Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That...

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Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That...

Postby Chirios » 2012-01-11 02:28pm

This was the argument of the original poster:

I used to be an Atheist. I read Richard Dawkins from cover to cover and found it fantastically written and brilliantly argued, on the whole. Despite the fact I was raised in a Catholic family and go to church, I've always found the theological side of believing in God to be quite obviously flawed. It seems that one need only look at the contradictions in the Bible, the multitudes of varying faith that exist, and the strange and often dark world views they contain to know deep down that the Christian God, like the Muslim and Hindu God(s), is essentially fictitious. But I'm not an atheist. Not even really an agnostic. I believe in God and here's why:

Firstly, it is important to clarify what God is. It's clearly not a man in the clouds, it's clearly not something that impregnated a virgin or raised the dead or any of those things. But the problem I have when I consider atheism, at least of the ilk Dawkins and, to an extent, Christopher Hitchens espoused is that as good as their arguments may be when it comes to criticizing religion and the traditional concept of God they don't actually offer any alternative that seems plausible.

In Dawkins' case, I know he acknowledges this and I give him credit for that. He says that he is a scientist and therefore relies on evidence and that there is no more evidence for a divine spirit than there is a flying spaghetti monster, etc. But the problem I have is that I can't wholeheartedly deny the existence of God until there is a proven scientific alternative. Why? Because it's against science, ironically. It's against science to presume there's no creator for something when everything we know requires one. That's not the same as saying you 'know' there is a God. We must be honest and say we do not know either way. But the teleological argument (the argument for design) still stands, because when we look at science we find a kind of regressive process going on:

1) We were created by evolution from apes.
2) The apes were created by smaller organisms, which were created by the formation of a hospitable planet.
3) The hospitable planet was created by the formation of a star system, which it orbits.
3) The star was created by an explosion of matter.
4) The explosion of matter was the big bang.
5) The big bang was created by---?

We do not know what created the big bang. Most atheists, at least intellectual ones, are honest about this. Once again, I give them credit for that. Indeed, an atheist who says 'we don't know how we came to be here' is infinitely preferable to a crazed Christian fundamentalist. But the problem is they don't offer a decent alternative and, like I say, if there is no known alternative it makes sense to assume we were created by something, and that something must be everlasting - i.e beyond the limits of time and space - because otherwise we would not be able to end the regress. Ultimately it must all lead back to something. Whatever we feel about Religion, does it not make sense to call that something God?

As weird as it probably sounds, I often find myself remembering that scene at the end of the movie Men In Black. The part where they zoom out on the universe and see that it's just a marble being rolled by a massive alien. Jokes aside, is that not extremely possible? That we tend to think we, the universe, is such a 'big, big thing' when in reality it forms just a minuscule part, an atom-sized entity perhaps (i like to think of the universe as being of an atomic significance in something larger, based on the fact the laws of physics are so different inside an atom than outside of it, rather like perhaps our laws of physics dont exist in the world of the 'alien throwing marbles). if we can accept that this hypothesis is likely, let alone possible, wouldnt it be fair to say that we all believe in 'God', and that we simply haven't realized the nature of what He is?


My response, after I corrected him on the details of his one to five was:

The problem with calling the cause of the Big Bang: God, is that you could just as easily call that something: Yeti, or: Vishnu or: Zeus and know just as much as you did before. We don't know what caused the expansion of the universe, we don't even know where the universe came from, but that does not mean we will never know. Saying: God caused the big bang is a way of cutting yourself off from searching for an explanation, because it's an intellectual dead end.


Another poster then said:

The existence of both us, and the universe in general, is totally illogical. Before the big bang there was nothing - As that fundamentally contradicts one of the major principles of thermodynamics, the Big Bang is clearly nonsense.... Hold on you say, but we do exist.... Don't we? Or do we, can we? If there is matter and antimatter then nothing can exist, so there must be more matter than antimatter and the universe is assymmetrical; if the universe is assymmetrical, then it can't have started from a singularity as a singularity must, by definition, be symmetrical and from nothing came energy but, I hear you say, energy can neither be created nor lost... Oops here we go again, going round in circles....

Everything we understand can be put in a bag - Except the existence of the universe. Why? Who holds the bag that holds the universe?


My response was:

... See this is the problem right here. You're talking about things that you don't understand and you come to faulty conclusions and say things that flatly make no sense and then try and build them up as the arguments of physicists. It's strawmanning, very bad strawmanning.

The matter-antimatter problem is a flaw in the current model that we have to explain the Big Bang, but the existence of said flaw does not invalidate what we already know to be true. We know for a fact that the universe is expanding, that means that regardless of whatever else, we know that it used to be smaller. Go back far enough in time and you see that the universe would have to be a singularity. At some point for whatever reason the universe began expanding aka the Big Bang. That is all the theory says. It doesn't say energy came from nothing. It doesn't even talk about what happened before the Big Bang.

To use an analogy, what you're saying isn't that much different from the following:


My table is made out of wood.
What is wood made out of?
Carbon and some other elements.
What are those made out of?
Protons, neutrons and electrons
What are those made out of?
Particles which are made out of smaller particles.
What are those made out of?
We aren't completely sure, but there are various theories which say different things.
AHA! You do not know what fundamental particles are made out of therefore your table cannot be made out of wood.


The OP then said:

irstly, i'm aware that my 'list of occurences' wasn't technically absolutely correct, mainly because i was short-cutting the scale. of course i'm aware that the planet does not orbit a 'star-system', but a star. i should have probably taken more time to ensure the terms were watertight but it'd take me forever. the point i was making is that there is a causality to everything, which roots back to one thing.

secondly, yes you can call it Yeti or Vishnu or whatever. i dont have a problem with any of that. you can call Him whatever you want. i don't mean to suggest any conscious being necessarily caused the big bang, simply that it makes sense given our understanding to suppose SOMETHING did. that's just my point though. atheists spend a lot of time (understandably) demonstrating how much of religion is tied up in semantics, but unfortunately that means they get tied down to semantics often themselves when the real issue is existence itself. if we can call him vishnu we can just as easily call him God just as we can easily call it 'the first mover' or 'the bigger bang'. the terms don't matter, the concept does.

essentially all human opinion on the matter (excluding the absurd) boils down to one of three alternatives:

1) the big bang had a creator
2) the big bang had no creator, or came from a source that had no creator. either just came into existence for no reason. along with time, space and all else.
3) we don't know, so we are going to completely with-hold any and all definite opinion on the subject.

all three positions have their potential strengths, but also their weaknesses. to say the big bang had a creator brings up the issue of the nature of that creator (what caused the aliens to exist & own such marbles). to say it came from nothing brings up two issues a) what is the nature of 'nothing' and b) how can something come from nothing. this is completely absurd given our understanding of causality, but does have the benefits of being an absolute rejection of God and the problems associated with Him. to say we don't know is probably the most intellectually honest approach to the subject, and is essentially agnosticism. aside from faith, which i have based on personal experience, the feeling that there's something there (which is the main source of my personal faith, while admittedly not a basis for scientific discussion) the reason i lean towards alternative #1 is because:

1) all things we can comprehend are caused by something.
2) the second alternative does not explain, with our current knowledge, how the big bang happened and therefore
3) it makes sense to work with the presumption that there is a creator. be it God, the Yeti, Vishnu or Jimi Hendrix.

even if one dismisses my 'jump' to assuming creation as mere conjecture, which to a degree it is (but based on a real-world premise of course, namely causality) then that would seemingly put them in the 'we don't know camp'. my problem then with atheism is that while it doesn't usually say WE DO KNOW FOR A FACT THERE IS NO GOD it is biased against the possibility (atheism by definition is the theory that God does not exist). it seems to me that it should be the complete opposite. we should be biased if anything in favor of the God hypothesis because it is the only one based on causality and the laws of physics as they exist in our world, that all things require something else to exist, with the understanding that we may one day learn that there is no eternal being and that matter and energy can indeed come from nothing, or at least from something that does not fit the definition of the eternal.


And the second responder then said:

If we are a result of the big bang then it explains the existence of US which is what I said, I did not say that it explained existence. A very authoritative scientist explained to me last night that there is about 80% as much antimatter as matter, and that if equal amounts of each existed we wouldn't be here because they would cancel each other out - Sounded perfectly reasonable to me.

If you can explain to anybody's satisfaction within what the universe is contained I should be very happy - It is illogical that the universe exists as an entity because anything which exists is physical, and anything which exists must exist within something, which must exist within something, which must exist..... We can't even say that we are figments of our own imaginations because even imagination must relate to the concrete, or it is not imagination. Even if the universe grew from a singularity that singularity must have been contained in a void.... Oh dear, we're back to the bag within a bag problem - Perhaps it is all turtles as Terry Pratchett says...


It's now clear that they are being deliberately obtuse. How do I explain that nothing they've said is right, they've drawn the wrong conclusions and explain why they can't just go: God Did It, when you can't explain something.

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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Darth Wong » 2012-01-11 04:45pm

If we look at the original argument, virtually every element is fallacious:
A creationist blowhard wrote:Firstly, it is important to clarify what God is. It's clearly not a man in the clouds, it's clearly not something that impregnated a virgin or raised the dead or any of those things. But the problem I have when I consider atheism, at least of the ilk Dawkins and, to an extent, Christopher Hitchens espoused is that as good as their arguments may be when it comes to criticizing religion and the traditional concept of God they don't actually offer any alternative that seems plausible.

"Seems plausible": this is a subjective statement. He is appealing to his emotional reaction as a form of evidence.

A creationist blowhard wrote:In Dawkins' case, I know he acknowledges this and I give him credit for that. He says that he is a scientist and therefore relies on evidence and that there is no more evidence for a divine spirit than there is a flying spaghetti monster, etc. But the problem I have is that I can't wholeheartedly deny the existence of God until there is a proven scientific alternative. Why? Because it's against science, ironically. It's against science to presume there's no creator for something when everything we know requires one.

"Everything we know requires one": this statement presumes that the idea of a sentient "creator" is actually a scientific theory which is useful for explaining physical phenomena. But if it were a scientific theory, the characteristics of this "creator" would be defined. We would be able to generate specific predictions, not just of what he would do, but of what he would not do, and we would be able to explain why, by examining his mechanisms. The idea of "God" has none of that.

Let's take a working example: creationists often say that the enormous complexity of the biosystem is explained by a creator. The question no one ever asks is: why? Why would a creator make an incredibly complex biosystem instead of a simple and elegant one? Consider the following thought experiment: suppose we lived in an alternate universe where the biosystem was incredibly simple: 10 species of plant, 5 species of animal. In that universe, the creationists would say "the elegant simplicity of our biosystem cannot be explained without a creator!" In other words, no matter what the biosystem looked like, creationists would say it is evidence of a creator.

The idea of a creator explains absolutely nothing, because without further definition, the "creator" has no discernible characteristics, no elements, no mechanisms, nothing which can be measured, analyzed, examined, observed, or tested. Nothing you find or observe could ever contradict the idea, because the idea is a formless blob. It has no characteristics, and therefore cannot be disproven. That is also why it is utterly worthless from a rational standpoint.

A creationist blowhard wrote:That's not the same as saying you 'know' there is a God. We must be honest and say we do not know either way. But the teleological argument (the argument for design) still stands, because when we look at science we find a kind of regressive process going on:

1) We were created by evolution from apes.
2) The apes were created by smaller organisms, which were created by the formation of a hospitable planet.
3) The hospitable planet was created by the formation of a star system, which it orbits.
3) The star was created by an explosion of matter.
4) The explosion of matter was the big bang.
5) The big bang was created by---?

This distorted kiddie version of cosmology presumes that if something had existed prior to the Big Bang, that would be the end of it. But if existence itself requires a creator, then the creator's own existence requires a creator, and so on and so forth. At some point, SOMETHING has to simply exist for no prior reason. Either the universe or God. Why shouldn't it be the universe? Occam's Razor demands that it be.

A creationist blowhard wrote:We do not know what created the big bang. Most atheists, at least intellectual ones, are honest about this. Once again, I give them credit for that. Indeed, an atheist who says 'we don't know how we came to be here' is infinitely preferable to a crazed Christian fundamentalist. But the problem is they don't offer a decent alternative and, like I say, if there is no known alternative it makes sense to assume we were created by something, and that something must be everlasting - i.e beyond the limits of time and space - because otherwise we would not be able to end the regress. Ultimately it must all lead back to something. Whatever we feel about Religion, does it not make sense to call that something God?

And what created God?

A creationist blowhard wrote:As weird as it probably sounds, I often find myself remembering that scene at the end of the movie Men In Black. The part where they zoom out on the universe and see that it's just a marble being rolled by a massive alien. Jokes aside, is that not extremely possible? That we tend to think we, the universe, is such a 'big, big thing' when in reality it forms just a minuscule part, an atom-sized entity perhaps (i like to think of the universe as being of an atomic significance in something larger, based on the fact the laws of physics are so different inside an atom than outside of it, rather like perhaps our laws of physics dont exist in the world of the 'alien throwing marbles). if we can accept that this hypothesis is likely, let alone possible, wouldnt it be fair to say that we all believe in 'God', and that we simply haven't realized the nature of what He is?

Using "God" as a catch-all term for anything we don't understand is nothing more than laziness. Since men don't understand women, does that mean women are all God?

A creationist blowhard wrote:The existence of both us, and the universe in general, is totally illogical. Before the big bang there was nothing - As that fundamentally contradicts one of the major principles of thermodynamics, the Big Bang is clearly nonsense....Hold on you say, but we do exist.... Don't we? Or do we, can we? If there is matter and antimatter then nothing can exist, so there must be more matter than antimatter and the universe is assymmetrical; if the universe is assymmetrical, then it can't have started from a singularity as a singularity must, by definition, be symmetrical and from nothing came energy but, I hear you say, energy can neither be created nor lost... Oops here we go again, going round in circles....

Everything we understand can be put in a bag - Except the existence of the universe. Why? Who holds the bag that holds the universe?

"Before the big bang there was nothing" - that is a lie. Cosmology does not say that there was nothing before the Big Bang. We don't know what happened at the moment of te Big Bang, or whether the Big Bang is an extrusion of some sort from some other universe, etc. These are unanswered questions, but this guy is assuming that there was pure nothingness before the Big Bang, and then he is putting those words in the mouths of scientists and asking us to explain them.

By the way, this guy is unbelievably condescending. He sounds like he's talking to an ignorant child, when he in fact is the ignorant one. He actually starts by saying that our existence (a fact) is illogical, thus proving that he doesn't understand what logic is. Logic is inferences drawn from premises; an empirical observation is a fact, not a conclusion. It cannot be illogical any more than "hello" is illogical.

A creationist blowhard wrote:secondly, yes you can call it Yeti or Vishnu or whatever. i dont have a problem with any of that. you can call Him whatever you want. i don't mean to suggest any conscious being necessarily caused the big bang, simply that it makes sense given our understanding to suppose SOMETHING did. that's just my point though. atheists spend a lot of time (understandably) demonstrating how much of religion is tied up in semantics, but unfortunately that means they get tied down to semantics often themselves when the real issue is existence itself. if we can call him vishnu we can just as easily call him God just as we can easily call it 'the first mover' or 'the bigger bang'. the terms don't matter, the concept does.

Actually the words do matter, because God is nothing but a word: a name. God is not defined as a scientific concept: no properties, no measurements, no characteristics, no mechanisms, nothing. God is nothing but a name: a term they slap on anything they don't understand.

A creationist blowhard wrote:essentially all human opinion on the matter (excluding the absurd) boils down to one of three alternatives:

1) the big bang had a creator
2) the big bang had no creator, or came from a source that had no creator. either just came into existence for no reason. along with time, space and all else.
3) we don't know, so we are going to completely with-hold any and all definite opinion on the subject.

Fourth option: the Big Bang is an event not an object. It does not need a "creator". It only needs the right conditions in which to occur. Someone might say "OK, those conditions need a creator", but that is an assumption which violates Occam's Razor. To simply say "those conditions existed" is scientific. To say "those conditions existed and I'm going to manufacture another entity which existed before those conditions and created those conditions" is totally irrational and does not follow from any known fact. It does not explain anything that "those conditions existed" does not explain.

It's now clear that they are being deliberately obtuse. How do I explain that nothing they've said is right, they've drawn the wrong conclusions and explain why they can't just go: God Did It, when you can't explain something.

You can try explaining to them that God is a non-explanation. An explanation confers comprehension. The fact is that we don't actually understand the origin of the universe any more after saying "God did it" than we did before. It is a non-explanation. As I said, if the nature of the universe were totally different, people would still say "Aha, that proves God did it". It's not an explanation; it's an excuse to feel good about not having an explanation.
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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-11 05:03pm

If we are a result of the big bang then it explains the existence of US which is what I said, I did not say that it explained existence. A very authoritative scientist explained to me last night that there is about 80% as much antimatter as matter, and that if equal amounts of each existed we wouldn't be here because they would cancel each other out - Sounded perfectly reasonable to me.


This is a bigass appeal to authority fallacy right there. Who is this "very authoritative scientist" and does he have any published papers stating this "80% more antimatter" hypothesis of his? If so , where are they? I woudl be very interested to read it, as a current Astronomy student taking a Cosmology module.

If you can explain to anybody's satisfaction within what the universe is contained I should be very happy - It is illogical that the universe exists as an entity because anything which exists is physical, and anything which exists must exist within something, which must exist within something, which must exist.....


This part completely ignores the fact that The Universe is commonly defined (in this case by Websters New World College Dictionary, as the sum total of everything that exists; all the matter and energy and stars and galaxies and so on. The Universe does not have to exist within something else, as if it did it would not be the universe. Just as the Universe does not need a cause, it does not need to exist within something, as Darth Wong already commented upon above. Occam's Razor applies.

We can't even say that we are figments of our own imaginations because even imagination must relate to the concrete, or it is not imagination. Even if the universe grew from a singularity that singularity must have been contained in a void.... Oh dear, we're back to the bag within a bag problem - Perhaps it is all turtles as Terry Pratchett says...


This bit I have no idea what he even means. I think he's just playing with semantics to sound impressive.

Darth Wong wrote:Fourth option: the Big Bang is an event not an object. It does not need a "creator". It only needs the right conditions in which to occur. Someone might say "OK, those conditions need a creator", but that is an assumption which violates Occam's Razor. To simply say "those conditions existed" is scientific.


Conditions don't need a creator, but surely they need a cause? It amounts to the same thing as far as the Universe is concerned, but physical conditions can have a cuase rather than a conscious creator.
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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Chirios » 2012-01-11 05:20pm

Thanks for the advice. I've decided just to walk away before my head explodes, mainly due to the posting of this:

The reality of knowledge is contingent on many things, not least, a finite comprehension which often insists on certain irreductable verities. Like the idea the universe has to be in something. Or that causality must be all pervasive. The former despite the predictive utility of general realitivity; the latter despite the predictive utility of quantum mechanics.

Edit: I've inadvertantly ommitted a word here. Please insert 'nevertheless' between 'which' and 'often.' Sorry for the error and thanks. pp

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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Darth Wong » 2012-01-11 06:11pm

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
Darth Wong wrote:Fourth option: the Big Bang is an event not an object. It does not need a "creator". It only needs the right conditions in which to occur. Someone might say "OK, those conditions need a creator", but that is an assumption which violates Occam's Razor. To simply say "those conditions existed" is scientific.

Conditions don't need a creator, but surely they need a cause? It amounts to the same thing as far as the Universe is concerned, but physical conditions can have a cuase rather than a conscious creator.

Why do all conditions need a cause? Obviously most conditions need a cause, but the initial conditions of the universe would be a rather obviously special case.
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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-11 06:13pm

Darth Wong wrote:
Eternal_Freedom wrote:
Darth Wong wrote:Fourth option: the Big Bang is an event not an object. It does not need a "creator". It only needs the right conditions in which to occur. Someone might say "OK, those conditions need a creator", but that is an assumption which violates Occam's Razor. To simply say "those conditions existed" is scientific.

Conditions don't need a creator, but surely they need a cause? It amounts to the same thing as far as the Universe is concerned, but physical conditions can have a cuase rather than a conscious creator.

Why do all conditions need a cause? Obviously most conditions need a cause, but the initial conditions of the universe would be a rather obviously special case.


Hence why I said it amounts to the same thing, I was questioning your wording.
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Re: Trying to Explain Why You Can't Keep Asking: Before That

Postby Akhlut » 2012-01-15 06:48pm

Seems some people don't understand how science actually works. Surprising. :P

first person wrote:Firstly, it is important to clarify what God is. It's clearly not a man in the clouds, it's clearly not something that impregnated a virgin or raised the dead or any of those things. But the problem I have when I consider atheism, at least of the ilk Dawkins and, to an extent, Christopher Hitchens espoused is that as good as their arguments may be when it comes to criticizing religion and the traditional concept of God they don't actually offer any alternative that seems plausible.

In Dawkins' case, I know he acknowledges this and I give him credit for that. He says that he is a scientist and therefore relies on evidence and that there is no more evidence for a divine spirit than there is a flying spaghetti monster, etc. But the problem I have is that I can't wholeheartedly deny the existence of God until there is a proven scientific alternative. Why? Because it's against science, ironically. It's against science to presume there's no creator for something when everything we know requires one. That's not the same as saying you 'know' there is a God. We must be honest and say we do not know either way. But the teleological argument (the argument for design) still stands, because when we look at science we find a kind of regressive process going on:


Just because we cannot offer any alternatives to "no god" for the Big Bang does not mean "ergo, god." He's falling to a false dichotomy. The best option, like for real science, is to not take a position on it. We don't know what happened prior to the Big Bang, therefore, we can't say anything until we get more data. Therefore, no invoking a deity.

He's actually being anti-science by making such an invocation.

1) We were created by evolution from apes.
2) The apes were created by smaller organisms, which were created by the formation of a hospitable planet.
3) The hospitable planet was created by the formation of a star system, which it orbits.
3) The star was created by an explosion of matter.
4) The explosion of matter was the big bang.
5) The big bang was created by---?


"Creation" sounds bad in this context. There's an implication/connotation of an intelligent being doing the creation, especially when someone is invoking a god because they can't come up with a plausible explanation without one. Just a nitpick, but it still bugs the shit out of me.

We do not know what created the big bang. Most atheists, at least intellectual ones, are honest about this. Once again, I give them credit for that. Indeed, an atheist who says 'we don't know how we came to be here' is infinitely preferable to a crazed Christian fundamentalist. But the problem is they don't offer a decent alternative and, like I say, if there is no known alternative it makes sense to assume we were created by something, and that something must be everlasting - i.e beyond the limits of time and space - because otherwise we would not be able to end the regress. Ultimately it must all lead back to something. Whatever we feel about Religion, does it not make sense to call that something God?


Just because it bugs the shit out of someone to not have an answer does not mean it is better to say "well, something made this happen!" Sometimes we do not have answers, why prejudice ourselves against future discoveries by stating that we think it is caused by something else?


second person wrote:The existence of both us, and the universe in general, is totally illogical. Before the big bang there was nothing - As that fundamentally contradicts one of the major principles of thermodynamics, the Big Bang is clearly nonsense....


Considering that mathematical models of the first few seconds of the Big Bang show that the laws of physics are really fucking different at extremely high temperatures (so much so that the four distinct forces are unified), I'd say that trying to extrapolate the laws of thermodynamics to the very early universe is probably wrong, too.

Hold on you say, but we do exist.... Don't we? Or do we, can we? If there is matter and antimatter then nothing can exist, so there must be more matter than antimatter and the universe is assymmetrical; if the universe is assymmetrical, then it can't have started from a singularity as a singularity must, by definition, be symmetrical and from nothing came energy but, I hear you say, energy can neither be created nor lost... Oops here we go again, going round in circles....


I think this person doesn't know nearly as much physics as he/she thinks they do...

Everything we understand can be put in a bag - Except the existence of the universe. Why? Who holds the bag that holds the universe?


Yeah, that's why science has stagnated in the last 10 years, because we understand it all. :roll:
SDNet: Unbelievable levels of pedantry that you can't find anywhere else on the Internet!


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