Dad asked an excellent question which I was more than happy to answer:
I would ask you to tell me what you DO believe? I think you'll agree that most belief systems are arrived at not by absolute proof but by evidence that is adequate to persuade. So please tell me what you yourself personally believe at this point...about anything...origin of the universe, how life arrived out of non-life, how consciousness came on the scene (another reality, along with self-identity, that according to many philosophers and scientists cannot be studied scientifically) or the composition of photons, electrons and why they operate as they do. Where do you believe the Fundamental Laws of the Universe were formulated? Where do the Cosmological Constants originate and happen to be so precise in nature? I'm certainly open to other plausible explanations.I hear this question a lot. People wonder that if I don't believe in the supernatural whether I believe in anything at all. Well, where do I start? I believe that the sky is blue. I believe that I live in a house. I believe I have a dog. I believe that the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's diameter is roughly 3.14159. I could go on and on. You might be better off asking what I don't believe in, though that's a pretty long list as well.
Because I care about what I believe, I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. The things I choose to believe are the things that can be demonstrated using logic and reason, as I believe that logic and reason are the best tools we have for understanding our world. To be fair, you did list out some specific things so I'll tell you what I believe (if anything) about those.
- Origin of the universe: I do not hold any beliefs about the origin of the universe. As I said before, there's no reason to for me to believe any claims made about the origins of the universe until there is enough scientific evidence supporting such a theory. This is based on my personal standards of evidence.
- How life arrived out of non-life: Again, I don't hold any beliefs about how life arrived out of non-life. I also addressed this in my last email when discussing absolute truth. I don't believe science has yet answered the question of abiogenesis. Although in this case, there are many good theories that try to explain it. While they are all currently speculative, I actually believe that science is very close to solving that problem. In fact, I'd be willing to bet within my lifetime we'll have some evidence that points to a solution.
- Consciousness: I believe that consciousness arose at some point during the evolution of our nervous system, during the formation of the brain. Although, I plan to do more self-education on this subject, as it is something that interests me. Several books have been written on this that you may find interesting, such as The evolution of consciousness by Robert Ornstein, The Accidental Mind by David J. Linden, and Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus. I'll admit that I haven't read these fully myself but only skimmed through them in Barnes and Noble -- I've got them in my "wish-list" though.
- Fundamental laws of the universe: Well, that sort-of depends on your definition of said laws. I believe that the "laws" of which you are thinking are simply constructs of science, and thus of the human mind. For example, the "law of gravity", which states that "the forces which keep the planets in orbit must be reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve" is simply derived from an observation of a naturally occurring phenomenon. This "law" wasn't necessarily written by anyone other than Newton himself. That doesn't mean that gravity would not exist without newton, it just means that the "law" we use to explain its effects would not exist had someone not observed it's effects.
- Cosmological Constants: As I've said before, I fully reject the anthropic principle around which the argument of "cosmological constants" is centered. Are all of these "constants" necessary for life as we know it to exist? Of course! I do not, however believe that these "constants" were pre-defined in order for life to exist. I believe that life simply evolved as a result of its environment. If the constants had been any different, yes, life as we know it would not have existed, but does that mean that no form of life whatsoever could have existed? How can we make such an assertion, when the only variables we know are the ones we experience? I'll again offer up Douglas Adams' analogy of a the puddle in a hole. To think that the universe was designed to "fit" us perfectly, is no different from a puddle thinking that the hole in which it lies was designed just for its shape; when in actuality, the puddle formed that way as a result of the puddle's environment (the shape of the hole).