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Science Doesn’t have the Answers

I was listening to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza recently. He made an interesting argument in which he claimed that science didn’t have the answers to three very important questions.

1. Where did we come from?
2. What is the point of our lives?
3. Where are we going?

The first question science is working on. Dr. Stephen Hawking has some great theories about how the universe got here and of course the theory of evolution through natural selection shows us the method of how life has evolved here on Earth. D’Souza knows this already and if he doesn’t, he really should because he is a well educated person.

As for the other two questions, they are not scientific questions so of course science doesn’t have an answer to them. Let me put it another way. Everyone reading this please take out your cell phone. Hold it up. We all know that we can talk into our cell phone and someone hundreds of miles away can hear it on their cell phone. How does this happen? Religion has no answer for this. It isn’t a miracle. God doesn’t lend out your ear so to speak.

No, religion has no answer. Religion steals science’s answer to this question and well it should. Science gives us a method for accurately understanding the world and making real predictions that we can test and observe. This method has allowed us to create cell phones and many other tools including the computer you are reading this blog on and the internet you are using to connect to this blog.

Religion predicts the end of the world almost every year. The Bible predicted that Jesus would have his second coming within the lifetime of those living at that time (Matthew 24:34). This was the one thing religion was supposed to predict and it can’t seem to do it accurately at all. Christians will say that the Old Testament predicted Jesus, but that is neither testable nor observable.

So what is the point of our lives? For this we have to turn to philosophy, not science. The existential answer to the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. The idea is that our existence precedes our essence or purpose. It is not the other way around. We define our purpose in the universe.

Where is humanity going? If religion has anything to say on the matter, humanity will be extinct so that our “souls” can either kiss God’s ass for all eternity or be tortured for all eternity. Personally, I’ll pass. I think Humanism and science can create a much brighter future for humankind. This is what we call vision and hope. The human imagination and history help to guide our path through time. We learn from these things and work toward a brighter future.

As far as where we are going personally (i.e. after we die) the answer to that is simple enough. When we die, we are dead. However, we live on in the memories of those who come after us. What we do in life affects the lives of others. Ben Franklin said it best, “Remembered. If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten; either write something worth reading or do something worth the writing.”

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  • Katherine Heicksen

    Yep, philosophy trumps religion easily when it comes to these questions.

    You said:
    “As far as where we are going personally (i.e. after we die) the answer to that is simple enough. When we die, we are dead. However, we live on in the memories of those who come after us. What we do in life affects the lives of others. Ben Franklin said it best, “Remembered. If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten; either write something worth reading or do something worth the writing.”

    And I just have to argue; we just don’t know this. When it comes to many aspects of religious belief, not only is there a lack of evidence to support most of the premises, there is a great deal of scientific and philosophical evidence that contradicts the notions. This is not the case when it comes to “what happens when we die.” We don’t know what “we” actually are. We don’t understand how consciousness works, what it is. This one is still a mystery. There is no good reason to believe one way or the other. It is true, there are plenty of good philosophical reasons to deny the Christian idea of what happens when we die, but that is not the only other alternative to pure dead. Personally, though I am utterly convinced that the Christian “God” is not the ultimate creator or all and probably doesn’t exist except in the minds of his followers, I have to remain agnostic on the notion of some portion of self surviving death.

    • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

      It is hard to believe that anyone would argue that when we die, we are dead. That is just ridiculous to argue about.

      • Katherine Heicksen

        It depends on what you define the nature of self as. Are we just bodies? We don’t know.

        • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

          Are we just bodies? Yes, we do know with reasonable certainty that we are just bodies. If we were something in addition to bodies that would have to be supported with evidence. No evidence suggests that we are bodies + theatans or bodies + souls. If you could demonstrate these souls thingies using the scientific method then you might have a case. But until you do, we are bodies.

          Out of curiosity, when you kill a fly do you think you really killed it or do you think it isn’t really dead and some how lives on? Just asking.

          • Katherine Heicksen

            Well, personally, I see identity as sort of like an infinite melody. You can’t pick out a single note and say, “that’s it! that’s the tune!” You also can’t identify the melody by the instrument it is being played on. And the melodies of individuals can be combined into a symphony and there doesn’t necessarily have to be an end to the music.

            I have studied psychology and neurobiology and philosophy and the history of various religions. With the body of knowledge that I have, it is not acceptable to me to simply identify the self with the brain. I have come to a functionalist perspective and this allows for, but does not require, continuation of self beyond the death of our bodies. It is true, we do not have a great body of scientific evidence one way or the other on my perspective, and perhaps we never will. But the materialistic perspective has left me unconvinced. The evidence for the body as identical with the self just isn’t there.

            And if you disagree, which I am sure you do, I have to ask, specifically what is it about you, that without it, you would not be you? What is the defining body piece? Which cells? Which atoms? Which particles? Is there anything that is constant about you?

            Every moment you are dying, a bit here and a bit there. You exchange your matter with the rest of the universe continuously. Nothing about you is constant. It only makes sense to me to think that you (and I) are not a something but rather a process. And processes by there very nature, do not require a specific machine, but just a type of machine – a method of functioning.

            I get Scott’s view – it is closer to my own. However, I don’t think it is clear that the body creates the consciousness and not the other way around. Which isn’t to say I am sure of anything, just that I am certainly not sure, and with good reason.

            • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

              This is a subject that I have been interested in. While it is true that none of our cells are original and what we call us is not our ever changing bodies, the fact is that our memory (as flawed as it is) is essentially us. Our memory is generated by our brain and the interconnections between our synapses. While I have argued that it might be possible for our memory to have a residual charge this is just a layman’s theory. I can’t back up that claim with evidence, so I don’t put it forward as anything more that a layman’s theory. Personally, I don’t have the interest to research that in any great detail. However, to claim that we can still fire synapses without a brain is silly. Unless you can present some actual evidence for your position, it is not a position you ought to be arguing in favor of. The idea that when we die we are not dead just becomes a layman’s theory at best and wishful delusional thinking at worst.

              You still have not answered my question, when you kill a fly do you think you really killed it or do you think it isn’t really dead and some how lives on?

              • Katherine Heicksen

                I am not arguing for the truth of a position. Rather I am arguing for an acknowledgment of other possibilities. I just don’t think it is honest to say that we know.

                I don’t know if we, or the fly, could continue on in some fashion after the cellular body dies. If what we are is a pattern of energy or an exchange of energy, then theoretically that pattern could be duplicated or continued using either something other than synapses that does the same job or perhaps even different synapses, i.e. reincarnation. I don’t know that this is the case because I don’t even know what we are. And even if it were possible, that doesn’t mean it would necessarily be the case in actuality.

                I have discounted the idea that we are nothing but memories for a few reasons. One, I don’t think that people that have suffered brain damage and have lost their memories, and/or their ability to create memories, are dead or have somehow lost their identity. They have been compromised and are dysfunctional, but something about them retains an essence of self. I am not sure exactly what that “self “is, but it seems to still be there. And then there is my own memory. I don’t feel like I am my past in any way. I feel like my past has shaped what I have become and pointed me in the direction I am going, but I do not feel like I need to remember my past to retain my identity. I spend very little time remembering events and if I never did it again, I think I would still be me. This is just my perception of course, but I can’t exactly ignore it.

                I am also open to the possibility that this whole idea of self is just an illusion too though. But in that case, not only do we cease to exist when we die, we don’t even exist now, not really, not in any meaningful way.

                And these may all be layman’s theories, but that is how all theories start. These theories may or may not be testable too. But their testability doesn’t reflect on their truth, only what we can say we know with certainty. So for now, and perhaps forever, I think that a lack of commitment to any position is most honest then an absolute declaration of utter demise upon the death of our brains.

                • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

                  First let me say that there are a lot of errors in reasoning in this last comment of yours. One in particular I will address in an upcoming blog. Second and more importantly, your argument is essentially, you can’t know of certain so every possibility is equally valid. That is sort of like the “more faith to be an atheist” argument. It’s pretty ridiculous.

                  • Katherine Heicksen

                    Well then, explain why that is to me. Why is it better to make assumptions and declare knowledge of things we do not have a clear understanding of or concrete evidence of?

        • http://myspace.com/scott888 Scott

          I see us as our consciousness which essentially exists as a result of neuron energy within our brains. We are the dictator of an entire empire of cells that follow us mostly unquestionably. Built in with our brains is limitations. We are programed with needs that must be met and we are stressed until we fulfill them. The different areas of the brain give us abilities such as music, art, logic, etc. Our behavior is controlled to an extent based on our brains programming. We are the free will of the brain.

          When we die, our brain can no longer produce the neuron energy required to produce our consciousness.

          • Katherine Heicksen

            “When we die, our brain can no longer produce the neuron energy required to produce our consciousness.”

            Yes, but something else might and it might in just enough of a way for identity to continue – you never know!

            • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

              What? Do you have evidence to suggest this? Or are you just making stuff up and calling is probable? Monkey’s could fly out of my ass. You never know, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

              • Katherine Heicksen

                Some things are more probable than others. You can’t reasonably equate ridiculous and highly improbable events with what I have suggested as possible.

  • http://myspace.com/scott888 Scott

    1. Where did we come from?

    As said, this is being worked on. I myself have thought of several scenarios as to the cause of the big bang. Time and space are interwoven and the big bang was the creation of time and space as we know it. However, I believe that there are time lines perpendicular to ours.

    I consider this: before our universe, there was no time or space and when you go into a black hole, time stops and you disappear from our universe. This leads me to believe that a black hole leads to a realm where time and space equal zero but yet the matter from black holes in our universe and possibly others can continuously add matter to it. A different kind of time happens here until enough matter is added to it that it explodes into a new universe.

    Until we understand the true nature of our universe it’ll be hard to determine what really happened but knowing about time and space and how there are many other undefined dimensions that mathematically exist open lots of possibilities.

    2. What is the point of our lives?

    Who says we need a purpose? Our genetic purpose is to live, succeed socially, and pro-create. There is no greater being to please. However, I think it would be great if our evolutionary purpose was to terraform other planets and seed them with suitable forms of life from Earth (such as adding tundra and boreal life to Mars and adding desert life and deciduous plants to handle the long rotation period of Venus.

    How great would if be if life on Earth could somehow spread to other neighboring plants and transform them too? Is this not the purpose of life (of all organisms)?

    3. Where are we going?

    Chances are that our species may destroy ourselves because of idiocy. Religious people flew planes into buildings. As technology gets better who knows what kind of destruction will happen. Thus why I think invading the middle east was a good idea in the long term for it forces bronze aged people to modernize.

    Why isn’t their other civilizations all over our galaxy? We should be able to detector their radio waves much like we inadvertently advertise ourselves to the universe. I did a blog on this on my facebook page, but it leaves us with three implications:

    1. We are alone
    2. Civilizations are common but cannot leave their area of the galaxy due to the vastness of space and/or they destroy themselves within a few thousand years
    3. Other intelligent life is hiding from us

    I think option number 2 makes the most sense to me. I would not be surprised if intelligent life destroys their own planet with habitat destruction or nuclear war. Knowing this we need to learn from it, lest we be just like them.

    However, the average person is incredibly stupid, exceedingly shortsighted, and too concerned about their own well being. It’s going to take a lot of work to prevent our inevitable fate.

    • Brian D

      See my postings under singles group/ Anna’s post for related commentary……. some pasted here
      [i hope] would hesitate to label ourself the ‘greatist of species’ Some potential alien lifeform may get a big laugh over that !!!
      [digressing, my position is that many species in the universe may well reach the point of being 'considered' ''intelligent'' .life...that being the case or possibility, it stands to reason that one of them has to 'arrive' first. IT MAY WELL BE US !!! Whoever is first has the best chance of colonizing (at least) our galaxy.We may very well seed the galaxy, but not alone.....we will certainly do so withlarge segments of earth's tree of life. {anology here: pacific ocean & islands More evolution in action --remember Darwin}
      Until & unless we hybridize with plant life, we are in fact ANIMAL life forms AND a part of nature. One of the major problems with religion is the denial of our animal nature & the misguided talk of ''trancendence'' [the human 'soul', for starters. From a general systems perspective [which arose out of developmental biology] , We are complex adaptive systems..with some interesting emergent properi\ties.[and this is where we have some overlap]when you talk about ‘greatest’ species.,I wouldspecify that we are the first ”IDEAL SEEKING SYSTEMS” the ancient Greeks got this far [of which most here seem to be truly ignorant of] The three primary ideals to strive for are : 1) TRUTH; 2) Beauty; & 3) Justice [this would be an entire book to adequately support/defend]
      To these three we should ad a 4th: ”SOCIAL-ECONOMIC PLENTY”. We are the first ‘species’ [in the galaxy ? ] to explicitly become ideal-seeking systems, [ that we are aware of!] The ability of conceptual thought was a necessary precondition.
      There are almost no ‘guarentees ‘ in life ‘cept death & taxes.
      Regardless, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,
      & the best predictor of religeous beliefs in a child is the beliefs of the parents; by default, this also applies to non-belief, other things being equal.
      I made similiar points to your last in other postings at that blog….. feedback [?] all4 now

      • http://myspace.com/scott888 Scott

        [quote]
        [digressing, my position is that many species in the universe may well reach the point of being 'considered' ''intelligent'' .life...that being the case or possibility, it stands to reason that one of them has to 'arrive' first. IT MAY WELL BE US !!! Whoever is first has the best chance of colonizing (at least) our galaxy.We may very well seed the galaxy, but not alone.....we will certainly do so withlarge segments of earth's tree of life. {anology here: pacific ocean & islands More evolution in action --remember Darwin}
        [/quote]

        I used to assume we were the first intelligent life in the Milky Way but my astronomy textbooks say that many astronomers say that it’s highly probable that it could have happened billions of years ago on other solar systems that formed before ours.

        So assuming that intelligent life should have formed before us leads me to believe in self destruction. Is it really possible for humans to be around another million years and somehow not have a nuclear war or destroy their environment? I also heard a startling statistic on the radio that the worlds topsoil will be depleted in 60 years with our current practices. Then think of overpopulation.

        Then their is the issue of travel. It is impossible to go past the speed of light. Anti-matter rockets seem like they would be impossible to make so that leaves us with fusion rockets. Current technology will get us to the nearest star in 4000 years but fusion will get us to their in 40 years. In our part of the galaxy, the average distance between stars is seven light years.

        With these restrictions, space travel is limited to your own solar system and possibly neighboring solar systems. If one solar system wanted to communicate to their colonized neighbor it would take several years for the message to travel to them.

        Theory of relativity makes it hypothetically possible to get to the Andromeda Galaxy in one’s life time. If one could almost reach the speed of light (say 90% of it) they could get to Andromeda and back and only 50 years will go by for the person. However, when they return, 5 million years would have gone by on Earth (this specific example was in my college level astronomy textbook). Civilization might be dead by then.

        So, I believe it is impossible for one civilization to conquer an entire galaxy and how far one gets with colonization depends on how many neighboring stars have colonizable planets. If we get to Alpha Centauri thru fusion rockets, there might not be any planets there to colonize and if non of our closest neighbors have planets, we won’t go anywhere else for a long time. I suppose eventually one civilization will get the right odds and conquer the galaxy but perhaps it’ll be billions of years before a civilization gets it right.

        But yes, we will need our supporting species to help us. One essential reason to protect our habitats now is that we might need specific species to still be around when we terraform. The micro life is probably the most important for we need fully bio’d oceans to produce an oxygen atmosphere (which makes an ozone) before we can think about conquering land. We will need domed cities during the hundred or so years needed to terraform.

        To think of what we could have though. Mars would have a big ocean in the northern Hemisphere but be mostly land in the south. Venus would have 3 major continents: one in the North, one to the South and a big one along the equator. I think we’d have to huddle at the continents closer to the poles. We’d probably have mostly desert on the southern continent while the north and south might have either tropical or deciduous forests of some kind. The moon and Mercury could hypothetically be given atmospheres (they lack them not because of their low gravity but because of becoming volcanically inactive too quickly to out gas an atmosphere). I’m not sure we could keep Mercury cool enough but the moon is at Earth’s distance.

        With Jupiter, we could access Callisto and Ganymede but if we got any closer, we’d be radiation poisoned by Jupiter’s magnetic field. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune don’t have a deadly magnetic field and we could enter their atmospheres and weigh nearly the same we do on Earth. All three of the potential for sky cities. Titan I suppose could be terraformed but I have no idea how they plan to warm that moon up. Nonetheless, every single planet has potential value and with fusion rockets we could access them all in reasonable time frames (Earth to Neptune would be like 1-2 months).

        Our species has the potential to be gods among life on Earth and could literally design our own worlds thru terraforming. People for thousands of years believed in many Gods but it turns out that we have the potential to be “Gods” if we develop better technology. But to become a “God”, one must stop worshiping imaginary gods that prevent progress.

  • Phil Poland

    Easily answered questions by a rational person with a little bit of biology and physics knowledge.

    Where did we come from?
    We’re the flotsam and jetsam of an event some 14 billion years ago. No further information is yet available on that, but what science does have you can take to the bank. Physics, chemistry and biology can fill in the subsequent details.

    What is the point of our lives?
    There is none. Choosing worthwhile goals and values is your best option.

    Where are we going?
    We’re going to die. In practical terms, we’ll return to nonexistance. As a species, even though we have the means to head off a major crash, we won’t manage it. The Big Stink (a major extinction) will occur within 200 years.

  • Gary

    The Nature of consciousness is more a philosophical issue. Nuero-science attempts to tackle it with very shacky results.

    Imagine a computer that could examine itself, repair itself and reflect upon its own ability to reflect. That’s a miraclous task. We do it everyday. Does it prove or even suggest a greater consciousness? I personally would like to believe we are more than a fallen corn stalk at death, but that is my desire, not a validation.

    Lately I’ve been wondering aimlessly in my dreams.
    I hope this isn’t what death is about, because that would be a pergatory worse than falling over in the soil and being eaten by worms.