15 years of unsolved mysteries (General)

by dhw, Saturday, January 07, 2023, 07:29 (474 days ago)

This website has now been in existence for 15 years. Neil White, who designed it and has dealt most efficiently with the very few technical glitches, opened it on 2 January 2008, and the first post (from J. Warshawsky) arrived on 7 January. My reason for setting it up in the first place was what I saw as the irrational assumptions of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which were matched only by the irrational assumptions of the theistic responses to it. There may have been agnostic responses, but I never saw any, and that is why the “brief guide” begins with a critique of Dawkins’ book and then goes on to discuss the pros and cons of existing theories within the narrow confines of my own knowledge and experience.

Our home page states that “the guide is to be regarded only as a starting-point and not a conclusion”, and ends: “The truth is out there somewhere, and by combining our discoveries, we may help one another to gain new insights. Will enlightenment emerge from the AgnosticWeb? Watch this space. Better still, fill it.”

How have we fared? At its peak, the forum attracted a wide range of correspondents, and amassed up to 25,000 views for some of the posts, which suggests that there are plenty of folk who want to help or be helped. Many of the entries tended to proselytise – we even had one from an archangel! – but they often led to lively discussions and illuminating experiences and insights. There were some long-term correspondents whose contributions stand out in my memory: George Jelliss for his learning and his pungent defence of materialism, BBella for her extraordinary psychic experiences, balance_maintained for his theology, xeno for the variety of his approaches and his detailed background knowledge. And above all, I’m hugely indebted to David Turell, our panentheist, who in these later years has single-handedly kept the forum going with a constant flow of articles that report on the latest research into a wide variety of relevant fields.

For quite a while now (until xeno’s recent posts on Buddhism), the main subject under discussion has been David’s view of evolution – and even the many subjects assembled on the “miscellany” thread often end up with references to his theories. It’s a source of regret for me that we have not found a “resident” atheist to broaden the range, but for an atheist, much of what we are discussing will probably seem pointless, because our starting point is not the problem of origins but David’s assumption that the origin of life and evolution is a God. The atheist in me can provide a straightforward explanation for life and evolution: they are the product of chance, and life has no purpose beyond that which organisms impose on it (the most fundamental being survival). End of discussion. But the theist in me is confronted with the problems associated with a God, if such a being exists: what might its nature be, what might have been its purpose in creating life, and what relevance does it have to us and we to it? This is where religious dogma comes under intense scrutiny, and certain concepts seem to clash with the history of life as we know it. None of this is of any concern to an atheist. And so we have lost out by having no one actively to argue for chance against ID, and for materialism against dualism. There is a big difference between agnostics explaining why they neither believe nor disbelieve x or y, and theists and atheists explaining why they do believe x and disbelieve y. (I should add that in spite of the often vehement tone of our disagreements, David and I are the best of friends in our private lives!)

Finally, after 15 years. has this forum brought new insights, and has enlightenment emerged? For me, the answer is yes to the first question, and no to the second, with one possible exception: James A. Shapiro’s theory that evolution is driven by interaction between intelligent cells and the environment seems to me to provide the best solution yet to the mystery of speciation. It covers Chapter Two of life’s history and, like Darwin’s own theory (despite its frequent misuse by theists and atheists alike to suit their own agenda), is neither theistic nor atheistic. In relation to Chapter One, which concerns the mysteries of all origins (the universe, life, consciousness etc.) and hence the possible existence of a God, I have learned an enormous amount, and I hope my education will continue for a while longer, but my conclusion so far is that those mysteries remain unsolved and probably unsolvable. This, I hasten to add, does not in any way detract from my love of life and my intense feeling of gratitude at having been given the opportunity to exist and to share the experience for as long as it lasts. Nor does it alter my belief that whether there is a God or not, the best guiding principle for human behaviour is for all of us to do as we would be done by. I have no doubt that the Pope, Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins would agree with both sentiments.

Happy New Year to one and all!

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