Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:15 pm UTC

@DSenette

There is no problem to be part of a solution to. With all the whining about Religion holding back Science I wish someone would should show me some metric that supports that. The advances seem to be following a yeast curve growth cycle. There is certainly tension over some things but that has as much to do with money as it does Religion. The worry over the Religious communities desire to enshrine creationism in public policy is worry over the last gasp of an institution which is no longer cohesive enough to get it done. The advances in science have come fast enough as it is to outrun the ethical standards which help to keep us from doing something which could kill us all.

I don't think I stand by myself in this, I know I do. If I want to do business I had better be prepared to do it with Christians, there isn't a large enough Atheist community that is cohesive enough to supply me with a living. If I want to get elected to public office then being a Atheist is verboten, you can't get elected. There aren't enough Atheists to give me a fighting chance to win. Even if there where, by the descriptions provided by the people who have posted here they share no common ground, other than thinking Christians are irrational. Which is not an electoral platform.

On a basis of practicality, utility and functionality, being a Christian is rational as hell. You belong to a large group with a common thesis. The belief in God as it is practiced doesn't ask much of you, it's used more like a big teddy bear that people can hold on to to make them feel better. It's self reinforcing with smaller groups providing community and support to each other. Larger associations supply political clout to advance issues important to that community. When Atheists become a cohesive group then maybe there will be something to shout about.


Magical thinking can certainly be harmful, as can rational thinking. Science and rationalism introduced us to the atomic era with all that entails. It introduced the concept of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, bio-weapons, and the doomsday cock. Need I continue? People maim and kill each other for all kinds of reasons on a daily basis that have nothing to do with their Religious affiliation. We, that is humans, are violent and unpredictable. Something as simple as winning a basketball game can set off riots. Politics is probably responsible for more deaths than Religion in the modern era.

Here's some magical thinking for you. Believing that telling a Christian that his beliefs are irrational will cause him to take a serious look at his beliefs. Believing that the decision to believe in God or no is a conscious one under conscious control. Well I could go on but I won't.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:29 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:I don't think I stand by myself in this, I know I do. If I want to do business I had better be prepared to do it with Christians, there isn't a large enough Atheist community that is cohesive enough to supply me with a living. If I want to get elected to public office then being a Atheist is verboten, you can't get elected. There aren't enough Atheists to give me a fighting chance to win. Even if there where, by the descriptions provided by the people who have posted here they share no common ground, other than thinking Christians are irrational. Which is not an electoral platform.


Why can't the electoral platform just be "I am going to do X, Y, and Z for the economy, A, B, and C for the environment, P, Q, and R on the foreign policy front, etc." Why should someone's religious convictions matter in getting elected at all? Here in most-secular Canada, mentioning God in an election campaign is often a good way to lose. Likewise, why should someone's religious convictions matter in doing business? Nobody is saying that you can't work with Christians, or can't interact with them in any way.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby DSenette » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:32 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks for some addition to the arm example you gave. I'm not saying people are the first cause to lifting their arms. But that they are a subset of "causes". Just like natural processes are causes (in fact, people are classed as natural processes by some definitions and lines of reasoning).

Do my arms raise via ordered constructs? Or by random interactions? If they are ordered, what name do we give to the order? I would say "person" or perhaps "brain" or "human". What do we call ordered interactions?

Is it rational to give a set of ordered interactions that are similar, similar names?

LaserGuy. I would only then state the universe is caused if the evidence says so. I currently see the universe as having a mechanical (or natural) action required to get it to the state it is today. Without going into detail, this is what things like expansion, the big bang, atomic decay etc suggest. They say "A then A+B then A+B+C" etc. Everything I view requires a cause, but the only thing left is that which I cannot view. So as I have assumed "nothing has a cause unless I observe it to be" I am left with the unobserved as qualifying for an uncaused state. This is only my reasoning on the evidence mind, that I see the need for another descriptor that is not available in description of "universe".

So, do I need to describe a state "no universe then universe" or "universe then universe"? I'd have trouble with the second, because it does not describe an active universe. This universe has action in it, right? Would it be reasonable to accept a first cause on this?

from the point of view of anything outside of yourself, your arms do raise because of random interactions. hell, even from the point of view of your own brain, it's still random interactions. there's no predefined list of actions that you are required to perform before you perform them.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby qetzal » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:39 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:We know what personages look like, what they do and create, because we can point to a person and go "that is one". If people make complex things, why is it so irrational to say "complex things can be made by either people, or something else"?


Depends. Are you claiming that "something else" is a sentient, personal god? That's irrational for multiple reasons. First, we know that at least some complex things can form essentially spontaneously, without any detectable intervention from any sentient personage - human or god. Accordingly, sentient and personal input do not appear to be essential for complex things to arise. Second, there's no good evidence to conclude that a sentient, personal god exists that could have been a first cause. (Many would argue that it's not even a coherent possibility, but that's another matter.)

Concluding "sentient personal god" from "first cause" is thus both unnecessary and not supported by available evidence. And that was the point of the car analogy. You keep asking why it's irrational to try to infer the nature of a first cause. I've tried repeatedly to explain that trying to make an inference per se is not irrational. The irrational part is if your specific inference (god) isn't supported by evidence.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:58 pm UTC

Thanks Induction. But I asked how does "causes to become" ask for anything other than a "first cause" assumption? Why point to the other parts of history not mentioned in that name, when I only asked about the name? When speaking of atomic decay, we don't point to nuclear bombs first do we? Is that rational? So, if the name is "causes to become" or "I am that I am" what does the word "God" mean in this case?

Thanks for showing that you consider it reasonable to posit a possible first cause. I would consider the universe time-infinite, if I did not observed the progressive nature of the universe as a whole. Thus, without evidence that it is a loop, and the current evidence being it is progressive, I conclude the current evidence says the universe requires a first cause.

(Note there is no need to describe all the alternative theories to me. I know these. However the alternative theories are not currently supported by the evidence.)
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:05 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:I agree that mythical gods are irrational concepts. But what if those same people were told that the moon "is there because of the processes of gravity"? They could just as easily say to learning Newtonian mechanics "I don't want to learn any further, I know gravity put it there". If they say "I don't want to learn any further, God put it there", what is the cause of irrational thought there? Then who is at fault, the natural process or the person? Which one do we blame for irrational thought?


I thought we'd already determined we basically have three states - rational beliefs, unexamined beliefs, and irrational beliefs.
Such a belief might be rational, if knowingly lacking in depth, meaning it will be composes of many unexamined foundations if they have rational reason to believe those who explained it to them are both trustworthy and rational themselves. Predominantly, though, it would be both practical and unexamined. When you're believing something because someone told you, you trust them, you don't want to do the work otherwise and you don't really care anyways, I don't think rationality is what's being discussed. Your decision isn't rational, no, but its not expressly irrational (drawn from faulty logic, magical thinking, loose interpretations of evidence, and the power of faith, trust and desire). It just ... is.

Now if one persisted in holding that belief when faced with contrary evidence or contrary opinions from equally trustworthy sources in regards to the evidence (assuming we're taking the lazy way to our conclusions), or held that belief so strongly they would make important decisions on it despite not having the evidence to support it... then you're straying well into irrationality.

Technical Ben wrote:I've heard the expression "magnets did it" in replace to "magic did it". Is it the fault of magnets? Are magnets an excuse for natural processes now? A "magnet of the gaps"? Should we now avoid looking at anything that proves magnets exist? No, it's not the fault of magnetism but of people looking for excuses! Why allow them to redefine magnets to mean magic? Why allow the same to happen to God or a first cause?
(This can be done for any object, the "magical thinking" can be applied to apple pies, magnets or anything. It proves the magical thinking wrong, not the observed objects or processes.)

... what? I don't understand what you're trying to say here.

Technical Ben wrote:Why is it considered irrational to think we can infer the "nature" of a first cause? If we can look at the planets, and consider the "nature" of their construction (via supernova, condensation of matter into rocks etc), why can we not consider the process that made all observable things?

We didn't "infer" any of that planet stuff in a vacuum. Well, we did infer a lot of planet stuff, once, without much data, but it all turned out to be wrong. Inference only works when you're reasonably sure your axioms are correct. We put a lot of work into getting planetary data, watching supernovas, looking at compositions, modeling alternatives, examining the evidence, before we tried to infer the cause of our own planetary systems.

We've got no such body of evidence for the first cause. In fact, the closer we get to it, the more of the little evidence we DO have is completely invalidated at regular intervals. Assuming a first cause is about as rational as assuming some special box in my house (which you can't see) contains another box, and there's nothing in the second box.

Sure, its possible. But if you've never been in my house, and you've got reason to believe any boxes that exist in my house are unlike any you've ever experienced before, you don't really have any rational reason to believe ANYTHING about it.

The only rational answer to "What's in the box?" is "I don't know. I don't have enough data. I don't even know if the box exists."

Technical Ben wrote:I hope this is not off topic, in asking "is atheism a rational stance" I see just as strong a question to "is theism a rational stance". Thanks.

Theism is only extremely rarely a rational stance, often an unexamined or pragmatic stance with no attempt at justification, and frequently flagrantly irrational. Again, the reasons, route, and justifications used are more important in a determination of rationality than the correctness or falseness of a conclusion.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby DSenette » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:07 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Induction. But I asked how does "causes to become" ask for anything other than a "first cause" assumption? Why point to the other parts of history not mentioned in that name, when I only asked about the name? When speaking of atomic decay, we don't point to nuclear bombs first do we? Is that rational? So, if the name is "causes to become" or "I am that I am" what does the word "God" mean in this case?

Thanks for showing that you consider it reasonable to posit a possible first cause. I would consider the universe time-infinite, if I did not observed the progressive nature of the universe as a whole. Thus, without evidence that it is a loop, and the current evidence being it is progressive, I conclude the current evidence says the universe requires a first cause.

(Note there is no need to describe all the alternative theories to me. I know these. However the alternative theories are not currently supported by the evidence.)

what are you claiming god means? what are you claiming first cause means? define your terms for us, because you seem to think our assumptions about your terms (that you're talking about what basically everyone else on the planet means when they say god/God in relation to the creation of the universe. i.e. an entity with some form of sentience, consciousness, and concern. not some event of physics that isn't sentient, conscious or concerned)
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:28 pm UTC

Thanks Griffin. "Only extremely rarely a rational stance" is not as harsh as saying "not rational". So thank you for recognising my viewpoint.
I am not sure which evidence you are pointing to that suggests our universe is infinite time wise or in a perpetual loop? Can you present this?
It's not that I imagine a box inside an imaginary box. But assuming when you say "in my house" your house has an "inside". Because I've seen that houses come with insides. I can say to a certain confidence that this is so. So, if I can see "systems have causes/mechanisms", can I not conclude "the system of the universe has a cause/mechanism"? To a certain confidence I see the requirement for a first cause.

Sorry DSenette if I was unclear. I asked about, and pointed to, a specific definition of God. The fact that the thread quickly moved to other definitions or examples shows how difficult it is to stick to one to discuss. The definition originally used for the majority of religion most people discuss here is "I am that I am". This is the definition originally given for example to Christians. Other translations are "I Will Be What I Will Be" or even "He Causes to Become". These original terms are asking for what assumptions? Are they mundane enough to consider? IMO they ask nothing more than to consider "a cause that is first". Just as the name "gravity" asks for nothing more than "a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass". Would you agree?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:36 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Griffin. "Only extremely rarely a rational stance" is not as harsh as saying "not rational". So thank you for recognising my viewpoint.
I am not sure which evidence you are pointing to that suggests our universe is infinite time wise or in a perpetual loop? Can you present this?
It's not that I imagine a box inside an imaginary box. But assuming when you say "in my house" your house has an "inside". Because I've seen that houses come with insides. I can say to a certain confidence that this is so. So, if I can see "systems have causes/mechanisms", can I not conclude "the system of the universe has a cause/mechanism"? To a certain confidence I see the requirement for a first cause.


What about systems that don't have causes (eg. radioactive decay)? What is the cause of your first cause?

Technical Ben wrote:The fact that the thread quickly moved to other definitions or examples shows how difficult it is to stick to one to discuss. The definition originally used for the "majority of religion" most people discuss here is "I am that I am".


This name of God is, AFAIK, only true for the Christian God. It is not used for any other Gods that I know of. The Christian God has many other properties besides being a first cause. Therefore, the problem with using this name is you are trying to equivocate between "The thing that is the first cause" and "The Christian God". There is a big difference between arguing for deism ("There is a first cause, but it does not interact with the universe at all after the first moment"), and theism ("There is a God or gods who interact directly with the universe now and today, and have done so in the past as well"). If you are arguing for deism, you should not be using the term "God" because it is loaded with connotations that you are not trying to convey.

[edit]Clarity.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:37 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Induction. But I asked how does "causes to become" ask for anything other than a "first cause" assumption? Why point to the other parts of history not mentioned in that name, when I only asked about the name? When speaking of atomic decay, we don't point to nuclear bombs first do we? Is that rational?


I point at the other parts of history because we don't have evidence of high complexity at the point that the universe began (if such a point existed), and you are claiming that the complexity of the universe implies the existence of an intelligent designer ("complex things can be made by either people, or something else"). We only know that the universe is complex now and has been for some finite amount of time. This complexity can arise from very simple initial conditions through physical interactions over large time spans. No designer is needed to explain the complexity.

So, if the name is "causes to become" or "I am that I am" what does the word "God" mean in this case?


The existence of a name does not imply the existence of the thing named. Why does it matter what a name means in a discussion of rational beliefs?

Thanks for showing that you consider it reasonable to posit a possible first cause. I would consider the universe time-infinite, if I did not observed the progressive nature of the universe as a whole. Thus, without evidence that it is a loop, and the current evidence being it is progressive, I conclude the current evidence says the universe requires a first cause.

(Note there is no need to describe all the alternative theories to me. I know these. However the alternative theories are not currently supported by the evidence.)


Our understanding of cosmology is nowhere near advanced enough to come to any serious conclusions about these matters. We don't even have an accepted physical theory that reconciles quantum physics and relativity, which are both required to describe any proposed initial state of the universe. The current evidence gives no justification for much more than guesses.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:00 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Griffin. "Only extremely rarely a rational stance" is not as harsh as saying "not rational". So thank you for recognising my viewpoint.

Considering the atheists already agreed that belief in Santa Claus could be rational, it's not really saying all that much. It simply requires you've properly applied reasoning with the limited evidence you have, and you don't hold the belief so strongly that contrary evidence would be ignored.
Personally, I'm not sure if I'd classify your own views as rational. You seem to mostly be taking the "unexamined" path - and when we're talking about the beginning of the Universe, we're all mostly walking that path, simply because there's so little evidence the common person can understand (and so little in total)! But you do take a few detours into irrationality, mostly via unjustified assumptions and unequal applications of reason to each step of your process, so I don't know. It's not terribly irrational though, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Especially since the practical side effects of particular universe spawning beliefs are minimal.

Technical Ben wrote:I am not sure which evidence you are pointing to that suggests our universe is infinite time wise or in a perpetual loop? Can you present this?

You keep saying I've suggested this, but I don't see evidence to suggest that I have. In fact, this statement is a huge tangled mess of incredibly unjustified assumptions on multiple fronts.

Neither of those, as conclusions, are particularly strong, though they are both possible. Neither are amongst the possibilities I'm placing my money on, although I can't say they are actually less likely (Slightly Irrational on my part, I'll admit). Other alternatives - Uncaused Universe (Initial moment of universe fills role of first cause). Turtles all the way down. Non-causal metaverse. Non-causal Universe (As has been mentioned, there's some strong evidence for this one! Causation definitely happens. sure, but may not be required for certain things. If there are exceptions, the Universe may be one.), collaborative effort (multitude of first causes), and a bunch of other alternatives too.

The other problem assumption there is that technically the universe is eternal even if it did have an external cause, since that cause also created time, and something that existed and will exist for all times that ever were or will be definitely meets my definition of eternal. So really you've got an eternal universe or a cyclical universe regardless of caused or uncaused. Or some universe that actually gets ended at some point - a destroy to match your creator?

[quote="Technical Ben"]It's not that I imagine a box inside an imaginary box. But assuming when you say "in my house" your house has an "inside". Because I've seen that houses come with insides. I can say to a certain confidence that this is so. So, if I can see "systems have causes/mechanisms", can I not conclude "the system of the universe has a cause/mechanism"? To a certain confidence I see the requirement for a first cause.[quote]
Except you're not arguing that my house has an inside, your arguing that inside my house is ANOTHER house that DOESN'T have an inside. You're saying "The Universe Exists, and something caused it, but nothing caused the thing that caused it". Your using the logic of experience to say the universe needed to be created, and then ignoring the same logic when you say "god" didn't. (Unless you believe the creator had a creator of course, which ends up with quite a bit closer to my own untenable position on likelihoods, heh)

This is the main problem with your First Cause. You claim everything is caused, and use that to justify a cause for the universe (a First Cause), which you then claim is /uncaused/. You offer no explanations why this thing can be uncaused but the universe can't - you simply seem to stop applying your own reason and logic, the reason and logic you used to get there, the moment you get to your desired answer. That's fundamentally irrational.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:00 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Griffin. "Only extremely rarely a rational stance" is not as harsh as saying "not rational". So thank you for recognising my viewpoint.

Considering the atheists already agreed that belief in Santa Claus could be rational, it's not really saying all that much. It simply requires you've properly applied reasoning with the limited evidence you have, and you don't hold the belief so strongly that contrary evidence would be ignored.
Personally, I'm not sure if I'd classify your own views as rational. You seem to mostly be taking the "unexamined" path - and when we're talking about the beginning of the Universe, we're all mostly walking that path, simply because there's so little evidence the common person can understand (and so little in total)! But you do take a few detours into irrationality, mostly via unjustified assumptions and unequal applications of reason to each step of your process, so I don't know. It's not terribly irrational though, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Especially since the practical side effects of particular universe spawning beliefs are minimal.

Technical Ben wrote:I am not sure which evidence you are pointing to that suggests our universe is infinite time wise or in a perpetual loop? Can you present this?

You keep saying I've suggested this, but I don't see evidence to suggest that I have. In fact, this statement is a huge tangled mess of incredibly unjustified assumptions on multiple fronts.

Neither of those, as conclusions, are particularly strong, though they are both possible. Neither are amongst the possibilities I'm placing my money on, although I can't say they are actually less likely (Slightly Irrational on my part, I'll admit). Other alternatives - Uncaused Universe (Initial moment of universe fills role of first cause). Turtles all the way down. Non-causal metaverse. Non-causal Universe (As has been mentioned, there's some strong evidence for this one! Causation definitely happens. sure, but may not be required for certain things. If there are exceptions, the Universe may be one.), collaborative effort (multitude of first causes), and a bunch of other alternatives too.

The other problem assumption there is that technically the universe is eternal even if it did have an external cause, since that cause also created time, and something that existed and will exist for all times that ever were or will be definitely meets my definition of eternal. So really you've got an eternal universe or a cyclical universe regardless of caused or uncaused. Or some universe that actually gets ended at some point - a destroy to match your creator?

Technical Ben wrote:It's not that I imagine a box inside an imaginary box. But assuming when you say "in my house" your house has an "inside". Because I've seen that houses come with insides. I can say to a certain confidence that this is so. So, if I can see "systems have causes/mechanisms", can I not conclude "the system of the universe has a cause/mechanism"? To a certain confidence I see the requirement for a first cause.

Except you're not arguing that my house has an inside, your arguing that inside my house is ANOTHER house that DOESN'T have an inside. You're saying "The Universe Exists, and something caused it, but nothing caused the thing that caused it". Your using the logic of experience to say the universe needed to be created, and then ignoring the same logic when you say "god" didn't. (Unless you believe the creator had a creator of course, which ends up with quite a bit closer to my own untenable position on likelihoods, heh)

This is the main problem with your First Cause. You claim everything is caused, and use that to justify a cause for the universe (a First Cause), which you then claim is /uncaused/. You offer no explanations why this thing can be uncaused but the universe can't - you simply seem to stop applying your own reason and logic, the reason and logic you used to get there, the moment you get to your desired answer. That's fundamentally irrational.[/quote]
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:09 pm UTC

Thank you Induction. It is to the following that I have yet to see the evidence for.
This complexity can arise from very simple initial conditions through physical interactions over large time spans. No designer is needed to explain the complexity.


To the comments on our current understandings of the universe. Without evidence that there is a loop (as you mentioned, many theories, but I have yet to see evidence) I consider the current evidence to be indicative of a progressive system. A progressive system needs a starting point. Hence a "first".

LaserGuy, along with what Induction asked, I only looked to define what "God" meant, because of the strong opposition I receive when the word is used. Even if the Bible is making "extraordinary claims", it is starting from a simple and mundane base. If we cannot examine the base of the subject, how can we reason the claim is extraordinary?

Is "going to the moon" extraordinary? We turn the extraordinary claims in science to mundane by breaking it down step by step. So here, to show where the rational thought goes, would like to take it step by step. Then when at the irrational point, stop or look to change it. If a "first cause" is not irrational, then can we look at what step to take next?

I would hope this shows that as not "atheism" is the same, not all "theism" is the same either. Would that make it unwise to rule one or the other as rational or not?

PS, Griffin you stated "You claim everything is caused" where I stated I "assume nothing is caused". So, I start with an uncaused universe. Then I look at the mathematical, physical etc evidence. Every bit of evidence I see with the exception of atomic decay (which my assumption allows for!) requires a cause or mechanism.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:18 pm UTC

Right. And the logic of "everything requires a cause" is directly opposed to your conclusion, that being some "First Cause".

This is only made more egregious by the existence of atomic decay, if you admit it is uncaused.

Since you admit some things, such as the universe, could be uncaused, its a bit of a stretch to say the universe requires one.

Since you conclude that most things require a cause, its unreasonable to assume the cause of the universe can't have one.

Ultimately, your conclusions simply aren't justified as anything more than a possibility.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:50 pm UTC

Sorry, how is it I am assuming "most things require a cause"? Has science not made theories and mathematical descriptions for most of the processes? I'd consider this "evidence" of a mechanical process or cause, not assumption.
The exception currently being atomic decay. Why? Because the evidence is, it follows an uncaused mathematical distribution, right?
Does the universe follow mechanical processes or random ones?

So the previous state can be random or determined. But there is defiantly a previous state.

If I ran it as a logical test it would be "If current state eternal, stop. Else go back a state". Note, this allows for a eternal universe, or one with a beginning. So far, the test stops (our current theories, tests and observations we call evidence stop. They are limited to a point). Where it stops, I can call that state "first".
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:57 pm UTC

So you're assuming that just because we can't see past a certain point, there must not be anything past it?

And simultaneously, that there IS something past it, and you want to call it god, and say its uncaused?

I... I honestly don't understand where you are trying to take this. I don't even know what your arguments are any more, since you've denied every possible interpretation of them I could find.

I, quite literally, have absolutely no idea what you are are trying to say, what it has to do with god, or even what arguments you are using to get to your conclusion.

So please, start at the beginning.

Make your assumptions, explain your arguments, reason your way to your conclusions, and state them clearly.
Because I don't understand a thing of any part of your thought process right now. :/
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 6:08 pm UTC

Ok. I am asking, why is it God needs a cause, if we already accepted nothing needs a cause?
If we accept all things need a cause, why tell me the universe does not?

I either have an eternal universe (rational to consider atheism) or an eternal something else (rational to consider theism). I have not observed my life, the history of the planet, the history of the solar system, galaxy, cluster, super-cluster or the universe to be eternal. At some point in time, something happened that was "uncaused". Some people call this a God (the first cause, an "uncaused" event).

Is that in agreement with others rational thought?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 6:20 pm UTC

Ok. I am asking, why is it God needs a cause, if we already accepted nothing needs a cause?

Why is it we need a god if nothing needs a cause, is the question. If we don't need a god, we don't have to worry about whether or not he has a cause, so this question becomes irrelevant. And if we're accepting things can be uncaused, there's no reason to insert a god at all.

If we accept all things need a cause, why tell me the universe does not?

Did I say the universe has no cause? IF we assume all things need a cause, though, your God is still irrational, because there can be no "first" cause if all things are caused.

I either have an eternal universe (rational to consider atheism) or an eternal something else (rational to consider theism).

Incorrect, on several fronts. First, those aren't the only two options. In fact, I just made a whole post about all the other options. Consider reading it. Second, you still don't seem to quite grasp the concept of eternal. Since the Universe contains time, it is impossible for something eternal to exist outside it in any meaningful way. Third, in order for it to be theism that eternal thing would have to be a god and not, say, another Universe (that is more eternal), and Fourth, even assuming something outside the Universe created, and exists in someway where eternal is a meaningful concept, why are you assuming this thing has to be eternal?

So far, you've managed an astounding number of completely unjustified assumptions. Lets continue.

I have not observed my life, the history of the planet, the history of the solar system, galaxy, cluster, super-cluster or the universe to be eternal.

Okay. Don't see how this is relevant to much.

At some point in time, something happened that was "uncaused". Some people call this a God (the first cause, an "uncaused" event).

Unjustified (though you still haven't tried, I should note). Not only unjustified, but in complete and total opposition to the "evidence" you provided in the previous sentence. Utterly, completely irrational. (Again, not because it's wrong, but because the evidence you're using to arrive at it is spurious)

So no, no it isn't.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 02, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
morriswalters wrote:I don't think I stand by myself in this, I know I do. If I want to do business I had better be prepared to do it with Christians, there isn't a large enough Atheist community that is cohesive enough to supply me with a living. If I want to get elected to public office then being a Atheist is verboten, you can't get elected. There aren't enough Atheists to give me a fighting chance to win. Even if there where, by the descriptions provided by the people who have posted here they share no common ground, other than thinking Christians are irrational. Which is not an electoral platform.


Why can't the electoral platform just be "I am going to do X, Y, and Z for the economy, A, B, and C for the environment, P, Q, and R on the foreign policy front, etc." Why should someone's religious convictions matter in getting elected at all? Here in most-secular Canada, mentioning God in an election campaign is often a good way to lose. Likewise, why should someone's religious convictions matter in doing business? Nobody is saying that you can't work with Christians, or can't interact with them in any way.


Like it or not things break down into groups. Answer me this? As a business person how do I generate the contacts and associations needed to do business? In the world of labor government forbids asking about your convictions. But in the world people ask questions. I don't like it but that's how it works. People respect reputations and placement in the community. What church do you go to, do you share my values? As a business person people must trust you to do business with you. Since Atheists don't belong to a coherent community then they are outsiders almost everywhere. There is no counter to the trust issue that is perceived because there can be no common response. I understand that Canada is mostly secular, and in point of fact that is true of the US. But how many avowed Atheists hold office?

Tell me what percentage of the Canadian population is Atheist? The highest percentage that I have heard of is in Europe at 34 percent. But even at that that means 66 percent define themselves as some type of Theist. These people see each other in church, they belong to a common community. You are an outsider. Much like they would be at Dawkins events and his web community. This is what we do as humans. Most conflict is between disparate groups. I'll cite a non Religious example of this type of behavior. Write a paper about a brilliant idea that you have had. It's perfect, in point of fact it's revolutionary and difficult to understand. But it is supportable. However you have no degree. Try getting it published or try getting people to listen. You will find it difficult bordering on impossible if you don't have any standing in the Academic community. And it has to work that way. Contrary to the common belief there is no proof or way to judge humans other than by association or track record.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 6:56 pm UTC

Sorry Griffin, I see it as a logical "either/or" question. It has no in-between. There is no requirement of time in the equation. Your examples all fit into one or the other. This is what I'm saying, your examples either fit a caused system or a non caused system. Your happy to include any of these theories, except those mentioning a first cause.

I see it as having a set of numbers. We either have a finite set, or an infinite set. That's it, we only get two options. If we have a finite set, we have a "first" (or highest/lowest, first/last). We don't get "oh, but there could be other possibilities". That's all I'm arguing, I'm not asking for anything other than a mundane explanation.

Either the universe is an infinite set and has no "first" or it's finite and has a "first". Can we agree on this? Is this a rational concept?
(It takes out the need for a cause from the conversation, while making the point of distinction between theories that I see)
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Azrael » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:12 pm UTC

You're talking yourself in terribly incoherent circles:

1) If not all things need a cause: Then we don't need god (or any other first cause) in order for us to exist.

-or-

2) If all things do need a cause: God would also need a cause.

Now, you mention the idea of a finite set, as if causality and numbering were at all analogous. Simply put, they aren't. Saying that everything needs a cause, except for the "first cause" is special pleading. It's logically fallacious, because there's no rationale behind why god (or the cause of that level) doesn't need a prior cause, but we do.

However, even if we did need a cause, that does not necessarily lead us to needing god, because needing a cause does not mean needing a personified, intelligent cause.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:16 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Tell me what percentage of the Canadian population is Atheist?


According to the most recent census, 16% of Canadians claim "no religion". However, only about 20% of professed Christians have weekly church attendance, and only about 40% have monthly attendance, and these figures continue to fall year-to-year. So 60% of Canadian Christians basically don't go to church, except maybe for Christmas and Easter. And this may be a gross overestimate (it may be actually only half of these figures). Many denominations such as the Anglican Church of Canada, and the United Church of Canada facing demographic extinction. It is not so much that atheism is on the rise in Canada, but rather that irreligion is on the rise--particularly among the younger generations. It is, in fact, the very networks that you are describing that are crumbling. Whether or not people believe in God is rather secondary to this.

Technical Ben wrote:We either have a finite set, or an infinite set.


An infinite set can have a beginning. All real numbers in the interval [0,infinity) is an infinite set, but begins at 0. Or it could have no beginning, but still not extend infinitely in both directions, such as (0,infinity) or (0,1). A (0, infinity) universe is kind of interesting--there is no beginning, but we can get arbitrarily close to a point that "should" be the beginning.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:27 pm UTC

I'm sorry, those just aren't the only two options. It would be nice if they were. But even with your new and much changed argument, those aren't the only possibilities.

First, discussing an infinite causal chain is MUCH better than your previous statement about an eternal universe, because you can conceivably have causes in the chain that exist outside the universe. Eternal, by definition, requires time. So this gets us somewhere. Now, lets move on:

If we have a finite set, we have a "first" (or highest/lowest, first/last).

However, you can still have an infinite sequence that also has a beginning (or an end). These are incredibly common in mathematics, actually. This isn't a limited property of finite sequences. When we're talking about a circular sequence, the sequence is finite but has no "first". As justification for your forced dichotomy we aren't doing much better here.

So we'll just leave it at "things have a first in the sequence chain, or they don't". Rather than using spurious arguments and analogies, we'll get right to the point.

This is still not particularly justified.

Causation is, after all, not linear. There could we be separate and distinct "firsts", or chains where uncaused chains mingle with caused chains, or loops proceed to influence other loops. If our noncircular universe turned out to be a repeating tanger from a circular causeless source, would we end up having a first cause or not?

The question, even at this base level, really isn't as simple as you want it to be.

So no, I don't think forcing it into that dichotomy is a rational decision. We certainly don't know enough to state those are the only two options.

Unless, I suppose, you want to limit our discussion to /within/ the bounds of the Universe, that "initial moment" or "no initial moment" might be more reasonable. Is that what you wish to do?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:34 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thank you Induction. It is to the following that I have yet to see the evidence for.
This complexity can arise from very simple initial conditions through physical interactions over large time spans. No designer is needed to explain the complexity.


Here's an example of repeated application of a single rule.
Here are some images and discussion of physical systems with emergent properties.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:10 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
morriswalters wrote:Tell me what percentage of the Canadian population is Atheist?


According to the most recent census, 16% of Canadians claim "no religion". However, only about 20% of professed Christians have weekly church attendance, and only about 40% have monthly attendance, and these figures continue to fall year-to-year. So 60% of Canadian Christians basically don't go to church, except maybe for Christmas and Easter. And this may be a gross overestimate (it may be actually only half of these figures). Many denominations such as the Anglican Church of Canada, and the United Church of Canada facing demographic extinction. It is not so much that atheism is on the rise in Canada, but rather that irreligion is on the rise--particularly among the younger generations. It is, in fact, the very networks that you are describing that are crumbling. Whether or not people believe in God is rather secondary to this.

Technical Ben wrote:We either have a finite set, or an infinite set.


An infinite set can have a beginning. All real numbers in the interval [0,infinity) is an infinite set, but begins at 0. Or it could have no beginning, but still not extend infinitely in both directions, such as (0,infinity) or (0,1). A (0, infinity) universe is kind of interesting--there is no beginning, but we can get arbitrarily close to a point that "should" be the beginning.


The very interesting part of this is it is not required to be a practicing Christian to benefit from being a Christian. And it has never been my point. You are still a member if you say that you believe in God. Most churches in the US follow a similar pattern, declining attendance and so on. Particularly among the young demographics. This is the beauty about Christianity from my outsiders point of view, you aren't required to do anything.


@Technical Ben

There is no evidence of God period. If your are a Christian it is a matter of faith. Not a matter of science. One way of looking at it is to consider this, In Newtons day the idea of quantum physics would have smacked of the deranged meanderings of some insane person. But Newton had developed Calculus so he could at least have some grasp of the math. Move back to Socrates time and it is doubtful that you could make any sense at all to him. Go back 5000 years and anything you could say would be noise. Assuming God is sat least somewhat as described, then the first question you should ask yourself is if you could understand him if he told you himself what his purpose was and how he came to be. To understand the conversation you would have to have referents. Points where your world picture could be compared to his. Lacking those referents anything related to you would be noise, with no meaning. Good luck on your quest.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:17 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:You're talking yourself in terribly incoherent circles:

1) If not all things need a cause: Then we don't need god (or any other first cause) in order for us to exist.

-or-

2) If all things do need a cause: God would also need a cause.

I think the classical exposition of this is more that anything that happened had a cause. For example, beginning to exist. So since the universe apparently began to exist, it (allegedly) must have some cause. God, on the other hand, is timeless/eternal/I'm not a theologian, so no causal explanation is needed.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby ahammel » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:37 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I think the classical exposition of this is more that anything that happened had a cause. For example, beginning to exist. So since the universe apparently began to exist, it (allegedly) must have some cause. God, on the other hand, is timeless/eternal/I'm not a theologian, so no causal explanation is needed.

How does that avoid the problem, though? Why can't the universe have the timeless/eternal property?

I'm aware that, empirically, the universe does appear to have a finite age*, but the First Cause argument has been around for much longer than we've known that.

*Or a finite amount of time has passed since the Big Bang, anyway.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:55 pm UTC

Maybe the First Cause argument was a bad argument before we gained that knowledge, then. Doesn't really affect the status of the argument today.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Xeio » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:05 pm UTC

Maybe, but you've still arbitrarily decided that the direct cause of the universe must have been eternal/timeless and that it's "god". We have no evidence of that, it may go back a million "causes" before we get to the eternal thing.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:06 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:The very interesting part of this is it is not required to be a practicing Christian to benefit from being a Christian. And it has never been my point. You are still a member if you say that you believe in God. Most churches in the US follow a similar pattern, declining attendance and so on. Particularly among the young demographics. This is the beauty about Christianity from my outsiders point of view, you aren't required to do anything.


You were talking about the benefits of networking through churches. If people don't attend church, then these benefits don't exist. If nobody goes to church, nobody asks the question "What church do you go to?" (or even "Do you go to church?") I don't see it matters at all whether you are atheist or agnostic or someone who believes in God but never goes to church. The power is in the religious institution, not in theism itself.

I don't know how many atheists are in public office in Canada (although there are definitely some), because almost nobody ever talks about religion, or especially personal faith, in the public sphere. It raised some eyebrows in the last election when the Prime Minister started using the phrase "God bless Canada." A few years back a candidate was hurt badly in an election for expressing belief in young earth creationism. In our last election, the leaders of the five parties were, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Prime Minister Stephen Harper), an agnostic (Michael Ignatieff), a member of the United Church of Canada (the late Jack Layton), an atheist (Gilles Duceppe), an an Anglican Minister (Elizabeth May).
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:31 pm UTC

Xeio wrote:Maybe, but you've still arbitrarily decided that the direct cause of the universe must have been eternal/timeless and that it's "god". We have no evidence of that, it may go back a million "causes" before we get to the eternal thing.

Well, you only assume it insofar as you give no independent argument for it. Of course the famous statement of the First Cause argument from Aquinas does just take it as an assumption that the first cause is God. But I'd imagine that some people have tried to show why this should be the case.

I'm skeptical that those arguments are successful, but I can't really comment on them without having read them.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Azrael » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:51 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I think the classical exposition of this is more that anything that happened had a cause. For example, beginning to exist. So since the universe apparently began to exist, it (allegedly) must have some cause. God, on the other hand, is timeless/eternal/I'm not a theologian, so no causal explanation is needed.

Again, special pleading. You've assumed a whole bunch of things are true for one entity, but not the others.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Of course the famous statement of the First Cause argument from Aquinas does just take it as an assumption that the first cause is God.

This.

If you start your story "In the beginning there was God..." then you've just assumed the outcome. You can't hope to make a logical argument.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:56 pm UTC

You can network through a church without attending. Gee ain't Christianity grand. All that required is to drop the right names. If you say you believe in God and are a member of the Uncle Hocums First Church of the Veil, nobody checks. You have acquired the benefits with almost no cost. However my experience has been that those people who do small business do go to church and do network there. You seem to think that if a lot of people don't go to church that nobody does. The web of individuals who have been through parochial schools, which I might add produce some extremely smart people, are a built in network, and at least in my location are very well connected. The Catholic Church is one of the largest property owners in the US. The High Schools are well funded. Private schools of other denominations don't do badly either. I would suggest that just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. It's ingrained very deeply.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:04 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I think the classical exposition of this is more that anything that happened had a cause. For example, beginning to exist. So since the universe apparently began to exist, it (allegedly) must have some cause. God, on the other hand, is timeless/eternal/I'm not a theologian, so no causal explanation is needed.

Again, special pleading. You've assumed a whole bunch of things are true for one entity, but not the others.

I don't see why this is special pleading. It's not that we assume as a matter of metaphysics that everything physical has to come into existence, or even as a matter of physics that everything in the physical universe had to come into existence; rather, it's that we have good empirical evidence to think that the universe and everything in it came into being. It's still possible within that framework to suppose that everything has a cause but that an infinite regress is impossible, from which it looks like you necessarily get some sort of first cause. Admittedly, those are big assumptions — but the universe isn't special-cased out of anything that they say.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Azrael » Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:25 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:...It's still possible within that framework to suppose that everything has a cause but that an infinite regress is impossible, from which it looks like you necessarily get some sort of first cause.

Am I using special pleading incorrectly? Because I was of the mind that saying "everything has a cause until inexplicably one level doesn't" qualified.

It's a great supposition: "What if one level doesn't?" But assuming that it's true without a reason?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:45 am UTC

Pardon, that is pretty flagrant special pleading — I think I meant to put the first assumption as "Everything that begins to exist has a cause," or more generally that every event has a cause. I think that qualification is pretty well motivated; for example, if we had reason to believe that the universe had always existed, it doesn't seem like it would make sense to talk about what caused it to exist.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Azrael » Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:52 am UTC

In which case I'd argue that of things that presently exist, it is special pleading to suggest that only one entity did not have to come into being.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Apr 03, 2012 1:33 am UTC

I think you might be stretching the term past its boundaries. Special pleading involves appealing to a general rule while simultaneously denying that something which satisfies all the appropriate conditions should be subject to it. But there's no general rule being claimed here about everything having to come into being. The first cause argument is compatible with lots and lots of eternal entities (gods, angels, Platonic forms, and so on). On the flip side, it makes no general claim that everything comes into being. It's just an apparent fact that this is true of the universe.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Soralin » Tue Apr 03, 2012 2:40 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:You can network through a church without attending. Gee ain't Christianity grand. All that required is to drop the right names. If you say you believe in God and are a member of the Uncle Hocums First Church of the Veil, nobody checks. You have acquired the benefits with almost no cost.

Well if you want to go that far, you can get those same benefits being an atheist, and just saying that you're a christian, and all the rest. Although saying that christianity is grand, because you can get benefits by lying to people isn't exactly very convincing.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby thc » Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:22 am UTC

To the comments on our current understandings of the universe. Without evidence that there is a loop (as you mentioned, many theories, but I have yet to see evidence) I consider the current evidence to be indicative of a progressive system. A progressive system needs a starting point. Hence a "first".
...
So the previous state can be random or determined. But there is defiantly a previous state.
...
I either have an eternal universe (rational to consider atheism) or an eternal something else (rational to consider theism). I have not observed my life, the history of the planet, the history of the solar system, galaxy, cluster, super-cluster or the universe to be eternal. At some point in time, something happened that was "uncaused". Some people call this a God (the first cause, an "uncaused" event).


Much smarter people than you or I have argued that your conclusion doesn't follow. Just because the universe may have had a beginning, doesn't mean it has a cause. According to Hawking, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing". If you want a really technical explanation check out: http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_1_1.htm (If you could TLDR it for me too, that would be great).
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