What questions were once thought insoluble by science, and therefore evidence for God?

For a God-of-the-gaps thing I’m gonna write soon, I’m trying to find a list of problems that were once considered insoluble by science and therefore used as evidence for divine intercession.  I know of some of these, like the complexity of organs like the eye, the planetary motions that baffled Newton, and so on, but I seem to remember a list where many of these things were collected in one place.

The point, of course, is to warn people that what is considered a mystery in one generation, and therefore proof of God, is often solved in the next.

If you know of any such list, or simply want to adduce some examples, please post them below.



  1. Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    1. The cause of epilepsy: “Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.” Hippocrates of Kos, ca. 400 BC.

    2.Crop failure and livestock illness: “Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.” Carl Sagan, 1996.

  2. Dave
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    The shower curtain effect. Still a mystery? Don’t know what gawd has to do with it but if you can’t ‘splain it, it’s gawd.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Venturi effect. Or is it the Bernoulli effect? One of those Italian gents causes it.

  3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    If I start out close to WEIT topics, I am impressed with the prediction of species geographical locations (their close appearance, especially on islands). But I don’t think it was ever offered as divine intercession (DI).

    Something similar happened with the problem of Earth’s core heat, I’m sure. The problem is solved, it is compatible with evolution et cetera, but I wonder if it was offered as DI.

    Also the heat source of the Sun has been explained. Even if abrahamistic religions never bothered with it (or did they?), sun “god” religions did.

    But from my own home turf, I would offer the predictions of major physical laws that Noether did in her two theorems.

    They don’t predict _all_ laws, but:
    1 – symmetries and symmetry breaking vs preserved charges (aka constant laws)
    2 – action principles

    And not only that:
    – 1 goes into the vacuum, so except for the huge finetunings (more laws, perhaps) it predicts the quantum fields we see today. E.g. it predicts, through quantum field theory, what fundamental forces are. Say, EM forces up to and including magnetism.

    – 2 goes into the quantum void, so except for the quantum laws it predicts how fluctuations can result in universes. Hawking’s no-boundary scenarios for that was perhaps a major reason why the catholic church backed off from that their magical agency _must_ have made the universe! I don’t know the history, maybe they backed off earlier.

    More arguably, where not all or even few would agree, from the last year:

    – The confirmation of a flat universe says it happened mostly or entirely spontaneously. To put a wedge into that gap is like saying that a bug softened a car collision!

    – The completion of the standard model which a Higgs field makes, never mind if it is by a standard Higgs which we won’t know entirely before ~ 2020, means biochemistry is protected. That is, the brain and its operation must be entirely chemical, and it can’t communicate its state.*

    Hence, arguably, a whole swat of magic falls, often those offered as DI: souls, life after death, rebirth, prayers, et cetera.

    – Abiogenesis must follow, if we accept Lane’s & Martin’s suggestion that early chemoautotroph metabolism (methanogens, acetogens) is “homologous” with pH-modulation of the chemistry of alkaline hydrothermal vents. I take it that usually a phylogeny is enough, the fine print doesn’t matter if you have it.

    If same chemistry can be considered for a trait-based phylogenic comparison, I would then also add the potential “homology” of cell’s CHNOPS usage vs the most frequent chemically active elements. Or maybe I misunderstood L&M.

    * I had reason to check this earlier this week. A simple estimate show it works out:

    – The correspondence between particles and heat (work) is Boltzmann’s constant of ~ 10^-23 J/K or an energy of ~ 10^-21 J at room temperature. Any way to extract work needs more, so let us put in 10 kT or ~ 10^-20 J for a round figure. (As we will see, it won’t matter for the result.)

    – A human brain is estimated to contain ~ 10^11 neurons, with an average of ~ 7 000 connections. This is why children has an estimated ~ 10^15 connections, while an adult brain has pared them down to ~ 10^14. [Wikipedia]

    Say that the minimum state information needed to update a “soul” is a binary bit of signal/no signal. Moreover, say that the update frequency is a minimum 10 Hz. (I think a neuron can recuperate much faster, but we want to under-estimate.) Then a “soul” would need ~ 10*10^14*10^-21 J/s or ~ 10 uW.

    – The LHC result says, through the standard model with a Higgs field capability to predict EM parameters, that any non-standard interaction affecting chemistry needs to be less than 10^-11 times the chemical power. And the particle physicist’s vacuum is such that (by Noether, I think) it must expressly suppress unwanted interactions, everything that can happen will happen, every interaction that isn’t forbidden (suppressed) will happen.

    A human brain works at ~ 100 W, so a “soul” must drain less than 10^-9 W or ~ 1 nW as it gets its information out of the particle physicist’s vacuum. Or its workings, as part of the quantum field vacuum, would have been seen at the LHC.

    But 10 uW = 10^4 nW >> 1 nW!

    There is no way a “soul” can be at work.

    As for “prayer” magic, the brain is constantly engaging various parts. So I think that a similar analysis works for a “prayer transmitter”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink


      – We want an average (or maximum) 10 Hz update frequency.

      – ~ 10*10^14*10^-20 J/s or ~ 10 uW.

      The point is that such a low missing energy is hard to measure in the existing system. But the new physics makes that difficulty mote.

    • Peter Ozzie Jones
      Posted July 21, 2013 at 3:23 am | Permalink

      According to this piece at the UK Guardian newspaper in Feb 2012, there are only about 86 billion neurones in the human brain:


      Not that it spoils your point of course!

      Any idea where that 100 billion myth started?

      • Posted July 21, 2013 at 3:46 am | Permalink

        Read the comments.


        • Peter Ozzie Jones
          Posted July 21, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

          Ah, hadn’t thought of that ;).

          I was really after what source Torbjörn had as I’ve seen both Prof Dawkins and Prof Pinker quote that 100B without a source.

      • Posted July 21, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

        Oh, and this isn’t really news as Wikipedia states 85 billion citing a 2009 paper.


        • Peter Ozzie Jones
          Posted July 21, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

          I used the Guardian ref as it is accessible, in there it is in fact about that 2009 work. I wasn’t claiming it was news, just that someone has actually done the counting.

  4. Jim Norman
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I think there are two flavors of God-of-the-Gaps: the traditional argument from ignorance, and the attempt to apply a pathway to God through scientific non sequitur.

    A caller into the Atheist Experience this week claimed that the two slit experiment indicates particle awareness, and (by some undisclosed method) therefore God. Evidently, God gets credit for both the unexplained and the weird.

    We have hoped, and continue to hope, that GotG will abate as its failures accumulate. But I’m afraid type II GotG arguments will likely rise as science presents further esoteric and seemingly paradoxical explanations of nature.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Maybe the magic thinkers will spout as much inanities as before. We lack statistics.

      But we can observe from your very anecdote that this time they have to use ignorance of already known physics. Entanglement is, when you get down to it, just superposition of wave functions. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement ]

      If wave functions, who are linear, didn’t superposition, it would be be very mysterious! *Waves hands*, *looks at water waves*.

      No, really, if you can describe it by math, is it “awareness”? It sounds like, oh horror, _scientism_!

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Who wrote the Book of Love?
    Who put the Bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?

    • Dave
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Casanova or one of those Italian gents. PS, I don’t think Bernoulli would qualify as Italian.

    • Posted July 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      What about…. flowers?

  6. RGBowman
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a few: Position of the stars/astrology, comets, meteors, eclipses. Fossils of marine animals in the rocks of hills and mountains. Disease/epidemics, mental illness (demonic possession=Trepanning), the age of man and earth, prehistoric weapons, storms/thunder/lightning, earthquakes/volcanoes/mountains, saltwater/freshwater, Ethnicity, Language.

  7. Charles Sullivan
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Here are links to two sites with lists. You’ll definitely want to double check these if you use them.



  8. George Rumens
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Another big one, of complexity, is “consciousness” ; but we’ve got a better grasp on “weather” than we have on “consciousness”. …

    Ah, but I have solved the problem of consciousness. (Maybe!) And it sounds at first sight, highly improbable. The problem for us all is the common assumption of the homogeneity of humankind. Humans are NOT all the same, and differ enormously by group belief and behaviour, rather like differences within the social insects and social animals. You should all know this.
    The differences between Sub-Sets of humans are in the form of differing forms of consciousness. Just as a computer can run on MS Dos, Apple, Linux, etc., so the human brain can be programmed at adolescence by one of several Brain Operating Systems (BOS). The most obvious evolved BOS is the one enjoyed by a certain class of people roughly in the ‘Cleric-Admin-Professional-Educational’ group who tend to live and work within hierarchies of authority. I call them ‘Drones’ because for most within that group, all knowledge comes from authority. A significant Sub-Set within the Drones are religious people. Drones exhibit certain characteristics (I should mention that I have a ‘Worker’ consciousness) Drones believe that they may best self-actualise by finding their place within a real or imaginary authority-structure. They believe that they must show overdue regard for those above them in the hierarchy and never to question authority. This throws-up a serious conflict when external reality fails to match the authority view. (The holy books clash with reality) Much of a school education clashes with reality, which is why most of what is taught in education has a half-life of about fifty years. You never see a teacher say to his class, “Much of what was taught in this classroom as fact a hundred years ago will now self-destruct’, but that is what happens. ‘Drones’ are able to avoid the conflict between the beliefs of authority, and the intrusions of reality by dropping the ability to ‘process experiential information’. It is what we see as deliberate stupidity among religious people who cannot see nor understand the scientific reality of our world. They have deliberately abandoned any ability to process experiential information. SEE WEIT passim.
    So, what is ‘consciousness’ as far as Drones are concerned? It starts with a foundational base of subconscious precepts. Perhaps the ‘Personal Laws of Reality’ Those precepts may sound crackpot to the rest of us, but they are the beginning of self-actualisation for Drones. The boot-up their brains upon dodgy assumptions. They use LOGIC, (yes, religion a position of logical possibility, based upon ludicrous assumptions) –They use logic to rationalise external reality with their core foundational beliefs.
    I wrote-out “‘Human Sub-Set Theory” and it ran to 1800 pages because it seemed to explain so much about the dodgy History of Ideas whereby for most of human history, most of humanity have lived embroiled in crackpot beliefs. I get the usual loons telling me that it is all pseudoscience (meaning that it is above their heads) New ideas provoke considerable anger among Drones… teachers and the like. I have no emotional attachment to Human Sub-Set Theory. It just seems to explain so much of what is opaque in the social world. In a sentence, Human Sub-Set Theory proposes that different and significant social groups may have different forms of consciousness. Doesn’t that explain religion? Maybe?

  9. gbjames
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The more I consider the question, the more I find the answer to be “Anything for which science has provided an explanation.”

    • Christopher
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think that’s it exactly! Before the wheels of science started turning, everything (all answers) was the province of god(s). And since then, they (religions) have had to concede more and more and more.

      As AC Grayling once said, God was a person walking through a garden once. Then he was at the top of a mountain. Then he was in the sky. Then he was in the universe. Now he is outside of time and space. Science has pushed him farther and farther away…

    • Posted July 20, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      That was my first thought, but science has gone far beyond explaining most of the things that “God” “explained”.


  10. Posted July 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on karaskonjectures.

  11. Posted July 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    For some very old examples of things that were deemed insoluble in Biblical times, look at the list that YHWH uses to harangue Job at the end of The Book of Job (chapters 38 and 39, depicted here: http://www.thebricktestament.com/job/god_refuses_to_explain_his_cruelty/jb38_01-03.html ). These things are invoked as examples of what else humanity simply cannot understand, answering Job’s question of why he should not be allowed to understand why he (and, by extension, everyone) has to suffer as part of the divine plan. What’s remarkable is how many of them are no longer mysterious or impossible feats.

    • Posted July 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Actually, everything on that list is either answered, easily doable, or reflects an incoherent misunderstanding of reality.

      If that’s all that it takes to demonstrate one’s superiority to YHWH, then humans left him in the dust at least a century ago.


    • Posted July 21, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting, Brett! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    What do women want????

  13. cchung90
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I think this aspect of science is very important–whenever we try to put limits on science, it ends up surprising us and breaking through the limits. It may be that there are areas of which science cannot speak, but prudence suggests that we conduct science as if there aren’t any, because the reach of science always surprises us.

    • Posted July 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      If you think of science in suitable terms — the apportioning of belief in proportion to a rational analysis of all available empirically-observed evidence — then it becomes obvious that the only way we’ll ever actually know anything is scientifically. Anything that isn’t knowable through science simply isn’t knowable, period — no matter what shamans and hucksters main claim to the contrary.



      • cchung90
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        But I think there is something about science that is also a public endeavor, with critique, defense, rationale, methodology, replication, dissemination, etc.

        And while science relies on rationality, it doesn’t necessarily mean that rationality is limited by what science tells us. For example, in the realm of social interactions we come to hold a number of beliefs (sometimes rational, sometimes not) that don’t have sufficient empirical evidence–yet we don’t withhold belief.

        Thus, I agree that beliefs contradictory to science must give way, and that science is the best way to construct correct beliefs, but I wouldn’t a priori limit beliefs to those generated by the scientific method. I would tend to agree more with your statement about knowability if you replaced ‘science’ with ‘rational reasoning’…

        • Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          For example, in the realm of social interactions we come to hold a number of beliefs (sometimes rational, sometimes not) that don’t have sufficient empirical evidence–yet we don’t withhold belief.

          In science, all beliefs are provisional. It’s just that some error bars aren’t as wide as others.

          In those cases where evidence is sketchy, your beliefs should be accordingly sketchy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have beliefs, or that you shouldn’t make the best guesses you can based on what evidence you have. But it does mean that you should acknowledge that you’re acting on sketchy evidence and moderate your actions accordingly — and be fully prepared to update your beliefs and plans as new evidence (which you should be actively seeking) comes in.


          • cchung90
            Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. Except maybe the part about the imperative to actively seek new evidence, I think that depends on the importance of the belief & the effort to obtain new info…if I suspect my brother’s casual acquaintance thinks I’m a loser, I might not want to take the trouble to confirm this…

          • Posted July 20, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            « And then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence, but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it. And then I’m asked, “Yeah, but what do you really think?” I say, “I just told you what I really think.” “Yeah, but what’s your gut feeling?” But I try not to think with my gut. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in. » — Carl Sagan, “The Burden of Skepticism”, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12, Fall 1987


  14. Chaos Engineer
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Aristophanes’ play Clouds touches on this question.

    Here’s the first part of a scene about the nature of storms:

    Zeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus.

    What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that!

    Why, [clouds], and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence!

    By Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes the thunder, which I so much dread?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Gotta love Aristophanes!

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Look at Andrew White’s A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom.

  16. Nilou Ataie
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Some other primates see God-in-the-gaps when lightening and thunder strike, so maybe that was a G-in-the-g front-liner.

    The foreskin-in-the-rings argument (see comment 8) wins for most creative.

    • Posted July 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      The Saturnian Prepuce Theory, though, does give a quite different meaning to the concept of a god of the Gap.



      • Posted July 20, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Wow. Mind duly blown.

        Not only is Gaad one w/ Jeebiz (and Wholly Casper), but Jeebiz was his own Mohel at his own bris. And the size of the Cassini division can be used to estimate how big Gaad actually is, since He made us in His image, and we have excellent records on average human dentition, esp. where it concerns spaces between the incisors. It’s a simple scaling problem.

        …assuming Gaad never wore braces, which should be a pretty safe assumption.

        Science is soooo cool.

  17. Bruce
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Two points:

    (1) Lord Kelvin said there was no time for evolution to have happened because he calculated the sun couldn’t be that old. He was assuming thermochemical reaction, because he didn’t know about radioactive fusion.

    (2) The oldest goof in the bible is where light comes from. Since everyone “knows” that light goes in a straight line, that means it should be 100% dark before sunrise and after sunset, instantly, any time you can’t see the sun directly. Therefore, there “has to be” an independent source of light, other than the sun and the moon. Checkmate atheists, as Edward Current would say. This is why the bible speaks of light in Genesis before it speaks of the creation of the sun. It would almost be logical if there were no such thing as atmospheric diffusion of light, as the astronauts experienced on the moon.

    • Posted July 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Hey Bruce, I’ve been trying for while to find out more info about that “other” light to which the Bible alludes when it says, “Let there be light.” Do you know anything more? I’ve been curious whether the idea of a light source distinct from the sun was common in the Near East, and, if so, where I could find more info about this belief. Any leads would be helpful. Thanks!

  18. Bruce
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Also, some ancient religions thought that there had been a global flood, as described in the Epic of Gligamesh, and in other myths.
    Science has disproved this a million times by simply looking in the earth, and not seeing that. But the hypothesis has also been independently disproved, simply by noting that there is no discontinuity nor any mention of such an event in the continuous records of Egypt’s sixth dynasty, when god supposedly killed all plant life other than Noah.

    • Mattapult
      Posted July 20, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      There was a recent research paper explaining how a major flood could have occurred that would have put hundreds of feet of water in that area. That’s about the biggest flood we can justify, but nowhere near the Biblical flood to destroy all men. Of course Christians are still looking for Noah’s Ark at the TOP of Mt Ararat.

      • Posted July 20, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        I think those efforts to find “the” “real” “historical” ancient flood are waaaaay overthinking things.

        Floods are not at all uncommon. Some floods are bigger than others, some dramatically so. And large bodies of water are also everywhere.

        It takes practically no imagination whatsoever to put that together and think up a story about a really big flood that turns all the land everywhere into sea.

        And why should this one myth be so special? Why not also search for the remains of the Tower of Babel, or for the species of fish that swallowed Jonah, or the footprints of the Israelites as they walked across the dry bottom of the Red Sea? Why not search for all the people Midas turned to gold, or Vulcan’s Forge, or the halls of Olympus or the rubble of Asgard?

        The reason is that Christian superstition places special importance on the Noahic Flood, and that importance has permeated into the rest of our culture. Take that out of the equation and you’re left with just another primitive faery tale.


        • Mattapult
          Posted July 20, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

          I’m with you.

          I think the relevance though is that it bounds how large a flood can be, how often to expect such a flood, and the natural conditions necessary to create a gigantic flood.

          And even with the extreme conditions required for such a gigantic flood, Christians are looking an order of magnitude beyond to justify their myths. I just like pointing out their silliness.

  19. Richard Thomas
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    1. Maybe this isn’t exactly a gaps occasion, but even Isaac Newton was not a complete advocate of a clockwork universe and thought that God would have to periodically (or eventually) make adjustments to the planetary system, because instabilities would accumulate (see Wikipedia article on Newton under Religious Views). (I guess instabilities will indeed accumulate, but no hope of God setting them aright, I gather.)
    2. Spontaneous generation of critters from rotting mean, straw, etc. I’m not sure if this was generally attributed to God (maybe Old Scratch)

  20. drew
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Forgive if this was mentioned before.

    Decides that the Earth must be the center of everything, but can’t figure out the orbits of planets comes up with the Epicycle ideas that don’t work particularly great. Says in a marginal note:

    I know that I am mortal by nature and ephemoral, but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet. I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.”

    Newton figures out gravity, can account for motion of two body systems but can’t account for stability of the entire solar systems, says in the Principia:

    “the six primary planets, are revolved about the sun in circles concentric with the sun, and with motions directed toward the same parts in the same plane, but it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give earth to so many regular motions. This most beautiful system of the sun planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of a powerful and intelligent being.”

    And this culminates with LaPlace in 1799 talking to Napoleon after coming up with perturbation theory (thereby solving the problem of greater than two body systems) upon being asked where is the place for God in his theory says the famous:

    “Sir, I had no need for that hypothesis”

  21. elsburymk14
    Posted July 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to read this book. Sorry, have to say it…

  22. Posted July 20, 2013 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    It may be you were thinking of Sagan’s “Candle in the Darkness” which, I think, has a bit of cataloging of various gaps arguments. I could not find it at the moment, though.

    Stenger compiled a few in “God and the Folly of Faith” though. in addition to the planets & the eye though he writes about:

    a) big bang theology in light of conservation of mass (creation ex nihilo), apparent violation of energy conservation/first law of therm seems to be implied, 2nd law of thermo implying something did the ordering in the distant past, and even the mere existence of a “big bang” which spurred Pius XII to declare “Creation took place in time, therefore there is a creator, therefore God exists.” The priest Lamaitre, who proposed the idea initially, advised the Pope not to make this idea “infallible”.

    b) fine-tuning of the cosmological constant and other parameters.

    c) the inability at present to come up with a “theory of everything” … emergent principles presumably giving rise to phenomena greater than the bits that make them up. A discussion of self-organization & strong emergence follows.

    d) abiogenesis – a discussion highlighting that the only thing needed is a plausible assumption to defeat Gawd O’ gaps there… and that we now have plausibility via work compiled by Albrecht Moritz in the Talk Origins archive, and also summarized in the Sept 2009 Sci Am by Ricardo & Szostak

    e) considerations of the existence of justice & morality (or lack thereof on Earth) as some kind of proof of come-uppances in the afterlife. D’Souza claiming morality itself violates the “laws of evolution”, ergo Gawd — getting shot down by simple studies of religious belief vs moral behavior in multiple studies.

    f) supposed dualism demonstrated by NDEs, transcendent experiences countered by simple observations like anaesthesia & transcranial magnetic stimulation (Stenger doesn’t mention Gage’s iron tamping bar through the head, though he could have here). In other words, physical interventions clearly acting upon human behavior attributed to immortal souls.

    g) consciousness itself unraveling under srutiny (Libet in the 80s, Stanislas Dehaene more recently modeling neural architecture and working under the “consciousness access hypothesis” presented within “global workspace theory”). Ongoing stuff this… but an indication that such work would not even begin under the God hypothesis.

    This book and Stenger’s “God: the failed hypothesis” beats up on many GoTG arguments in fairly short order.

  23. Mattapult
    Posted July 20, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    In the book The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean has a good section on iodine deficiency: health effects, religious-based resistance to iodized salt, and how it lead Bertrand Russell to conclude “The energy used in thinking has a chemical origin…” The relevant section is the very end of Part III. HTH.

    When your publisher is ready to ship the book, I’m ready to read it!

  24. Tony
    Posted July 21, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    My favourite:
    “A poor prediction about the possibilities of science was made in 1835 by the prominent French philosopher Auguste Comte. In his Cours de la Philosophie Positive he wrote:

    On the subject of stars, all investigations which are not ultimately reducible to simple visual observations are … necessarily denied to us. While we can conceive of the possibility of determining their shapes, their sizes, and their motions, we shall never be able by any means to study their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure … Our knowledge concerning their gaseous envelopes is necessarily limited to their existence, size … and refractive power, we shall not at all be able to determine their chemical composition or even their density… I regard any notion concerning the true mean temperature of the various stars as forever denied to us.

    14 years later, the physicist Gustav Kirchhoff discovered that the chemical composition of a gas could be deduced from the spectrum of its light. This method was later extended to astronomical bodies by astronomers using spectrographs attached to telescopes.”

  25. George Rumens
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    An earlier letter provided a link to Rational wiki’s entry on God of the Gaps, and soon to this strange statement…
    “The human brain appears to be hardwired to find causes for any “effect” experienced in the world, from eery sounds, to scary thunder, to terrifying shaking ground, and deadly diseases”
    (Note the spelling mistake: ‘eery’ for ‘eerie’)

    Most of the readers to these pages spend a portion of their lives fighting religion (thankfully in full retreat here in France), and know of the vast hordes raking-up bogus explanations for real phenomena. The Wiki statement above has little truth to it. Humankind is divided. A few have a genuine interest in uncovering reasons, and for much of the time they must content themselves with ‘nobody knows’, but a sizeable minority, about 30%, approach the problem of knowledge differently. They are the group for whom all knowledge comes from authority, and many of that group are religious. They already have a framework of understanding as part of their consciousness, and it starts with the fundamental belief in an ‘Intentional Universe’. For those 30% any search for reasons must be predicated upon their prior assumption of an Intentional Universe. Not for them disinterested inquiry; for those people the world, its contents and its processes has an immediate and satisfactory given explanation. And the final answer to the more difficult problems is that their gods have their reasons for concealing explanations for such things as Tsunamis and Taco Bell.
    In my experience those with a disinterested approach to explanation amount to fewer than ten per cent of any society anywhere. It might be as low as one per cent! Or lower!!

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