On Morality and Faith
I have long since accepted that the highest justice in this world must be carried out by ourselves. Inscribed in each of us is the burden of being fair to each other. There is no such inscription in the universe. It's wonder and riches are no more intentional than its disease and destruction. Some people live their entire lives in miserableness and depravity much worse than I have ever experienced by no intentional design of the universe. I have long since accepted this without question. My own personal pain and struggle forced the question "why" to consciousness, but every answer I submitted felt incomplete and every wisdom I encountered too cheap. I could not be satisfied and soon stopped looking for the satisfaction. I was resigned to the thought that the universe was a space of vast indifference. I like the idea. It's very poetic to me. It does not matter to me anymore whether the world was designed to be this way or not.
If the need for a satisfying answer/morality were all there was to it, God would have become irrelevant for me a long time ago. But I haven't been able to shrug it off. The second turn of the screw is in the realization that why people believe in God or why they don't implicates them socially and psychologically. God may be irrelevant, but the shadow He casts on earth is not.
I developed a habit when I was younger of making up stories to get out of trouble - to displace fault. Lying. It's not uncommon. I was an intelligent child and I could think of simple (reasonable) lies (simple is key: the more elaborate - imaginative - the story, the less credulous were my parents. best to tie the story in partly with what actually happened) to evade responsibility for whatever unacceptable thing I had done. The hardest thing about lying was dealing effectively with their accumulation. It can be very tiresome. Small, isolated fabrications are easy; but you'd be surprised how few of them are isolated in the long view. So lying became too mentally and morally draining. I also learned that my dishonesty with others had grown my ability to rationalize and thus obscure my own intentions and motives. What I gained from the experience was a liar's insight. Although I am mostly honest with others now, I have a pretty good feel for genuine people and I'm a very decent judge of character. I now see that there are two relevant kinds of trust we have in other people. 1. Trust in behavior patterns --> "inference based on past experience" and 2. wishful anticipatory trust --> "an extension of credit" or "faith". The former is abundant in me. Since I am reasonably intelligent and old enough to have some experience dealing with people, I pick up on behavior patterns. I trust a person in that I have had enough experience to see his regularities and patterns and can reasonably understand and predict his actions and motives. This trust exists by virtue of reason and experience. The second kind of trust refers to the amenable credulity we lend to people - how we extend faith or credit to others based on our own wishful anticipation or ignorance. Society and civilization require people to be trustful of each other so that there can be a high degree of cooperation, agreement, and capitulation. This trust exists by virtue of desire and ignorance. This is the trust that allows most people to believe in God.
For most people, it comes down to how they were raised and what runs in their social circles. If you come from a very religious family and if your sig. other and/or friends are churchgoers, chances are you'll "fit in." No one is born believing in god; this has to be taught. Most people simply stick to their faith through habituation. After the constant exposure and teachings of childhood, it becomes mundane. Accepted. If we're talking about organized religion, I have a strong distaste for it. Even when apologists aren't the crazy, in your face, "you'll go to hell" type, they usually annoy me because they put more stock in an out-of-date book written by men that are dead than they do in their living fellow human being. I do not believe in god because I believe in a world that renders god superfluous. I prayed to god when I was like 6 or something. It was more like asking a genie for a wish. Well, the wish didn't come true and it pissed me off because I knew the idea was ridiculous to begin with. By that point I already knew about the whole Santa Claus charade. Now I didn't gain evidence one way or the other from the failed prayer experiment, but since I never had any to confirm the existence of god in the first place, it would only have been out of mimicry had I continued to believe in god. So god was filed into the "Santa Claus category." I would only have sustained the belief to fit in with the other Christian friends/family I had at the time. I suppose I could have made myself believe in a god, or made myself available for religious conditioning if I had had a mind to do so. But my experience of organized religion pushed me away. I never got the idea of worship anyway. What kind of an ultimate transcendent being would command us to worship it in mass? If I'm going to worship something, it will have to be earned. And this whole judgment and reward thing. Sorry, but I could care less for living up to the expectations of some imaginary paternal deity. There are enough expectations to deal with already. Plus, I try to lead a genuine life and I am mindful of my flaws. I can't relate to a transcendent being I've never experienced. I take my example from the most noble people in history and the people who inspire me in my life. If god has a problem with that, I'll let god communicate that to me.
On the Origin of the Universe
We don't need physics professors to make a few basic distinctions between god and singularities as two competing theories for the origin of the universe.
First we need to bring into focus a general conception of god. "God" almost always refers to a being that transcends the physical world, can we agree? So you have to think about what belief in god entails. It entails belief in a "beyond the physical world." So, in this respect, singularities and supernatural beings differ hugely already. Singularities at least can be held to rely on and cohere with information and claims that are already well-grounded in physics. If a particular theory about singularities does not cohere with fundamental physical claims, then we can criticize and improve it with recourse to physics. Claims of supernatural or transcendent beings do not have to cohere with physical claims, and are thus impossible to criticize or improve with recourse to physics.
Rest assured that when a physical theory of the origin of the universe gains traction it must hold its own against the inevitable onslaught of scientific criticism. You say physicists make singularities their starting point and don't have to account for anything else ("They then don't have to go back any further"). That's not true - there will be pressure to go back farther and farther, to explain what caused the singularity, or else pressure to explain why they do not need to go back, why the singularity was not caused. They will have to account for all these things. God on the other hand is often defined in terms that evade scientific criticism. There's not much we can criticize about theories of god (which isn't a good thing in this case). Theories of god are vague and their evidence is usually non-evidence, like miracles and the unexplained. The fact that we can't explain a thing isn't evidence for god (although a lot of people think so). When theories of god can explain things that, for instance, physics or psychology cannot, then I might change my mind. But god has always thrived on the unexplained. Some physicists are religious - that's true. In my view, god is a personal, spiritual, life-style choice for many people instead of a rational belief.
Physics is not common sense. It's neither easy nor self-evident. Beyond some very simple basics, logic is also not common sense. It takes, in fact, a lot of study and practice to become proficient. Whether wrong or right, the big bang theory and singularity theory belong to the discipline of science, specifically physics, and they must be demonstrated to cohere with other physical claims, whereas god is exempt from such scrutiny.
God as the Ultimate Reality of Everything
When god-concepts become so diverse, i.e. when there are so many radically different and contradictory concepts of god, the word 'god' begins to lose any substantial meaning. Pretty soon, if people go the way turtle is going, when someone says "I'm an atheist" they'll have to specify "Well...I'm an atheist with regard to the traditional god of the Judeo-Christian, Abrahamic, Hindu, etc. type. BUT if you're talking about a new age god, like 'the ultimate reality of everything' then I'm a believer." Someone can be an atheist and believe in the ultimate reality of everything. Let's face it - traditional god(s) and this new age god - are nothing alike. It no longer makes sense to use the same word.
The point is, turtle, your concept of god differs so much from traditional conceptions of god that it has long exceeded all charitable interpretations of the dictionary definition. In brief, you really shouldn't call it (the ultimate reality of everything) god. We need a fresh word.
Credit to Ascolo Parodites (Vanitas) and turtle for the discussions that led me to articulate my thoughts.
I am a man, nothing human is foreign to me.
[T]ruth needs time to mature, and attention to many details.