Assuming that a product that hasn't been tested could have a defect is not the same thing as someone making a claim. If the product hasn't been tested you hold it back until it has been tested (you don't believe anything about it) you do not make a decision either way until it's tested.

AG said, "When someone reports a bomb in a building, it is safer to believe the claim until it has been reasonably disproved."

No decision is made about claims until they are proved or disproved. The proper authorities taking the proper precautions is not the same thing as believing fairy tales that are irrational and not believable; no matter how much anyone wishes it were, people can make all kinds of threats concerning their claims, but when nothing's there some of us know it.

AG said, "When someone tells me it's going to rain, and I have no evidence either way, my default position would be based on what I dislike more - getting wet or carrying an umbrella."

Or (unless the person saying it's going to rain is a meteorologists) you could do something that is unthinkable, use your own head, look at meteorological reporting or weather forecast etc. (you can find those really fast on a computer) then decide. AG said, "In science, usually, there is no harm in disbelieving a claim. Scientists, in nearly all cases, can safely afford to wait for the evidence, and the risk of accepting a false hypothesis is greater than the risk of rejecting a true one. If hypothesis is true, the evidence will be found sooner or later, with proper effort. Not all life situations offer such luxury."

If a scientist submits a hypothesis for testing it has to be logical, falsifiable and well-founded (hypothesis or claim) but no decision is made one way or the other before scientists test it. For instance, a claim about the existence of something (aka god) if it hasn't been defined and there is no way to detect it or prove it has ever done a thing how can it be tested? Another example is that nobody has put religion to any test either- least of all a scientific test. If they just looked at what is written in their Holy Writ and investigated how this religion was invented they wouldn't waste any more time on it. If there is a creator who created the universe and all the life in it then there should be evidence of creation or Intelligent Design but there is not. All of the arguments Creationists or Intelligent Designer's have launched have been debunked by scientists.

No matter what (or how nasty the threats get) scientists or just ordinary people shouldn't be terrorized into believing things that are just as silly as hell. Scholars and scientists who study the authenticity of documents, artifacts and other alleged material evidence dispute claims made about them all the time. The claim that there is a God is not the same thing (there is no evidence to test or evaluate) about it's existence. Claiming that we shouldn't disbelieve an extraordinary claim without giving us any evidence (it's gonna rain isn't one) is absurd.

Scientists know if something is likely to exist because of various kinds of observations, experiments and studies. These are the factors in acquiring knowledge. A scientific theory is not based on a belief or something that could never be tested or falsified. Scientific theories do not require supernatural intervention in the natural world. Evolution is a paradigm for the origin of all life. The theory says life originates out of non-living chemicals and evolves to higher levels of organization simply by following mechanistic laws. Evolution, which is genetic change over time, does not rely upon any "supernatural entities" or concepts that do not otherwise exist in any scientific model. Evolution does not require anything new or unusual in the universe. The atoms that make up the molecules that make up life did not exist in the beginning. They came into existence over time as our universe evolved. The big bang is the theory of how the universe evolved. The big bang theory pertains to the explosive expansion of the entire universe that continues to this day. At quantum physics level transitions do occur spontaneously without an apparent cause, like nuclear reactions. The Universe does not require a cause. Every atom that ever was or will be came into existence during the big bang. All of the energy and mass in our universe was formed within and following the expansion of the singularity. Every atom then and now was actualized in the course of the big bang.

This discovery (the big bang) was the work of many scientists over a very long period of time. This breakthrough was accomplished through the use of studies, experiments and the inventions of many scientists. It took many pieces of scientists work to put the puzzle together. No one person did it all or could take all of the credit.

And yet, some people still don't seem to understand, even though they've been told umpteen thousand times, that scientists can't tell us what happened before the big bang because there was no before (nothing was before) and there was no time before the big bang - space or time. In his book 'The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow It is explained that before the beginning of the Universe, there was nothing. No other universe, no god, no creator, no flow of time. It's hard for us to comprehend but just because we think in terms of now and earlier and later or a beginning to everything, does not mean that this is always true. Physicist Stephen Hawking compares the beginning of the Universe to the South Pole. If you start at the South Pole you can go North just like you can go forward in time from the beginning of the Universe. But you can't go South (p 135 in The Grand Design). Starting at the South pole, there is no South; this is just like at the start of the Universe when there is no earlier time.

Unless you can address the actual issue (not more irrelevant or off-the-wall crap) you should stop just proselytizing your ideas. You have stated what you think on many other threads besides this one and I really think that we know where your coming from. I don't think that the world is going to be overrun by superstitious, uneducated beleebers because most of the wealthier industrialized countries are becoming better educated and far less religious.

Man is not hardwired for belief in things without evidence (aka god) but there has been approximately 15 million changes in our species' genome since our common ancestor with the chimpanzee. Humans do have accelerated regions in the genome with genes known to be involved in transcriptional regulation and neuro-development. Related genes, attributed to religious beliefs, are found on the same chromosome (for example, chromosome 10) as propensities for specific forms of epilepsy (partial, with auditory features) and schizophrenia. There are many examples of hearing Gods voice in the OT and NT. Religions, gods, and fortune telling are remains of the earlier stage of pre-consciousness thought. Man's mind before he was fully-conscious. Early man did not make decisions on his own. The concept of independence and self-reliant, did not exist. Whenever a decision had to be made, early man looked for a sign from an outside authority, such as a king or a god, to tell him what to do. Beliefs are on faith not knowledge, and these beliefs come from being told something is true without any way of testing the theory. It really comes from indoctrination, and the belief that one has depends on their culture or surroundings.

From LInda: "Man is not hardwired for belief in things without evidence"

We have a mechanism of "implicit memory" which helps us remember such things as the way home, for example. The same mechanism is responsible for taking familiar statements as true, even if we were repeatedly told they are false. If you think, you are immune to this, think again. [research.chicagobooth.edu/cdr/docs/FalseClaims_dpark.pdf]

From Linda: "scientists can't tell us what happened before the big bang because there was no before (nothing was before) and there was no time before the big bang - space or time."

This is a bit off-topic, but you may want to check this article: by Andrei Linde, the author of the chaotic inflation theory: http://www.stanford.edu/~alinde/1032226.pdf. He also asks question, "what came before the big bang", so the question is not that stupid. If the universe appeared from vacuum fluctuations, this "vacuum" must have existed in different space-time, not ours.

We cannot observe, detect, or measure "nothing" just as we cannot observe, detect, or measure "everything", "infinity", or "eternity". Whoever says that whatever came from nothing or always existed, makes a statement without evidence. Whoever believes that there are other universes beyond others also believes so without evidence. And yes, religious beliefs are without evidence.

You read Hawking, believe, and stop asking questions claiming that the question is stupid and harmful. How is that behavior different from what you criticize?

Linda,

Science, indeed, cannot tell what was before big bang. But this is not because science has proved the existence of "nothing" before the big bang. (It is quite impossible to prove existence of "nothing".) It's because the concepts of time, space, energy, temperature, and other physics as we know it lose meaning as we go back in time before a certain moment, namely, estimated time of electroweak phase transition - 10^-11 seconds "after the big bang". This paper explains it in more detail: "On the physical basis of cosmic time" by S.E. Rugh and H. Zinkernagel [http://arxiv.org/pdf/0805.1947v1.pdf]. The closer we get to the big bang, the less we know. I'm not quite sure if this 10^-11 seconds means much if time before that moment had no meaning and can not be measured by any physical process.

It is strange that you say there was no other universe as in the same book you quote it is said that M-theory predicts existence of 10^500 universes with all kinds of physical laws, one of which, permitting life, happens to be ours. Andrei Linde seems to believe that our universe expanded from a vacuum fluctuation in another universe, and there may be other universes expanding from ours in a similar way.

You may be interested to read the book by Roger Penrose "Cycles of Time" (2011) where he speculates about "conformal cyclic cosmology" (CCC) admitting a possibility that the universe goes through cycles of thermal deaths and big bangs which Penrose calls "aeons". Using Hawking's south pole analogy, it is possible to move towards the South pole, smoothly pass it, and start moving to the other pole without noticing any big events. There is no "south" direction at the south pole (singularity), but it does not mean that the universe had to be "dropped" there out of nowhere. It may have gone through "previous" states in another space-time.

None of this answers the question "where did the whole thing come from"? I do not see how these discussions are relevant to discussions about God. Religious beliefs, mostly, have moral nature. They touch on issues of suffering, justice, compassion, final judgment, etc. They reflect on how we perceive ourselves morally as good, evil, or, perhaps, lacking in any way. Science has nothing to do with it. Somehow, these physical theories feel like another myth about the origins of the universe - quite fascinating, but having no bearing on Biblical myths which touch on spiritual questions, such as, for instance, the source of human suffering. Science just does not apply there. I feel embarrassed for people who try to teach religion in science classes or use science to derive moral values or prove/disprove theological points.

From: AG (Posted Jul 26, 2012 at 1:01 am) "Linda, Science, indeed, cannot tell what was before big bang. But this is not because science has proved the existence of "nothing" before the big bang. (It is quite impossible to prove existence of "nothing".)"

Nobody is trying to prove the existence of nothing; the issue is as Carl Sagan said, "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be". This is not the same as "you can't prove nothing doesn't exist".

George Lemaitre described the beginning of the universe as a burst of fireworks, comparing galaxies to the burning embers spreading out in a growing sphere from the center of the burst. He believed this burst of fireworks was the beginning of time, taking place on "a day without yesterday."

Scientists accepted the Big Bang as fact because of all the observable evidence, but some scientists predicted that gravity would eventually slow down the expansion of the universe and make the universe fall back toward its center, but Lemaitre believed that the universe would keep expanding. He argued that the Big Bang was a unique event, while other scientists believed that the universe would shrink to the point of another Big Bang, and so on.

In the winter of 1998, two separate teams of astronomers in Berkeley, California made a startling discovery. They were both observing supernovae - exploding stars visible over great distances - to see how fast the universe is expanding. In accordance with prevailing scientific wisdom, the astronomers expected to find the rate of expansion to be decreasing, Instead they found it to be increasing - a discovery which has since "shaken astronomy to its core" (Astronomy, October 1999). The observations made in Berkeley supported Lemaitre's contention that the Big Bang was in fact "a day without yesterday."

AG, I hope you understand that this discredits the assertions you posted?

What's being discussed is the cosmological argument that something couldn't come from nothing. A Creator is needed to overcome these problems since if something can't come from nothing there has to be a 'first cause'? It's an argument that doesn't answer any questions and it's not evidence of anything.

The Universe exists because of laws of physics. laws of physics allow a universe to be created from nothing. Laws of physics keep us on the ground. laws of biology and chemistry allow life. There was no time before time. The big bang was the beginning of time itself; any discussion about before the big bang is meaningless. The big bang was a sudden, explosive origin of space, time, and matter. Time did not always exist. Time emerged out of space in a continuous process. Continuous meaning time-like quality of a dimension, as opposed to space-like quality, it is not all space or all time; there are shades in between. This can be made as a precise mathematical statement. Time does not exist independently of our universe; so it makes no sense to ask what happened before the Big Bang.

There is no space outside of the universe; there is no "nothingness" that the universe exists inside of. Everything is inside the singularity. We are inside the singularity. The universe is completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself.

The Big Bang Theory is the basis for all scientific research because it has stood up to every test. The Big Bang theory is the theory that the universe started with a huge and rapid expansion of a singular zero size condensed point about fourteen billion years ago. At the Big Bang (time is zero) and (mass had to be zero.) The singularity had to be mass less. If there is no time beyond Planck time (the smallest amount of time possible) mass does not exist. If space did not exist in singularity and mass was not the origin of the universe we have to consider its energy equivalent as the initiator. According to the Big Bang Theory, the notion of time does not exist in singularity. Time is a property of space-time universe. In the energy-time version time is a computable element that cannot exist in singularity. Singularity is not time-bound.

Steven Hawking, George Ellis, and Roger Penrose (the British astrophysicists and mathematician) worked on the Theory of Relativity and its implications regarding the notion of time. According to their calculations, time and space had a finite beginning that corresponded to the origin of matter and energy. The singularity didn't appear in space; space began inside of the singularity. Singularity by definition is zero size. There are many evidences that zero point contains energy. Casimir force and Lamb shift are proof for the presence of energy in point zero. According to the Big Bang Theory the simplest form of matter (quarks) first appeared after cosmic inflation. The vacuum energy transformed itself into particles and anti-particles of matter in equal number. There is no evidence that at the beginning of time mass was present. With the ultra-dense mass model the matter would turn to pure energy before the reformation of mass particles. The universe started with a burst of energy and that was the source of the expansion of space. The starting point does not have to contain matter. In such a scenario, we do not have a positive gravity force for the singularity. If mass is removed from the singularity. Zero is representing the singularity. The real value of matter has to disappear at the singularity; Singularity does not contain matter (with common definition of matter.) If there are no dimension in singularity space is not a property of singularity. Space and time are bendable and play a very active rule in the universe Einstein mentions that singularity cannot contain topological space. It means there is no spatial dimension in singularity. In other words, singularity is a mathematical point. If space did not exist in singularity and mass was not the origin of the universe then its energy equivalent is the initiator.

The singularity is a point of energy. Energy and matter can not be created or destroyed. Please feel free to make Energy god. It can only change form. One evidence of the Big Bang is the Cosmic Microwave Background. In quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy from particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to spend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. So, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, this shows that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is exactly zero.

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is incontrovertible evidence that the Universe experienced a "Big Bang." Everything in the universe evolved from the Big Bang. Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe. Our universe sprang into existence around 13.7 billion years ago. After its initial appearance (a tiny speck) it started to inflate, expanded and cooled, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe. It continues to expand and cool to this day and we are inside of it: space didn't exist prior to the Big Bang. Space had a finite beginning that corresponded to the origin of matter and energy. The singularity didn't appear in space; space began inside of the singularity. Prior to the singularity, nothing existed, not space, time, matter, or energy - nothing.

The beginning of time is defined by the Big Bang itself; you cannot talk about before the Big Bang, because there was no before. Nothing before the Big Bang would have any bearing on the Universe after the Big Bang. The Big Bang theory is based on numerous observations, and measurements. Nothing has replaced the Big Bang theory as of right now. The Big Bang theory has been revised and refined and scientifically established to a point that it would be very difficult to establish another theory, and every single Big Bang model shows the existence of a singularity.

In the 1920's astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the galaxies where moving away, and that at some time in the past they were closer together and if you looked back in time, to the beginning, they would come together so tightly compact that it formed a single point. The galaxies themselves aren't moving but it's space that's expanding and therefore moving the galaxies.

AG said, "None of this answers the question "where did the whole thing come from"?"

A branch of scientific inquiry called quantum physics deals with events that occur at the atomic level. On the scale of atoms and molecules, the usual rules of cause and effect are suspended. The rule of law is replaced by a sort of pandemonium, and things happen spontaneously for no particular reason. Particles of matter may simply pop into existence without warning, and then equally abruptly disappear again. Or a particle in one place may suddenly materialize in another place, or reverse its direction of motion. Again, these are real effects occurring on an atomic scale, and they can be demonstrated experimentally. What has been learned from quantum physics is this: Sometimes things happen (without a cause) spontaneously and this does not violate the laws of physics. The abrupt and un-caused appearance of something can occur within the scope of scientific law, once quantum laws have been taken into account. Nature has the capacity for genuine spontaneity. The spontaneous appearance of the singularity (universe) from nothing need not break scientific laws or be unnatural or unscientific, and it was not a supernatural event.

The relationship between nothing and something: Quantum physics studies quanta, the smallest particles that make up matter. This form of physics made a discovery, which has since been confirmed time and time again. Particles are particles, but then they are not; they are waves. Because particles are and are not particles, if we know where one is now we cannot know where it will be in the next moment. One of the amazing consequences of this uncertainty principle is that ephemeral pairs of particles, virtual particles, at times pop up from nothing, from out of the cosmic void.

I'm answering your questions with what has been established through experiments and observation. These things are observable: I didn't say there's no multiverse (there is no observable evidence) same thing with M-theory.

Over the last 25 years theorists have offered plausible explanations of both how the singularity came to be and how it then became an expanding universe. The uncertainty principle implies that the energy level of any region fluctuates haphazardly and without reason. It is because of this fluctuation that even in a complete vacuum with an energy level of zero, tiny fields of gravity at random pop into existence from nothing, then vanish from being as suddenly as they appeared. These events do not violate the laws of conservation because the fleeting fields of gravity are ephemeral, virtual fields.

Inflationary theory shows how a tiny, ephemeral speck emerge from "nothingness" could be boosted into permanence by a period of accelerating expansion and then continue expanding to become "something" the vast universe we know. According to the theory, in the expanding field matter is created out of the growing energy of gravity itself. The matter is considered positive energy, and the gravity is considered negative. The two mathematically cancel each other out, so that the total energy of the growing universe is zero. So the laws of conservation are not violated.

The speculations mentioned - multiverse - time dimensions - sting theory (gravity) (even if they were true) it wouldn't change any of the facts in this discussion. There is nothing outside the Universe - it still would have been inside the singularity.

The first cause argument falls because the laws of reality allow matter and energy to pop into existence, given small enough time frames and small enough distances. Self-consistent understanding of physics demands that universes can and will be spontaneously created from nothing. Gravity makes it possible for the universe to spontaneously come into existence, as a necessary outcome of the way physics operates. Time did not exist before the universe. Time came into existence at the Big Bang, so nothing came 'before' the universe - before is meaningless.

AG said, "I do not see how these discussions are relevant to discussions about God. Religious beliefs, mostly, have moral nature. They touch on issues of suffering, justice, compassion, final judgment, etc."

I do realize that you don't know that this was never a discussion about morality from your summation. It all started with a post from Rxwoman.

From: Rxwoman (Posted Jun 23, 2012) "Hi, I've heard the argument that disbelief is the default position of any claim.

From: Don Baker (Posted Jun 23, 2012 "It's related to the idea of the "burden of proof". The person making a claim has the burden to justify the claim or offer proof."

From: Linda (Posted Jun 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm) "I doubt that disbelief is the default position of just *any* claim (for instance) claims made with sufficient evidence as a result of rigorous testing are believable."

From: AG (Posted Jun 30, 201) "I'd say, in any question, default position is chosen based on the consequences of the error. It's a question of risk management."

Don Baker (Posted Jun 30, 2012 "I believe you're taking the approach of risk reduction when you're forced to make a choice.

From: J.B. (Posted Jun 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm) "AG is saying we all should believe in God because there are some very nasty consequences if you don't and nevermind the fact that the whole story makes no sense to anyone with half a brain."

From: AG (Posted Jul 5, 2012) "I like how you and Linda like to put words into my mouth. My post didn't even mention "God"."

From Linda right now: I had not replied to AG at that point unless you're Rxwoman, only Don Baker and JB answered your silly little reply that you posted after mine, like always. And like always you tried to drag me into your argument with someone else. Why don't you suck-it-up and go after the people who really were talking to you first.

Look Under "ATHEIST COMMUNITY OF AUSTIN" the topic THEISM:

AG said, "Violence comes from sin, not from religion. Sin is a moral category, therefore, should be shared by all human beings, including atheists."

Antifides said, "Make all the excuses you like, your religion instructed violence, therefore anyone following your religion at that time would have committed violence."

AG said, "Whatever facts Linda referred to can only show a mere correlation, and cannot be accepted as a proof of cause-effect relationship between religiousness and crime in societies"

Antifides tells AG " Um, correlation is all we can ever show for anything in reality. We infer cause and effect when the correlation is strong enough."

From Linda right now. Antifides is right! Just saying something doesn't make it so. I gave you plenty of evidence (because there is plenty of evidence) and you didn't give any. All you gave are assumptions without any observable evidence or experiments, and it's not even really a theory.

And from now on if you are having an argument with someone besides me; keep me out of it.

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