What defines us as athiests is that we reject the concept of a Deity. We assume this posture by using logic and reason. A deity is logically extremely improbable. We then go on to rely on logic and reason to construct our cosmology based on observation, scientific inquirey, rational deduction and so on. We each have a belief system on which our sense of the world is constructed, our reality so to speak.
I've been reading a bit about quantum mechanics and multi universe theories. None of this fits neatly into my cosmology. Even so, the theories are reached by logic that I can follow and can't really dispute at my level of understanding.
To approach concepts like the nature of our consciousness reveals the limits of logic and reason. Logic and reason would ascribe them to chemical reactions in the brain that interperate stimuli. But we only have five senses with which to evaluate the world (if an external world actually does exist!). Is it not reasonable to assume that there are things imperceptable to these five senses? If consciousness is indeed a chemical function of the brain, then we rely on the eyes, the ears, the nose, the skin to give us all the interaction with the physical world and supply all the data that the mind asesses. Can we trust that these mechanism are supplying accurate interperatations of the physical world?
And what's going on in the next person's head? Are we sure it's similar to what's going on in our own? Is each person a unique universe? Do they really connect in a physical space? One of the theories is that all matter is a congealing of possibilities enacted by consciousness, that in fact the universe does not exist on it's own without consciousness to define it. This begs the question, do any of you exist outside my head?
What I'm getting at is that religion provides a rudimentary construct for us to understand and relate to the universe. I believe our logical, reasonable, scientific cosmology is no less an invention of our mind than religion and is dependent on your intelligence level, understanding of science and philosophy, life experience, indoctrination to other cosmologies, level of inquirey, and psychological makeup among many other factors.
Who are we to be so disdainful of religion when our concept of reality is no less an invention of our minds? Is it essential to the human condition to have a cosmology? If it is, doesn't religion provide an essential construct for some?
No, I don't think that at all. My point is that our sense of the universe may be no less a construct of the mind not necessarily based on an empirical world. It may be just as fictitious as religion but it's what we must have to function as humans.
From my limited understanding of quantum mechanics, the Multiverse is just as weird an idea as God, but one is considered reasonable conjecture and the other nonsense. It's quite possible that it's all nonsense but we aren't capable of seeing it.
What I'm saying is that the whole question of whether there IS an objective reality to describe is called into question by some quantum concepts. My feeling is that our sense of identity, our relation to others, our personal view of what our lives are is an artificial construct of the mind. Our sense of self does not necessarily match another's sense of you. Which is empirically real? Neither? Both?
Quantum theory seems to beg those questions of time and physical matter. Is time merely a construct of the mind and not an empirical phenomenon? Matter is comprised mostly of space and the interaction of atomic and subatomic particles. We percieve it as something when it is comprised of mostly nothing. Is this a trick of the mind?
Could we function without this deceit, if it is in fact a deceit? I think not. If that's the case, doesn't religion in some way structure the universe in a comprehensible way for a certain mind set that is essential to them?
I like some of your points, but I think they are addressing something other then what was meant. What I hear Mike as saying, and please correct me if I'm wrong, Mike, is... Science is a frame work that we can use to arrange what we discover is a useful way. And that by the same token, given that it is seeming more and more likely that the universe is not a solitary discrete unit but rather is just one facet of a far larger collection of multiple realities, is it not reasonable to accept that for many people, the only framework that can fit all of that is religion rather then science? And if reasonable to use, does that not make it the most effective tool for dealing with the reality that is too complex for most minds to grasp? Also consider that if multiple realities are real, does not that concept open the possibility that in at least one of those realities, a singular contentiousness arose that can, at times, have an influence on the other realities around it? Such a mind would match almost all the requirements to be considered God, or a god.
I think in that last bit I went a bit farther then Mike was suggesting, though I think it does fit with in the concept he was voicing. If I have the concept, then I think that the answer to your question is a qualified 'No' for many faiths, and a qualified 'yes' for some. It most certainly can, but in most cases I have heard of it does not. It comes down to the idea of 'does the tool impede more then it helps?'. And in the case of the faiths that are closed to anything but their own splintered path, and requiring the rejection of anything outside of that, then the answer is a resounding 'No'. In the faiths that accept many ways of seeing the same thing, and encourage the followers to question, then the answer is 'Yes'. At least in my eyes, Though, there is an argument in that that warns us that one day we may discover something that will wipe us out. But I see that as the same risk a rabbit faces when it sticks its nose out of the warren to eat. Stay in the warren and starve, or risk the predators to try and live. The question comes down to, should we embrace a framework that tries to hide us from potential risk at the cost of understanding and growing, or should we embrace a framework that opens the possibility of risk, as well as the potential of learning to deal with that risk. Add in to that equation the lovely little fact that theist or atheist, we all die someday, and I say push for understanding not hiding. Also consider, if it is all in our minds, then that's the way out.
I'm certainly no fan of religion and agree that as a whole is is undesirable. But saying it always retards growth and the improvement of living conditions is painting with an awfully broad brush.
At one point in our evolution religion probably provided an agreed upon cosmology that allowed cooperative development of societies to happen. There seems to be something innate in us that looks for causality in things and in order to develop customs, habits, rules... the things that make up a society, we need to agree to some extent on the structure of the universe and our place in it. That supplies the "why" we are doing these things.
The structure that most of us agre upon at present is that there is an empirical world seperate from us that we percieve through our senses and react to. It implies that we all are present in this same empiracle reality and are reacting to the same things that actually exists in three dimensional space.
Some quantum theories are not based on that cosmology and in fact state that the univers is a creation of consciousness and does not exist at all without it. Pretty mind blowing. If this is true, then our present concept of an empirical three dimensional universe is as much fiction as a creator that rules over a universe that He/She can destroy at any time.
I'm not saying I believe, or even completely understand the quantum take on existence and consciousness and think I'm still pretty firmly in the empiracle three dimensional universe gang, but the possibility definitely exists that I'm just fooling myself and this is just a construction of my mind that allows me to function in a universe I don't understand.
In that sense, religion is such a construct, although I believe outmoded and that will eventually be evolved away from. But still essential for certain mind sets to function at present time.
It's caused by germs. Evidence for that is plentiful.
Cosmic radiation is negligible.
Ideas matter because you need accurate ideas to make accurate theories. If the underlying ideas are wrong, the resulting theory is wrong.
Which ruling of what actually exists should we use? It is still considered proven that God is real and that the Devil is the cause of all ills, in the eyes of many people. The debates and frustrations on this site are a testament to that. By your argument atoms would never have been discovered, as they were not known to exist and were only guessed at, or if you prefer the term, theorized against strong /peer/ resistance, not only religious. It was laughed at. So was Pasteur's theories until he was finally able to prove he was correct. Even then, many refused to accept it for quite some time, as real as the idea was too different and seemed so against accepted facts.
So until you can produce a master list of what is really out there somewhere, and what is not, then how can you ask some one to restrict their choices to what is considered acceptable. Few if any breakthroughs or discoveries were ever made because the scientist restricted them selves to only what was popularly considered correct at the time.
Now, I will grant you that some lines time and time again prove more fruitful and others prove time and time again to be dead ends. But that does not mean that the seeming dead ends can not lead to something amazing, just not what you were looking for. Penicillin was discovered by an accident while following a dead end path. Super glue was considered a failure for it's hoped for task, but proved a boon in others. Same for the glue on the back of post it notes. 3M that any one could ever have a use for glue that would never dry and had a weak hold. That seeming dead end opened the door to an unexpected path, and is more common then you may realize.
Really now? Could you tell me what germs caused Madam Curie's illness? How about what germs cause which forms of cancer? And before you try to sharpen the point of what is a disease and what isn't, do keep in mind that they were all considered a disease before we were able to separate causes. Also, consider the root of the word, 'Dis-Ease'. It was the state of feeling unwell. And as such was quite applicable to far more situations that it is common to attribute today.
What i think they were saying is,' if you have no way to know what is causing a problem, does it really matter what you pick as your best guess to start with is?' The answer to that question is a solid 'No, it doesn't really matter'. How ever, it will matter quite a bit if you assume it is right and look no further. Just about every starting point is arbitrary to some degree, and if you can't even know when to start, then it /must/ be arbitrary and really doesn't matter as it's only a guess any way. just be sure to test and move to a new starting point until you find one that works and leads you farther on the path.