“Render unto Caesar”

Give the state what belongs to the state, i.e. squat. The author of this article makes a great point. If Jesus wanted to advocate paying taxes he could have answered the question plainly. The Pharisees wanted and expected Jesus to counsel against paying tax so they could have him arrested. There was no need for Jesus to be “crafty” with his answer is the answer was “pay your taxes”. The craftiness was only required by His need to avoid compromising His principle of non-violence (which taxation necessarily violates) without giving his enemies the excuse they were looking for to arrest Him.

Belief

I liked this post discussing belief as choice and wanted to preserve it here with a few highlights and thoughts of my own.

I particularly like this quote from Dr. Teryl Givens as it is close to the same way I understand for why faith is so important. It is an excellent response to any questions regarding why God does not make it easier to believe, why he does not reveal himself to us more obviously.

“You are not free to believe or disbelieve the Law of Gravity. It’s there. The evidence is so abundant that you are compelled to accept it. So, as a result, there’s no virtue that attaches to your belief in that law. Similarly, if I were to offer you a million dollars to believe in the Easter Bunny, you wouldn’t be able to do it. So, in both of these cases, belief seems to operate outside of the moral sphere. We don’t have control that we can exercise to believe or to disbelieve.

But what I’m saying is that faith is what operates or what unfolds in a middle ground, between the compulsion to affirm and the compulsion to deny. And I believe that God has structured our lives here on this Earth in such a way that, when it comes to those issues of eternal import, we have to be free to affirm or to deny. And therefore, there has to be a balance of evidence, both for the veracity of the Gospel, and against it. It’s essential to God’s divine purposes, and to the flowering of freedom itself, I believe, that there have to be compelling reasons to reject the Book of Mormon, to reject Joseph as a prophet, to reject the existence of God Himself. But they have to exist alongside compelling reasons to affirm those things. Only in those circumstances can we call upon our will and choose to believe or not to believe. And I think in those moments, our choice reflects the most important things about us: our souls, what we love, what is it that we choose to affirm. And so that’s how I think faith operates.”

We are counseled that faith needs to supersede mere belief quickly or even such belief as we have will be lost. I think the process is: (1) we become informed of a proposition; (2) we find the proposition appealing (desire); (3) we hope the proposition is true; (4) we adopt an attitude toward the proposition that might loosely be called “belief” but which might be better characterized as the temporary suspension of disbelief (or at least lack of belief). In other words, a recognition that the proposition might be true and that the probability thereof, combined with its desirability, warrants a sincere search for more supportive evidence; (5) we act as if the proposition were true (exercise faith) which results in our obtaining further evidence supporting the proposition; (6) sufficient supporting evidence is amassed that our suspension of disbelief becomes real belief promoting real faith (belief-based behaviour).

(1) is the result of happenstance or divine planning. (2) and (3) come from who we are; who we have become through a lifetime of previous decisions. (4) is a choice because it is an attitude towards the proposition which we are free to adopt or not. (5) is obviously a choice, and a rational one in the full context. (6) is ultimately a gift from God (direct spirit to spirit communication which we are counselled to anticipate and to accept as such. That it happens is certainly some, I would say rather persuasive, evidence of the truth of the proposition.

Whether we are the type of being – whether we have developed (or at least are willing to develop) the quality of Christ-like character – in whom it is safe to entrust with the salvation of our own spiritual offspring, is the question which we must be free to answer by what we do when confronted with the proposition that the Gospel is true. Not only the outcome, but the process of reaching it and thereby further refining that character, is critical. Faith (freely chosen, belief-based behaviour) is the means by which we develop and display a character fit for exaltation.

From the scriptures we learn that we are the children of God. From the scripture we write with our life’s blood we learn whether we will become the parent of gods. What we write is up to us. But remember that He assures us that to live like Him is to experience an eternal fullness of joy.

Notes on light, truth, glory and intelligence

Some relevant scriptures:

“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C 88:67)

“Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.” (D&C 88:49–50)

“…the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light precedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.” (D&C 88:11–13)

“(Jesus Christ is) He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.” (D&C 88:6–10)

“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one.” (D&C 93:36–37)

Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.” (D&C 93:30-31)

“For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Moses 1:39

“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” (D&C 93:24)

What I get from all this is that:

  • “truth” refers to the facts of existence – reality as created, defined, perceived and revealed by God. It is absolute as far as it matters – as far as it pertains to us.
  • “Light” refers to the innate know-ability of truth. If there was such thing as truth without light it would be a fact of existence which was undiscoverable or unknowable to us. There is no such truth. Light is that which makes all truth knowable.
  • “Intelligence” is the capacity, which we inherit from God, to use light to discover truth.
  • God uses his superior (perfect) intelligence to accomplish his work which is to bring to pass our exaltation.

The word used to describe our essential being, that from which our spirits were organized, is “intelligence”. Our essential characteristic, therefore, that which distinguishes us as humans, as children of God, from all other things, is our capacity to detect, discover, recognize truth. Our ability to perceive reality and understand what we perceive. This capacity utilizes light, or the light of Christ, which seems to refer to that which permits truth to be known, comprehended. We all possess, or have access to, this light. It is inherent in our nature as intelligences.

God says that to see us, his children, exhalted to his quality of life, is his work and his glory – or, it is the work of his glory. That is, the work to which he puts his supreme intelligence.

A knowledge, even an imperfect one, of how committed our all-powerful creator is to our success is faith-promoting.

Technology can bring people back to church

I was recently reading some articles about why church attendance is generally in decline. One of the main factors cited was that churches are failing to provide for people’s need for community. Interesting. What is a “community” in this age of instant, free, global communication? Geographic proximity is fast becoming irrelevant. Yet churches are nearly invariably organized around a geographic sense of community. Think instead if it was organized around a community of interests, ties of friendship or family, etc.

My perspective is that of an LDS Christian. Picture a typical Sunday. Members from our local area get out of bed, get washed, dressed, travel and arrive to sit and listen to 3 of their fellows (usually a youth, a less experienced speaker, and a more experienced speaker) speak on assigned gospel topics. Each talk might or might not be relevant or interesting to those in attendance, but each speaker takes his or her turn addressing the entire congregation.

Now consider what it would be like to use technology to transcend the limitations of a geographic organization. I can picture excitedly rolling out of bed each Sunday morning to explore that day’s interactive, customizable itinerary. Thousands of members all over the world have indicated their willingness to accept speaking assignments. A few dozen, of varying experience and abilities, have been selected to present talks on assigned topics. I choose from among these, which I am most interested in. I can watch, listen, and/or read these talks. I can avail myself of the latest virtual reality technology if I wish to experience something close to a traditional setting. I can interact with others doing the same thing or choose to participate from more of an arm’s length. I can experience these “talks” in any order and at any time and in any manner I choose. Repeatedly, throughout the day, I have to option to participate in discussions with others on the same subject as the talks. I can see the choices made by my friends and families so I can factor their choices into my own decision about which talks and discussions to join and when.

In this way my church community is now much more relevant to me. It is based on freely chosen associations with friends and family and base on my interests rather than the increasingly irrelevant factor of geography. A global resource pool exposes me to speakers from around the world and to their varying perspectives. This makes me more a part of a worldwide family than an insular community.

Another factor in declining attendance was said to be the “quality of the preaching”. Extracting volunteer speakers from a global pool on varied topics almost assures both quality and relevancy. The quality of the virtual reality experience can provide as much or as little of the traditional feel of going to church as desired. And again, the global resource pool assures that there will be a community of others with whom to share whatever that level of interactivity might be. Physical limitations due to age, infirmity or distance are no longer relevant. People who like to sleep in can do so and still participate when they wish.

Most traditional pastoral care can be offered by members irrespective of distance. Again, with virtual reality increasingly able to simulate the personal touch proximity permits. Certainly there will be some needs where actual physical proximity is necessary but geographic community will not become anathema, but merely relegated to a subordinate role to more relevant bases for community.

As technology inexorably progresses, especially virtual reality, I expect to see all churches evolve along these lines offering greater opportunity for increased and improved participation. I would hope, and expect our church to be at the forefront of progress.

A line of thought on Theogeny

Nothing to see here folks, move along.

This is really just a “note to self” regarding something I just read and pieced together. I was reading John Leslie’s, “The End of the World”. He reminded me that given a large enough collection of black holes, a fully formed intelligent being might emerge as Hawking radiation. He raises this to illustrate the point that the anthropic principle as understood by it’s discoverer, Brandon Carter, and Leslie himself, contemplates situations where it is more likely to find oneself and not situations such as the one I mention which, while possible, are highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking that if an intelligent being could thus emerge, why not a virtually omniscient and omnipotent one? Could this be the mechanism by which Leslie’s “Divine Mind” is created by his “creatively effectual ethical requirement”? If so, the only “requirement” would be John Wheeler’s oscillating cosmos – an ever-cycling expansion from and collapse to an infinitely small and dense point of potentialities. Obviously such a point fulfills the role of Leslie’s black hole and the emergent universe the role of Hawking’s radiation. So then, from an infinite number of such cycles, there would be an infinite number of intelligent beings, covering the full range of intelligence right up to, and including, all the knowledge capable of having.

But, recalling the anthropic principle, shouldn’t we expect our cycle to have produced, either no intelligent children of the Big Bang or at best, one whose intelligence falls far short of virtual omniscience/omnipotence? Well, one should expect that only a being of at least close to omni-intelligence would survive long enough to form a thought, let alone survive proximity to a Big Bang singularity. It seems reasonable for us to consider such a being at least virtually omni-intelligent – close enough for our purposes.

But would such a being be omni-benevolent too? Again, anthropic reasoning suggests so. We should expect that such a being would value life, since without life, value is impossible. If such a being did not value life, presumably we would not need to concern ourselves with it as it would soon fall to the considerable life-threatening environment proximate to a big bang. If it did value life, it seems reasonable to attribute seemingly obvious virtues such as consistency to it. It seems to me that a virtually omnipotent/omniscient being which consistently values life is as close as we need to come to describing one of Leslie’s Divine Minds being radiated from one (or more) of an infinite number of big bangs. Attributing to it the inclination to reproduce seems a reasonable extrapolation and so Leslie’s Divine Mind becomes Mormonism’s Father of the Gods.

How do these fortuitous circumstances come to be? For that we must leave the anthropic principle far behind. We need to first accept that nothing in the world can answer the question of how to get the above something from nothing. At least nothing we typically think of as being in or a part of the world as any such thing posing as the ultimate explanation is subject to the question, “Well then how did THAT come to be?”

So the ultimate cause must be something that we don’t usually think of as existing in the sense that we think of most/all other things as existing. 1 + 1 = 2 in base 10 math. Wouldn’t that remain true even if there were no things to count or do the counting, or even to contemplate its truthfulness? The statement really is just a way of restating the law of identity (but what isn’t?). If you have one thing, and you have another thing, then you have both things (which means you have one thing and another thing). This is an abstract truth that doesn’t depend on the actual existence of anything we ordinarily think of as really existing. This abstract truth doesn’t prompt us to question it’s origin or seek a deeper explanation. The ultimate explanation must be something of that same nature.

Restating Leslie’s suggestion in the above context leads me to suggest that there is a creatively effectual ethical requirement that a singularity subject to quantum fluctuation exist. That might be all it took.

AI and the Consciousness Issue

It is supposed by some that we ought to reserve human rights for humans and that artificial intelligence (“AI”) ought to never be afforded such rights. More enlightened individuals would temper that by saying that the rights of AI ought to be respected at least if were believed to have acquired consciousness. But then the problem becomes how one can tell whether an AI is conscious when we cannot even know for sure whether another person is conscious. One feels safe in assuming so since the evidence is that other people are physiologically and behaviorally similar enough to oneself to warrant the assumption that since we are conscious, so too are these otherwise similar others.

I believe there will be good reason to warrant making this same assumption with respect to AI at some point. The argument against doing so would be something along the lines of thinking that a computer sufficiently powerful to constitute AI might still just be a bunch of machine parts producing outcomes while lacking sufficient unity or whatever it is that gives rise to consciousness to attribute consciousness to it. But I think this argument is completely defeated by an appreciation of the significance of the Turing test.

Imagine that an AI passes a vigorous Turing test. It’s behaviour (including communication) is indistinguishable from that of a human. Is not the fact that we are conscious and that we know we are conscious a factor influencing our behaviour? If AI behaviour had to precisely mimic human behaviour, would it not have to at least perfectly simulate consciousness and the appreciation of being conscious? If there were deficiencies in that simulated consciousness, would there not also necessarily be deficiencies in its behaviour preventing it from passing a sufficiently vigourous Turing test?

If AI behaviour is to be virtually indistinguishable from human behaviour then AI consciousness must logically be indistinguishable from human consciousness. I am maintaining that an intelligence that knows it is only simulating consciousness would be missing an important factor influencing its behaviour, i.e. an appreciation of truly being conscious.

If a simulated consciousness, including the appreciation of being conscious, was sufficiently powerful to allow the AI to pass a rigourous Turing test, then the simulated consciousness is virtually indistinguishable from human consciousness and out to be treated no differently.

Thus, a sufficiently rigourous Turing test ought to be all we need, without getting into the irrelevant issue of whether the AI also has consciousness. The flip side is that I don’t believe an AI will pass vigourous Turning test (be virtually indistinguishable from human intelligence) unless it has somehow acquired a simulated consciousness and an appreciation of it.

The weirdness of reality

Send light through a beam splitter one photon at a time. Send one of the resulting beams to one lab and the other to a second lab. In the first lab, use a device to change the phase of each photon that arrives. Then measure its phase. In the second lab, just measure each photons phase.

Conventional logic would tell you that the photons arriving at the second lab would not be effected by what was happening in the first lab, and so the phase of the photons measured there would be unchanged. But no, it’s phase was changed too.

Now remember that an individual photon acts like a wave, until you measure something about it, like exactly where it is, or its velocity, or its state (like measuring its phase). Then the wave “collapses” and it is no longer a wave, spread out over space, but a particle, occupying just one location in space.

So, until the phase is measured, the photon really is a wave. It really does “exist” “in” lab 1 and also lab 2 at the same time. That’s the only way changing its phase in lab 1, also changes it in lab 2. So superposition (the idea that a particle exists simultaneously at more than one location) is not just a way of explaining what happens – it really is what happens. Else how can the particle, which arrives in lab 2 and does not arrive in lab 1, nevertheless have its state altered in lab 1?

The photon is a wave which is extended through space to include both labs. It is altered in lab 1 and then, when measured, is found to be a particle (no longer a wave) in lab 1 and not present at all in lab 2.

The really, really weird thing about this is that (iirc) this means that when its phase is being changed by the device in lab 1, so long as the device does not alert us to whether it is, or is not detecting the presence of a photon right “now”, then the device also enters into a state of superposition – it exists at the very same instant as both a device which is altering the state of a photon and a device which is not altering the state of a photon. If we were to set the device to alert us when it is altering a photon, that would collapse the superposition and the photon would either be in one lab or the other but not both. Since this would happen before the photon’s state was altered, it would defeat the purpose of this new experiment as so that’s why the device had to be operating at all times the same whether or not it was then acting on a photon. (I didn’t get to the really, really weird part yet. That’s next.)

But the device is really no different than the scientist in the lab. Not as far as physics goes. So, just as the device is in a state of superposition to the scientist before it alerts him as to whether it is or is not acting on a photon, the scientist is in a state of superposition to people outside the labs, until he tells someone about whether he did or did not detect the photon in his lab. And this new experiment tells us that superposition is real. So the scientist really exists, at the same time, as a scientist who did detect a photon, and a scientist who did not detect a photon. (Ok, that’s the freaky part.)

This experiment was done and summarized here.

An accommodation

As reported on KSL.com the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made it official policy today to call for the state to restrict the right of individuals to deny employment, housing, etc. to gays. Unfortunately the statement is couched in terms of “protecting rights”, which this most assuredly is not. No one has a right to someone else’s property. The idea is an absurd contradiction. If you have the final say over a thing’s disposition then that thing is yours – your property. If someone else has the final say, then it is the property of that other person. We can speak of multiple persons each having an “interest” in property such as when two people each hold an equal 50% undivided joint interest in a property. But that is different than saying that any random unspecified person has a right to march into your residence or business and demand a bed or a job you would otherwise deny to him, and threaten to bring the power (armed force) of the state to bear against you if you refuse. That is the “right” being “protected” today. The right to initiate force against another to prevent him from using his property in a way you don’t agree with. It is the right to use violence to get your way. It is the right to be a beast, an animal, an uncivilized barbarian. That is the right that is being protected by all non-discrimination legislation.

Now of course I am personally opposed to irrationality, which to me includes any discrimination on the basis of irrelevant facts. I cannot see how a person’s sexual orientation would even come into the conversation over terms of lodging or employment. If it did, somehow, the innkeeper or employer who turned away an otherwise acceptable customer or employee on that basis alone is irrational and irrational means bad. But I would so much more want to live in a society where everyone respects the right of every other person to be free.

Free to live as they choose and to do what they choose with their own property. Free from violence, or the threat of violence, from another or others. When the violence is threatened by one person acting alone we call him a criminal. When it comes from a group of individuals we usually call them a criminal gang. But when it comes from a group (police) who were hired by another group (politicians) who persuaded another group (voters) to place lead filings next to their names on a piece of paper (voting) then we call that “The Law” and we bow down and worship it as thoroughly as the idolatrous image of any other false god ever fashioned.

The extent to which we allow others to do with their own lives and property what we would prefer they didn’t, without using violence or threatening violence against them for so doing, is the extent to which we are human beings and not animals. Violence is the way of the jungle where beasts have their way based on their power to violently impose their interests over that of the other beasts. It is how they eat, procreate and otherwise survive. But humans, when acting as humans, as sons and daughters of God, do no violence toward one another unless it is in response to the violence of others. They never initiate violence. And when they do retaliate, it is only reluctantly, taking care to do so only to that level required to quell the violence and redress the wrongs it brought about. This is what Jesus taught. It is a part of the higher law. But it is not because He taught it that it is right. It is because it right that He taught it. The right to be free from the initiation of violence is the only political ethic consistent with the fact that man relies on his own individual capacity to reason for his survival. The extent to which you are forced to comply with another’s judgment is the extent that he has deprived you of the capacity to survive and made a poor substitute for it – his judgment.

One can only judge based on what he knows and all that he knows is contained within his mind. Words are imperfect symbols which stand for the concepts we hold within our minds but are not those concepts themselves. Words must always fail to convey a portion of what we mean by them since the meaning we attribute to them is informed by all we have experienced and come to believe. To take an extreme example, what does “red” mean to someone who cannot see? A better example is to consider what concept the word “beauty” might conjure in the mind of an adult raised and educated with access to the finest art ever produced. Now consider what “beauty” would mean to a starving and impoverished child. It is impossible to learn enough about another through words or ancillary forms of communication to justify imposing our judgment over their own as their means of survival. And even if we could, we would be denying them the right to live their own life by living it for them. No amount of having their best interests at heart can justify denying them the opportunity to live a life of their own. The right of the individual to live his own life as he freely chooses, so long as he respects that same right of others, is the only appropriate political ethic for human beings.

So why would the Church announce this policy?

The Church’s official position on legal matters is not doctrine nor part of the gospel. It is not revelation nor necessarily inspired. It is not an exercise in ecumenical authority but administrative. That is why whenever it makes such comments, members are always “encouraged” (or such similar undemanding language) to comply with it.

I am sure that the Church’s official policy is to obey all the laws of all the jurisdictions where the Church is found, and to “encourage” all members to do the same. I think if the Church had been organized at the time of the American Revolution it’s policy would have been the same. But revolutionary leaders are rightly considered righteous men and heroes and were all baptised by proxy and said to have accepted the saving ordinances performed on their behalf.

I think the interests of the Church as an administrative body, a corporate legal entity, are not necessarily identical to the interests of any specific individual and that in all cases the individual must look to the scriptures and the Holy Ghost as the most important external guides to inform his own rational judgment. No one has properly discharged his moral agency by simply mimicking what someone else has done. Everyone’s circumstances are unique and that is why salvation is the result in the proper discharge of individual moral agency.

Personally, I remain opposed to investing the state with greater authority to interfere with the decisions of individuals as to who they employ, who they house, or whatever else they do and for whatever reason with respect to their own lives and property. I would divest it of such authority as it presently usurps by force.

So this isn’t an inspired decision?

I think this is not necessarily inspired, but may be, but the main point is that this statement is what it is and nothing more – the official position of the Church, based on the Church’s interests as perceived by those who have stated this position for it. I certainly don’t believe every statement, position, or policy taken by any man or group of men is infallible and as members of the Church we are not bound to accept anything for doctrine that has not been sustained in General Conference as such.

This is not a statement of principle or doctrine but a statement of policy. They are saying that the Church (the legal entity) is taking this position in light of all the present cultural, social, legal circumstances and how the Church’s interests may be best pursued in that context.

The Church is not in a position to ignore the law or the state. It must accommodate both. Historically, and this may be another instance of it, its greater interests require that it accommodate social-cultural norms.

In the 1800s it accommodated slavery with policies of not allowing slaves to join the Church without their master’s consent. During the period where racial segregation was culturally prominent it barred blacks from the Priesthood and the temple, although exceptions were made that proved that this was not consistent with eternal principles but only temporary policies. To accommodate sexist cultural norms women could not be baptised or endowed without their husband’s consent. It was worse in Paul’s day when women were forbidden to speak in church.

These are all temporary expedients designed to secure the Church’s position within the existing legal-cultural milieu. They were not declarations of moral principles. They were attempts to ensure that strong social forces did not distract from the real mission of the Church. The Church has always been spiritually revolutionary but rarely politically. Think of Christ’s time. Personally he lived as he knew best and accepted the consequences but he never counseled the Church as a whole to oppose the state authorities. He counseled Peter to put away his sword.

Consistent with eternal principles the Church readily accepts the emancipation of slaves, the equality of the races and sexes. But it was individuals, including individual Church members, and not the Church as a body, which brought about these changes.

Sure, I’d prefer not to see the Church take this stand, but if those whose calling it is to make these decisions know something I don’t that requires them to go to this length to accommodate the gay lobby to minimize them as a distraction from the Church’s mission, then I can accept it. But only for what it is and that is not a constraint on my own judgment.

Strong and Equal

A better translation of Genesis 2:18 reveals the true stature of woman in the eyes of God.

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

The Hebrew word rendered as “help” is “ezer” which has two roots. One means “to rescue” or “to save” and the other means “to be strong”. It is used several times in the Bible and the majority of time it is used to describe God with reference to the kind of help he provides. Consider the kind of “help” God provided to Moses and the children of Israel in crossing the Red Sea. He opened the sea and let them cross on dry land. That’s the kind of help we’re talking about here, not the kind of help as in, “she helps out around the house.”

The word translated as “meet” is “k’enegdo” which does not mean “meet” as in “fit” or “appropriate” but “equal”. So to convey the intended meaning of the phrase accurately probably requires more words than what the King James translators used.

“I will make a strong companion for him who will be his equal.” Or perhaps, “I will make an equal to him to be a strong companion.”

Whatever the wording, the original intent is clear and ought to inform our view of the proper relationship between man and woman.

See Eve and the Choice Made in Eden by Beverly Campbell for this insight and more.

Take that Krauss

I really like how John Horgan put that bigoted, pseudo-scientific, anti-religious tag team of Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins in their place. The idea of offering the fact that quantum fluctuations can result in virtual particles becoming real as an answer to the question of why there is something instead of nothing is an insult to the intelligence of their audience, or worse, an appeal to their anti-religious prejudice as being sufficient to blind them to the absurdity of the proposition. As Horgan correctly rejoins, just where or where do the quantum fields that can give rise to virtual particles come from? Surely quantum fields are something and not nothing. Krauss’ thesis would be just plain silly if it weren’t so clearly intended simply as a rallying point for equally rabid atheists whose own pseudo-religious fervor trumps any appeal to reason and quest for truth.

I disagree with Horgan’s view that science is incapable of discovering an answer to that question but only, I think, because I prefer a broader conception of science than he apparently does. If by science we only include testable hypotheses then of course this question will always remain outside because there will never again be, if there ever were, a condition where literally nothing exists. Even if everything that is, ceased to be, there would always remain the fact that it had been. Besides, it would surely leave any test without anyone to observe the results.

I prefer to characterize science broadly as the search for knowledge about the nature of the world and that would include philosophy. I think if you construct a hypothesis which does not allow for testing but does permit you to make a reasonable assessment of probabilities, perhaps by eliminating the alternatives, or at least assessing them to be less likely, then that counts as science – especially if more narrowly scientific procedures can provide evidence that helps you make relevant assessments.