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Ask the Patriarch 177
Teapots in Space

from: Dale

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The inability to take a position on the existence of something for which there is no evidence is vaguely troubling.  Granted, I am agnostic about some things (will I ever visit Australia?) but not particularly agnostic about others (will I be killed by a yeti on my third ascent to Mt. Everest?).  Some things are sufficiently improbable, and their widespread belief explainable by known weaknesses in general human ability to perceive or accept the truth, that it seems vaguely perverse to withhold conditional rejection*.  Tomorrow is a new day, and the sun might rise in the West tomorrow, but I see no reason to be agnostic about the possibility.  Why are you giving Supreme Beings a pass that you don't explicitly give to lesser deities and Blue Fairies and perfect China Teapots in solar orbit between Mars and Jupiter?


* Unless you are trying to pick up a woman who happens to believe that.

The Patriarch replies:


A full generation of physicists have been taught string theory. A high proportion of them base their research in the belief string theory correctly describes the universe. They even tend to regard that minority of physicists who don't accept string theory as being on the fringe.

And yet, string theory has not been confirmed in any experiment. Yes, mathematically, it tells a good story. But it has not been experimentally verified. It is questionable if an appropriate experiment can be designed.

While I personally don't believe string theory to be valid and that a better theory will come along, I don't reject the possibility that it may actually be true. After all, it does tell a good story about the way the Universe works. Does it make you vaguely troubled that I am not taking an absolute yes/no position on string theory, Dale?

Of course God has not been experimentally verified either. It is questionable if an appropriate experiment can be designed. But, in all the various permutations, it is possible to come up with any number of good stories that use one form of God or another to explain the Universe.

Given that it has been estimated that we are only about 20 years away from having the capability and knowledge to create new universes (hopefully into dimensions other than the ones we are currently occupying) I cannot reject outright the idea that an intelligence of some form was responsible for our universe.

Both God and string theory are stories that explain the Universe. I don't think either are correct. I'd put a much higher probability on string theory, but I won't absolutely reject either. 

Now, let's talk about your "perfect China Teapots in solar orbit between Mars and Jupiter" example. Extremely unlikely, but what the heck. I will say that it is entirely possible (even if highly improbable) that china teapots are in solar orbit between Mars and Jupiter right now along with a collection of china teacups, china saucers, china creamers, and china sugarbowls (none of them perfect, because the nature of china manufacture does not really guarantee perfection) and, of course, a sterling silver tea strainer for each pot and a sterling silver teaspoon for each cup under all the following conditions:

However, Dale, regardless of where in space you choose to hypothesize your fine china, it says absolutely nothing about the existence or non-existence of a deity. China is matter in the natural world; a deity is generally considered supernatural. In theory at least, an exhaustive search can establish the truth about the china. There is no such test for a god.


** Time travel is, of course, the most unlikely of the various conditions to occur. However, a recent theory of the universe suggests there might be two time dimensions to our universe rather than just one. If this is the case, then it apparently gets around the issue of the arrow of time and in theory permits time travel even if both time dimensions are one-way streets.

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