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Author Topic: KoM, If You Would be So Kind as to Join Me in Here...
Alcon
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I would like to posit an argument regarding atheism as a fellow atheist.

If we are to be truly scientifically rational, as the majority of atheists including myself aspire to be, then we must admit - we cannot really be atheists. We must be agnostics.

There is a completely lack of evidence in the existence of a god or gods of any kind. But any scientific mind knows that a lack of evidence is not the same as positive evidence in favor.

Right now there is a lack of evidence of any kind that we share this universe with other life. Therefor we cannot truly say either way: there is other life in the universe, there is not other life in the universe. We must merely admit that we do not know whether or not we share this universe - but we think it highly likely.

The same argument applies toward the existence of a god, gods, nature spirit, buddha, etc. There is no evidence in favor of their existence, but there isn't any evidence that would deny their existence either. Not really. So the most we can really say is, we do not know.

I personally feel that the lack of evidence for any sort of god strongly suggests that there is none. So I call myself an atheist. I am not wholly rational - as much as I try to be. And I do not feel that gods exist. But when pressed to be rational and scientific, I must admit. I don't know.

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rollainm
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I think most atheists would agree with your conclusion, but would hesitate to say the existence of a god is analogous with the existence of extra-terrestrial life. There's plenty of empirical evidence for the latter, whereas evidence for the former is only theoretical.* There is also the fact that proof of alien life is at least possible, while proof of the existence of God by the most popular definition is not.

*Yes, I realize many theists will disagree with this.

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Lisa
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There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.
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Raventhief
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An atheist could also apply Occam's Razor and say that the addition of god, gods, nature spirit, etc, adds nothing to our understanding of the universe, and so is an unnecessary complication.
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Alcon
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There's no empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. There's a ton of empirical evidence pointing to the possibility. And there is some that suggests a high likelihood.

I haven't really studied various religion's idea of god from a scientific viewpoint to comment on the amount of similar evidence.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
There's no empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. There's a ton of empirical evidence pointing to the possibility. And there is some that suggests a high likelihood.

Uh... "empirical evidence pointing to the possibility"? What does that even mean?
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Alcon
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Occam's Razor is a dangerous tool though, because it can be applied to a lot of things and potentially in ways where you would lose quite a bit.
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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Hmm, I'd love to talk to a scientist about that. We do have empirical evidence that intellifent life in this huge universe can arise. But I see your point that there is no empirical evidence that it has happened twice.
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Mucus
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"Lose"?
Elaborate.

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Javert
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quote:
we cannot really be atheists. We must be agnostics.
This implies that they are mutually exclusive.

As atheism is a reference to belief, and agnosticism is a reference to knowledge, I was under the impression that they were not mutually exclusive.

I've often referred to myself as an agnostic atheist.

Do I believe in a god or gods? Nope
Does a god or gods exist? Speaking very generally, I honestly don't know.

The answer to the first question makes me an atheist, and the answer to the second makes me an agnostic.

Or am I mistaken?

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Alcon
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
There's no empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. There's a ton of empirical evidence pointing to the possibility. And there is some that suggests a high likelihood.

Uh... "empirical evidence pointing to the possibility"? What does that even mean?
Evidence such as the right environment being common in the Universe. Evidence such as the right chemicals and circumstances for life's creation being common. And evidence such as life's creation being likely given those circumstances and chemicals.

We have found an evidence to suggest that the mix of chemicals and environment necessary to create life is pretty common in the Universe. And we've done studies to suggest that given those circumstances, the event of the basic building blocks of life forming is pretty darn likely.

These things suggest that there is not just a possibility, but a high possibility of extraterrestrial life in the universe.

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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
I would like to posit an argument regarding atheism as a fellow atheist.

If we are to be truly scientifically rational, as the majority of atheists including myself aspire to be, then we must admit - we cannot really be atheists. We must be agnostics.

There is a completely lack of evidence in the existence of a god or gods of any kind. But any scientific mind knows that a lack of evidence is not the same as positive evidence in favor.

Right now there is a lack of evidence of any kind that we share this universe with other life. Therefor we cannot truly say either way: there is other life in the universe, there is not other life in the universe. We must merely admit that we do not know whether or not we share this universe - but we think it highly likely.

The same argument applies toward the existence of a god, gods, nature spirit, buddha, etc. There is no evidence in favor of their existence, but there isn't any evidence that would deny their existence either. Not really. So the most we can really say is, we do not know.

I personally feel that the lack of evidence for any sort of god strongly suggests that there is none. So I call myself an atheist. I am not wholly rational - as much as I try to be. And I do not feel that gods exist. But when pressed to be rational and scientific, I must admit. I don't know.

I don't like it when people say that one has to be agnostic rather than an atheist. Are you agnostic about unicorns?

Saying all atheists are agnostic is putting the burden of proof on the atheist. The lack of proof is not proof.

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TomDavidson
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I'm actually uncomfortable using "agnostic" to refer to people who simply don't know whether God exists or not. Such people are basically atheists.

Agnosticism, as a philosophical position, best describes the belief that whether God exists or not is an unanswerable question, that any hypothetical God's actual traits are ultimately unknowable, and the question is in fact ultimately an irrelevant one. I'd be comfortable calling someone an "agnostic" if they held that belief, even if they were a Christian or an atheist.

(As an example: I think Kate Boots is an example of an agnostic Catholic.)

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Alcon
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quote:
Originally posted by Javert:
quote:
we cannot really be atheists. We must be agnostics.
This implies that they are mutually exclusive.

As atheism is a reference to belief, and agnosticism is a reference to knowledge, I was under the impression that they were not mutually exclusive.

I've often referred to myself as an agnostic atheist.

Do I believe in a god or gods? Nope
Does a god or gods exist? Speaking very generally, I honestly don't know.

The answer to the first question makes me an atheist, and the answer to the second makes me an agnostic.

Or am I mistaken?

I do the same - atheistic agnostic or agnostic atheist, and when we're not talking about belief in the arena of strict scientific rationality then they are not mutually exclusive.

But I'm specifically positing this argument to KoM who attempts to exist in a universe of strict scientific rationality. In that universe, when you declare yourself an atheist you are saying "I know there is no god", which you cannot know. To say that is irrational.
I guess, when you say you are agnostic atheist you are saying, even in that universe "I don't know, but I believe" in which case that's entirely rational [Wink]

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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
quote:
Originally posted by Javert:
quote:
we cannot really be atheists. We must be agnostics.
This implies that they are mutually exclusive.

As atheism is a reference to belief, and agnosticism is a reference to knowledge, I was under the impression that they were not mutually exclusive.

I've often referred to myself as an agnostic atheist.

Do I believe in a god or gods? Nope
Does a god or gods exist? Speaking very generally, I honestly don't know.

The answer to the first question makes me an atheist, and the answer to the second makes me an agnostic.

Or am I mistaken?

I do the same - atheistic agnostic or agnostic atheist, and when we're not talking about belief in the arena of strict scientific rationality then they are not mutually exclusive.

But I'm specifically positing this argument to KoM who attempts to exist in a universe of strict scientific rationality. In that universe, when you declare yourself an atheist you are saying "I know there is no god", which you cannot know. To say that is irrational.
I guess, when you say you are agnostic atheist you are saying, even in that universe "I don't know, but I believe" in which case that's entirely rational [Wink]

With that argument though, you can't truly know that anything doesn't exist. Does that mean Orthodox Jews are agnostic when it comes to the divinity of Jesus? Does that mean all Christians (I know some are anyways) are agnostic towards Muhammad being God's prophet?

What about the invisible giant purple elephant that only I can see? Or the old philosophy class discussion about the tiny three men that run my wrist watch?

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DarkKnight
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quote:
Are you agnostic about unicorns?

One of the problems comes down to people's definitions. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of horned equine-ish creature existing some where at some time in the entire universe. You could be referring a creature capable of magic only appearing on Earth during a full moon while I just mean a horse with a horn
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scifibum
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I think of an agnostic as someone who doesn't care to answer the question. An atheist as someone who will say "no." I don't require that the "no" is invested with absolute certainty.
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Xavier
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There are so many uses of the terms "atheist" and "agnostic" that the terms are counterproductive to these discussions without everyone first defining how they are being used.

I myself think these "you don't really know!" discussions are a bit silly.

I don't really know there is no leprechaun living in my desk drawer either. But that's just a technicality that applies to all cases and doesn't seem very useful to me.

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theamazeeaz
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quote:
There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Well, I'm not sure about that, it depends if you consider the evidence based on observation (empirical) or theory. Anything outside our solar system (where we've seen squat), is too damn far away to go to.

Pluto ~10 years away from Earth with current technology

Nearest stars we know about ~ 10,000 times as far as that.

Quite simply, if an extra-solar planet similar to Earth in terms of size, star type, neighborhood and distance, then it is possible for life to exist, simply by the laws of physics and what worked for us. Whether life actually does exist will depend on the planet's geological (okay, not the right prefix) state.

Whether life exists in places that are not like Earth at all, we don't know, but we haven't found much anywhere else in the solar system.

As for how many groups just like us exist, there's the Drake Equation. You start with the number of stars in the galaxy, multiply that by the percentage of stars like the sun, stars which have planets, stars which have earth like planets, and odds of any life being at a communicable stage among other things. So sure, that's just theory, but we don't know any of the percentages to give us a real number, which is where observation (and empirical evidence) comes in.

We have not found habitable planets, because up until Kepler, we did not have something that could detect them. Detecting planets (by transits or radial velocity curves) is a matter of both instrument precision and the time we have to look (getting better and not that long so far). Also, the inclination of the planets orbits with respect to us (totally random) will determine if we can even see something exists at all with these two methods. Meanwhile, hot Jupiters are easy to detect and they justify making the instruments to probe deeper. Hot Jupiters have also defied scientists' notion that our system was typical.

If you run simulations with a gas giant at Jupiter's distance and a bunch of rocks inside, the planetesimals will collect and form bodies that are different from, but not so far off from what we have. (A large number of these simulations have not been made because a single simulation takes months to run).

So basically, right now, scientists are gathering evidence that other stars have planetary systems, something we couldn't really answer one way or another 25 years ago. Whether we will ever detect little green men is one thing.

Having something that scientists are working towards and a method to do it, makes extra-terrestrial life a concept that is quite different from the God question, in my opinion.

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Alcon
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There's a line being drawn here between complete scientific empirical rationality and what most of us operate by, which is a rough equation of what we feel is the lack of evidence for (subjective evidence included) being equivalent to evidence against.

This was specifically posited to KoM who professes a completely rational empirical world view, and also claims that includes (and can only include) atheism.

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Raymond Arnold
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I actually think KoM's worldview holds up no matter which side of the line you are.

If you start with no belief one way on the subject of God/Faeries/Celestial Teapots, then whether you a) do a thoroughly complete scientific inquiry on the subject of b) look at some evidence until you get bored and decide to call it a day, then I think you are fairly likely to conclude that God/Faeries/Celestial Teapots do not exist, and if they do than they don't seem likely to impact your life in the near future. And until you discover some evidence to the contrary you can (and should) legitimately call yourself an atheist/afaeriest/ateapotist. (Well, afaeriest and ateapotist don't roll off the tongue quite as well).

Not having a done a full scientific inquiry I can't be sure what I'd decide if I did, but I've spent a lot more time thinking about it than the average person and read works by people on both sides who have thought about it more than I have. I think the more open-minded and rational research you do, the less likely you are to believe in God because (among other things) you are confronted with the fact that evidence for God is suspiciously easy to replicate with hypnosis and irrational interpretation of meaningless events.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
Evidence such as the right environment being common in the Universe. Evidence such as the right chemicals and circumstances for life's creation being common. And evidence such as life's creation being likely given those circumstances and chemicals.

With the possible exception of the last one, I don't think we have evidence -- actual evidence, as opposed to theorizing and educated guesses -- of any of the above.
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theamazeeaz
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
There's no empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. There's a ton of empirical evidence pointing to the possibility. And there is some that suggests a high likelihood.

Uh... "empirical evidence pointing to the possibility"? What does that even mean?
It means we observe that there are other stars just like ours (old news). It means that we are starting to observe planets around other stars. We haven't found a planet just like Earth, but what we have strongly suggests there is something like it (we have stuff barely sensitive enough to detect an Earth). If there are aliens, they gotta live *somewhere*, so any Earth-like planet represents that possibility.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
This was specifically posited to KoM who professes a completely rational empirical world view, and also claims that includes (and can only include) atheism.
Not quite. Insofar as we have empirical evidence against the attributes of a hypothetical God, it is possible to rationally conclude, based on such evidence, that such a God as described cannot exist. It is not necessary, when concluding rationally that a blue china teapot is not orbiting a distant planet, to first observe at 1' resolution the orbits of dozens of planets to determine whether china teapots are likely to spontaneously arise around planets; rather, we know what makes up a "china teapot" and know what is normally required for one to exist. We know what is required to put something into orbit. We know where the planets being speculated are, and whether they are likely to have china teapot-producing civilizations on them.

It is entirely possible, therefore, for us to say that we are reasonably certain there is no blue china teapot in orbit around, say, Jupiter. If we were to find such a teapot, of course, the rational response at that point would be to question the assumptions that have gone into our conclusion. No doubt KoM stands ready to revisit the certain conclusion that God as commonly described does not exist once he is presented with evidence of that God.

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Bob_Scopatz
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Most of the people I know who say they are being scientific in their approach to the universe have no real background or expertise in any field of science. Many get all of their scientific knowledge from secondary sources and popular treatments. Heck, even most of the scientists I know have such a narrow range of specialization that their knowledge of the science behind any given set of conclusions for something outside their field is about the same -- drawn from secondary popular treatments.

Given this is generally the case I think we need more than just new terms, we need a whole slew of agnostic/atheistic categories ranging from apathy to true empiricism.

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TomDavidson
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I think the problem is not "scientific" vs. "unscientific." I think it's "rational" vs. "irrational."
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.

You think zero? We are empirical evidence of the possibility of life arising under certain known conditions. Now, we have very little idea how broad those conditions actually need to be in order to allow for life, but we have one case study of the possibility of life from which to draw on. A case study obviously lacks a control subject, so our information is very limited, but that doesn't, to my mind, amount to zero. Or am I missing a point here? Are you arguing from a theistic perspective, or from a scientific one?

I suppose I see your point in as far as your statement goes: we know of no extraterrestrial life, nor see any signs of it, therefore we have zero evidence that it exists. However, we have empirical evidence showing that it is possible, and we have quite a lot of information that allows us to model the possibility of extraterrestrial life, like the mathematical probabilities of Sol-like planetary systems, and some idea of the minimum number of extant galaxies. Those mathematical models tell us that the circumstances of our creation are very likely to be repeated many, many times. Now, that is statistical evidence based on empirical evidence of other things, but why doesn't it count?

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Lisa
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The issue is the concept of certainty. Some people think that certainty is an either-or proposition, when it's most often a matter of degree. I'm 99% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. I'm 85% certain that the Torah is true. I'm 51% certain that there's no intelligent extra-terrestrial life.

I made those percentages up, but they're roughly accurate. It's risk management, like everything else in life. Not Pascal's version, but the normal version. The chances (in my opinion) of the sun not rising tomorrow are so slim as to be irrelevant to me (for the most part). But while I doubt there's intelligent ET life, I wouldn't bet my life savings on the proposition.

It's all about what you're going to allow to affect your actions and decisions and thinking. If you're 95% convinced that God doesn't exist, then it's reasonable to say that you're an atheist, even though you may technically be agnostic in some way.

(Incidentally, if someone says that they're 100% convinced that God doesn't exist, I have to say that I'm 90% convinced that they're lying to themself.)

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Bob_Scopatz
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
I think the problem is not "scientific" vs. "unscientific." I think it's "rational" vs. "irrational."

Possibly, but we're still going to have the problem of a range of definitions (or personal capacities/interest if you will) for what it means to be "rational" or live a rational life.

I think maybe empiricism is what most people mean when they think they are being rational, and even there there is the question of whether their personal empiricism is limited to the evidence of their own senses, or whether they will accept evidence from external sources (e.g., scientists they trust to have collected and interpreted the data properly -- whether or not they actually understand the work the scientist did).

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.

You think zero? We are empirical evidence of the possibility of life arising under certain known conditions. Now, we have very little idea how broad those conditions actually need to be in order to allow for life, but we have one case study of the possibility of life from which to draw on. A case study obviously lacks a control subject, so our information is very limited, but that doesn't, to my mind, amount to zero. Or am I missing a point here? Are you arguing from a theistic perspective, or from a scientific one?
The latter. We don't actually know how life arose here. Even if you leave God out of it, it could have been a completely random freak occurance that has never happened since, and will never happen again. To say that "It happened; therefore it can happen again" doesn't follow. Typing monkeys doesn't really mean that everything that's possible will happen.

quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
I suppose I see your point in as far as your statement goes: we know of no extraterrestrial life, nor see any signs of it, therefore we have zero evidence that it exists. However, we have empirical evidence showing that it is possible, and we have quite a lot of information that allows us to model the possibility of extraterrestrial life, like the mathematical probabilities of Sol-like planetary systems, and some idea of the minimum number of extant galaxies. Those mathematical models tell us that the circumstances of our creation are very likely to be repeated many, many times. Now, that is statistical evidence based on empirical evidence of other things, but why doesn't it count?

They only tell us that if you start from an assumption about how it happened here. And that's very different even from evolution. Evolution doesn't imply that you can extrapolate it back to a point source, and theories about how life first started are more science fiction than science.

Edit: also, while I granted your premise for the purposes of replying, I didn't say there's no empirical evidence that the existence of ET life is possible. I said there's no empirical evidence that ET life exists, which is a very different proposition.

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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
To say that "It happened; therefore it can happen again" doesn't follow. Typing monkeys doesn't really mean that everything that's possible will happen.

I agree with most of what you said there, except for the first sentence I have quoted. If its possible (which it is, because we are here), then it can happen again. To me what doesn't follow is that it did or will happen again.

Of course we don't know the probability. Say there is a 1 in a billion billion chance of it happening, that still leaves a couple of intelligent species somewhere in the cosmos.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Say there is a 1 in a billion billion chance of it happening, that still leaves a couple of intelligent species somewhere in the cosmos.
No it doesn't. If the chance is 1 in a billion billion, then there is a high likelihood that there are others out there. It doesn't mean there are.
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Alcon
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quote:
We don't actually know how life arose here.
Actually, we have a pretty good idea how life may have come to be here. We know what the conditions on Earth were like at the time life arose here. The atmosphere and oceans were composed of a mix of chemicals very different from what we seen now. We know there were also various shocks to the system - litterally - in the form of lightning.

When we put that mix of chemicals into a vat and hit it with simulated lightning the basic molecules of life begin forming. Okay, it's a little more controlled and complicated. But that's the gist of it.

So we have some evidence suggesting a certain beginning of life here on Earth.

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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
There's zero empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life.

I'll give you that. Strictly speaking, there is none. My second point still stands.

Tom's understanding of "agnostic" is the original use of the word, I believe, but I don't have an issue with Javert's use of it, either. In fact, that's how I use it. I think there's legitimacy in both uses, and there shouldn't be any uneasiness involved either way. If you're discussing the topic, just be as specific as you want to be when defining what you believe.

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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
quote:
Say there is a 1 in a billion billion chance of it happening, that still leaves a couple of intelligent species somewhere in the cosmos.
No it doesn't. If the chance is 1 in a billion billion, then there is a high likelihood that there are others out there. It doesn't mean there are.
Point taken, agreed.
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Alcon
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
quote:
Say there is a 1 in a billion billion chance of it happening, that still leaves a couple of intelligent species somewhere in the cosmos.
No it doesn't. If the chance is 1 in a billion billion, then there is a high likelihood that there are others out there. It doesn't mean there are.
Well, but the cosmos are infinite. So if you run the 1 in 10^18 an infinite number of times doesn't that mean there's a 99.9999...% chance of at least other spawning of life out there somewhere?

To put it differently the cosmos stretch infinitely. There are an infinite number of galaxies. In each galaxy there are several billion stars. That means there are an infinite number of starts in the Universe. We've found exoplanets around some percentage of the stars we've looked for them around. I think we've found a couple hundred so far. As long as there is a non-zero chance of a star having an exoplanet then there will be an infinite number of planets in the universe. Then, as long as there is a non-zero chance of life arising on any one of those planets, there are an infinite number of separate life arisings in the universe. They may be very sparsely populated. There may not be another one in this galaxy, or the near by galaxies, but they are out there.

Of course, I don't really know how sure we are that the universe is infinite and doesn't somehow loop back on itself. If there's a finite number of galaxies somehow, then this argument falls apart.

[ January 06, 2010, 01:11 PM: Message edited by: Alcon ]

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rollainm
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You're assuming the cosmos are infinite. We don't know that.
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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
quote:
Say there is a 1 in a billion billion chance of it happening, that still leaves a couple of intelligent species somewhere in the cosmos.
No it doesn't. If the chance is 1 in a billion billion, then there is a high likelihood that there are others out there. It doesn't mean there are.
Well, but the cosmos are infinite. So if you run the 1 in 10^18 an infinite number of times doesn't that mean there's a 99.9999...% chance of at least other spawning of life out there somewhere?
Assuming the universe is infinte. Do we have proof of that yet? Or are you talking looking even beyond the universe?
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Xavier
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Who says the cosmos are infinite? I thought it was consensus a long time ago that the universe was quite finite (and that if there are other universes, we don't know about them).
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Stephan
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I'm enjoying this probability of alien life thing even more than the agnostic vs atheist thing, someone should start a new thread.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Well, but the cosmos are infinite. So if you run the 1 in 10^18 an infinite number of times doesn't that mean there's a 99.9999...% chance of at least other spawning of life out there somewhere?
The number of stars/planets are not infinite, just absurdly large.

But I do think strains credulity that with the absurdly large number of stars out there, life didn't happen at least once elsewhere.

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Stephan
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So does the night sky being black really prove a finite universe? I forget who came up with that in the 1800s.
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rollainm
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You know, I wonder if it can be shown that the number of stars and planets is in fact finite. What does it even mean for it to be infinite? Infinity is a concept, not a number. I'm not sure it can even be applied in that way.
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King of Men
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I see I'm late to the party and my points are already made. Nonetheless, because I do love the sound of my own typing, I shall repeat what others have said. There is nothing that is completely certain; 100% is not a number you can assign as a probability or a degree of belief. That said, you can get so close to 100% that hedging is useless. If I am to take a 99.999% degree of belief as a reason to call myself an agnostic, then I must also state that I'm agnostic on gravity, whether the Sun will rise tomorrow, and the non-existence of unicorns. This may be technically true, but it does not add anything to discussion. At some point you have to say "Ok, I'm done estimating probabilities, time to act" - to borrow from OSC, "know, think, decide, do". You can't be forever thinking, or you end up like Indecisive Man.

Notice, in passing, that 99.999%, three nines after the decimal point, is a claim that I can make a hundred thousand statements with this degree of certainty and be wrong only once. It is not clear that this is meaningful; I don't know if I even have a hundred thousand separate beliefs that I could enumerate, much less ones where I'd be confident of being wrong only once. By the time you get to this level of certainty, then, degrees-of-belief calibration breaks down and it's just unproductive to try to set numbers to, or act on, the remaining tiny sliver of probability. Human brains aren't built that way.

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Alcon
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From wikipedia:

quote:
The Universe is very large and possibly infinite in volume
I don't think we've gotten as far as trying to calculate the volume of the universe.

The observable universe is another matter. But that's just what we can see. 93 billion light years, according to wikipedia.

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Christine
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

Agnosticism, as a philosophical position, best describes the belief that whether God exists or not is an unanswerable question, that any hypothetical God's actual traits are ultimately unknowable, and the question is in fact ultimately an irrelevant one. I'd be comfortable calling someone an "agnostic" if they held that belief, even if they were a Christian or an atheist.

I've never been clear on the difference between agnostics and atheists. This is an interesting way to define the terms, and one I never thought of before. By this definition, I would have to say that I am agnostic, though I don't normally think of myself that way.

My most recent definition of agnosticism was not as a philosophy, but rather as a true lack of religion...a truly secular position in which the existence of God has very little baring on their lives.

I've always thought that atheists care very much that there is not a God...truly embrace and believe it.

I think I may like your definition better, though, even if it might mean I have to rethink my own label. [Smile]

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
I've always thought that atheists care very much that there is not a God. It's the caring that really distinguishes the two, in my mind.
There are atheists who care, but the majority do not. Atheism just means disbelief in God.
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swbarnes2
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
So does the night sky being black really prove a finite universe? I forget who came up with that in the 1800s.

Obler, and no, it doesn't.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olbers'_paradox

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Christine
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
quote:
I've always thought that atheists care very much that there is not a God. It's the caring that really distinguishes the two, in my mind.
There are atheists who care, but the majority do not. Atheism just means disbelief in God.
Yeah, but you see, if they don't care, I would tend to call them agnostics.

Or to put it another way, it is the difference between not believing in God and believing there is no God.

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Raymond Arnold
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For a long time that was the way I thought about it to (I called myself Agnostic for a while), but the argument that eventually persuaded me that was kinda silly was the whole unicorn thing. Is there a meaningful distinction between believing that unicorns are not real versus not believing unicorns are real? Is there a meaningful distinction between believing that gravity is real vs not believing that gravity is not real?

Seriously, no. If belief in God was not so ingrained in public consciousness and the word atheist didn't have any stigma attached to it you wouldn't be worrying about it. But the only way for the stigma to end is if people stop shying away from the word.

I think it's fair to call yourself agnostic if you are still genuinely unsure. Not just "I don't technically know for certain because nobody knows anything for certain" but "there does truly appear to be evidence that God exists, which is balanced by evidence that he does not, and I have yet to conclude which evidence is stronger." If you are "agnostic" about anything that you are only 99% sure of, then you are agnostic about everything, and then agnostic because a completely meaningless word.

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