Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

“Spooky numbers” refers to Steven Landsburg’s position — expressed here in commenting on a post by Bob Murphy about intelligent design — that natural numbers just are. This encapsulates Landsburg’s thesis:

The natural numbers are irreducibly complex, moreso (by any reasonable definition) than anything in biology. But the natural numbers were not designed and did not evolve….

Why have humans, widely separated in time and space, agreed about numbers and the manipulation of numbers (mathematics)? Specifically, with respect to the natural numbers, why is there agreement that something called “one” or “un” or “ein” (and so on) is followed by something called “two” or “deux” or “zwei,” and so on? And why is there agreement that those numbers, when added, equal something called “three” or “trois” or “drei,” and so on? Is that evidence for the transcendent timelessness of numbers and mathematics, or is it nothing more than descriptive necessity?By descriptive necessity, I mean that numbering things is just another way of describing them. If there are some oranges on a table, I can say many things about them; for example, they are spheroids, they are orange-colored, they contain juice and (usually) seeds, and their skins are bitter-tasting.

Another thing that I can say about the oranges is that there are a certain number of them — let us say three, in this case. But I can say that only because, by convention, I can count them: one, two, three. And if someone adds an orange to the aggregation, I can count again: one, two, three, four. And, by convention, I can avoid counting a second time by simply adding one (the additional orange) to three (the number originally on the table). Arithmetic is simply a kind of counting, and other mathematical manipulations are, in one way or another, extensions of arithmetic. And they all have their roots in numbering and the manipulation of numbers, which are descriptive processes.

But my ability to count oranges and perform mathematical operations based on counting does not mean that numbers and mathematics are timeless and transcendent. It simply means that I have used some conventions — devised and perfected by other humans over the eons — which enable me to describe certain facets of physical reality.

Mathematics is merely a tool that can be useful in describing some aspects of the real world. Evolution and intelligent design, on the other hand, are theories about the real world. Though evolution and intelligent design are not complete theories of the real world, they are far more than mere mathematical descriptions of it.

To understand the distinction that I’m making, consider this: Some of the differences between apples and oranges can be described by resorting to the mathematics of color, taste, shape, and so on. But an apple or an orange — as an entity — is more than the sum of its various, partial descriptors. So, too, is the real world more than the sum of any number of mathematics or descriptors (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) that have mathematical components. The real world encompasses love, hate, social customs, and religion — among many things that defy complete (or even partial) mathematical description.

Now, what about evolution and intelligent design? Are they reconcilable theories? Murphy implies that they are. He says that

Michael Behe–[a leading proponent of intelligent design] who (in)famously said that the bacterial flagellum exhibited too much design to have arisen through unguided evolution in the modern neo-Darwinian sense–does not have a problem with the idea that all of today’s cells share a common ancestor….

So yes, Behe is fine with the proposition that if we had a camera and a time machine, we could go observe the first cell on earth as it reproduced and yielded offspring. There would be nothing magical in these operations; they would obey the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. The cells would further divide and so on, and then over billions of years there would be mutations and the environment would favor some of the mutants over their kin, such that natural selection over time would yield the bacterial flagellum and the human nervous system.

Yet Behe’s point is that when you look at what this process spits out at the end, you can’t deny that a guiding intelligence must be involved somehow.

The question-begging of that last sentence is what frustrates scientists. It says, in effect, that there must be a guiding intelligence, and the complexity of the products of evolution proves it.

No, it doesn’t prove it. God — as an entity apart from the material universe — cannot be shown to exist by pointing to particular aspects of the material universe, be they evolution or the Big Bang (to offer but two examples). God is a logical necessity, beyond empirical proof or disproof.

I greatly respect the sincerity of theists and the credence they give to sacred texts and accounts of visions and miracles. Their credence may be well-placed. But I am just too much of a doubting Thomas to rely on unfalsifiable, second-hand evidence about the nature of God and His role in the workings of the universe.

I will say this: Given the logical necessity of God, it follows that the universe operates in accordance with the “laws” that are inherent in His creation. Intelligent design, as an explanation for the forms taken by living creatures, is therefore something of a truism. But intelligent design cannot be proved by reference to products of evolution.

Nothingness

Edward Feser’s post, “Fifty Shades of Nothing,” prompts this one.

Preamble:

Nothing is the alternative to the existence of the universe,* that is, to the existence of something. Something is either caused by a self-existent, uncaused entity (i.e., God), or something simply exists. In the letter case, something must be uncaused and eternal, ruling out the possibility of nothing.

Therefore, given the necessity of God, nothing is possible, though there has been something for at least 14 billion years, according to the Big Bang theory. And there may have been something into the indefinite past, according to cyclic models of cosmology.

This suggests the following questions:

A. Given that nothing is possible, what can be said about it, other than that is the alternative to something?

Consider:

1. Make a fist and then open it. What do you see? “Nothing” is the usual answer if you’re not holding an object in your hand. But the “nothing” that you see is in fact the absence of an object in your hand. (It would be mere pedantry to say that your hand is “holding” a column of air, which is “something,” anyway.) Therefore, you don’t see “nothing”; you see an open hand, which happens not to hold an object. But the open hand is part of something, that is, the universe. If there were nothing, there would be no open hand to begin with. A vacuum in a bottle or in outer space is of the same ilk; it is an apparent emptiness (lack of matter-energy) that is noticed only because there is something, the universe that includes the bottle and the objects that surround and define outer space

2. If you are a philosophical materialist (i.e., disbeliever in supernatural phenomena or divine interventions),** you believe that a person ceases to exist when his brain ceases to function (if not when the person lapses into permanent unconsciousness). From your perspective, the cessation of brain function (or even of consciousness) puts an end to the things that made the person a particular being with a unique set of characteristics: personality, memory, habits, ways of talking, laughing, etc. You might even say that where there was a particular person there is now “nothing.” But that “nothing” is really an absence or negation of the particular person who existed before brain death (or permanent lapse into unconsciousness). It is not the kind of nothing that is understood as an alternative to the existence of the universe; it is the perceived absence of an erstwhile portion of that universe. In fact, by the laws of physics, that erstwhile portion of the universe continues to exist, though not in a form that you would you would call a person. Here again, we have “nothing” (i.e., absence of a person) only because there is something.

Generally:

No more can be said of nothing than that it is the alternative to something (i.e., the universe). Nothing, by definition, has no characteristics. It is neither imaginable nor describable, despite the temptation to think and speak of it as some kind of empty blackness within which nothing exists. The image of an empty blackness is an image of something, not nothing.

B. Can nothing follow something, as death follows life?

Nothing can follow something only if something (i.e., the universe) is annihilated. Annihilation necessarily means the disappearance of all traces of matter and energy and the space that contains their existence. It doesn’t mean the conversion of matter, energy, and space to a mere blankness (black, white, or otherwise).

Annihilation is beyond the ability of humans, and beyond the forces of nature. It is a job for God.

C. Does the fact that there is something rule out the possibility of nothing?

No. See the preamble and the answer to B.

__________
* I use “universe” generally, to include the possibility of a spatial and/or temporal multiverse.

** I am a kind of philosophical materialist, but unlike most materialists I am not an atheist. Specifically, I believe that the universe was created by God. But I also doubt (regretfully) that God plays an active role in the workings of His creation, except to sustain it (as against the possibility of annihilation). As long as the universe is sustained, it (seemingly) operates according to “laws” that are (in theory) discoverable, though the ultimate nature of existence is not discoverable.

I have stated my metaphysical cosmology:

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe, which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

It follows that science can neither prove nor disprove the preceding statements. If that is so, why can I not say, with equal certainty, that the universe is made of pea soup and supported by undetectable green giants?

There are two answers to that question. The first answer is that my cosmology is based on logical necessity; there is nothing of logic or necessity in the claims about pea soup and undetectable green giants. The second and related answer is that claims about pea soup and green giants — and their ilk — are obviously outlandish. There is an essential difference between (a) positing a creator and making limited but reasonable claims about his role and (b) engaging in obviously outlandish speculation.

What about various mythologies (e.g., Norse and Greek) and creation legends, which nowadays seem outlandish even to persons who believe in a creator? Professional atheists (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss) point to the crudeness of those mythologies and legends as a reason to reject the idea of a creator who set the universe and its laws in motion. (See, for example, “Russell’s Teapot,” discussed here.) But logic is not on the side of the professional atheists. The crudeness of a myth or legend, when viewed through the lens of contemporary knowledge, cannot be taken as evidence against creation. The crudeness of a myth or legend merely reflects the crudeness of the state of knowledge when the myth or legend arose.

My Metaphysical Cosmology

This post is a work in progress. It draws on and extends the posts listed at the bottom.

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe, which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

Something from Nothing?

I do not know if Lawrence Krauss typifies scientists in his logical obtuseness, but he certainly exemplifies the breed of so-called scientists who proclaim atheism as a scientific necessity.  According to a review by David Albert of Krauss’s recent book, A Universe from Nothing,

the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Albert’s review, which I have quoted extensively elsewhere, comports with Edward Feser’s analysis:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing—until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick—though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

Bill Vallicella puts it this way:

[N]o one can have any objection to a replacement of the old Leibniz question — Why is there something rather than nothing? … — with a physically tractable question, a question of interest to cosmologists and one amenable to a  physics solution. Unfortunately, in the paragraph above, Krauss provides two different replacement questions while stating, absurdly, that the second is a more succinct version of the first:

K1. How can a physical universe arise from an initial condition in which there are no particles, no space and perhaps no time?

K2. Why is there ‘stuff’ instead of empty space?

These are obviously distinct questions.  To answer the first one would have to provide an account of how the universe originated from nothing physical: no particles, no space, and “perhaps” no time.  The second question would be easier to answer because it presupposes the existence of space and does not demand that empty space be itself explained.

Clearly, the questions are distinct.  But Krauss conflates them. Indeed, he waffles between them, reverting to something like the first question after raising the second.  To ask why there is something physical as opposed to nothing physical is quite different from asking why there is physical “stuff” as opposed to empty space.

Several years ago, I explained the futility of attempting to decide the fundamental question of creation and its cause on scientific grounds:

Consider these three categories of knowledge (which long pre-date their use by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld): known knowns, know unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Here’s how that trichotomy might be applied to a specific aspect of scientific knowledge, namely, Earth’s rotation about the Sun:

1. Known knowns — Earth rotates about the Sun, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

2. Known unknowns — Earth, Sun, and the space between them comprise myriad quantum phenomena (e.g., matter and its interactions of matter in, on, and above the Earth and Sun; the transmission of light from Sun to Earth). We don’t know whether and how quantum phenomena influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun; that is, whether Einsteinian gravity is a partial explanation of a more complete theory of gravity that has been dubbed quantum gravity.

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun, but we don’t know what those other things are, if there are any.

For the sake of argument, suppose that scientists were as certain about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang as they are about the fact of Earth’s rotation about the Sun. Then, I would write:

1. Known knowns — The universe was created in the Big Bang, and the universe — in the large — has since been “unfolding” in accordance with Einsteinian relativity.

2. Known unknowns — The Big Bang can be thought of as a meta-quantum event, but we don’t know if that event was a manifestation of quantum gravity. (Nor do we know how quantum gravity might be implicated in the subsequent unfolding of the universe.)

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might have caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know if there were such things or what those other things were — or are.

Thus — to a scientist qua scientist — God and Creation are unknown unknowns because, as unfalsifiable hypotheses, they lie outside the scope of scientific inquiry. Any scientist who pronounces, one way or the other, on the existence of God and the reality of Creation has — for the moment, at least — ceased to be scientist.

Which is not to say that the question of creation is immune to logical analysis; thus:

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

Another blogger once said this about the final sentence of that quotation, which I lifted from another post of mine:

I would have to disagree with the last sentence. The problem is epistemology — how do we know what we know? Atheists, especially ‘scientistic’ atheists, take the position that the modern scientific methodology of observation, measurement, and extrapolation from observation and measurement, is sufficient to detect anything that Really Exists — and that the burden of proof is on those who propose that something Really Exists that cannot be reliably observed and measured; which is of course impossible within that mental framework. They have plenty of logic and science on their side, and their ‘evidence’ is the commonly-accepted maxim that it is impossible to prove a negative.

I agree that the problem of drawing conclusions about creation from science (as opposed to logic) is epistemological. The truth and nature of creation is an “unknown unknown” or, more accurately, an “unknowable unknown.” With regard to such questions, scientists do not have logic and science on their side when they asset that the existence of the universe is possible without a creator, as a matter of science (as Krauss does, for example). Moreover, it is scientists who are trying to prove a negative: that there is neither a creator nor the logical necessity of one.

“Something from nothing” is possible, but only if there is a creator who is not part of the “something” that is the proper subject of scientific exploration and explanation.

Probability, Existence, and Creation: A Footnote

Mario Livio writes:

[H]umans invent mathematical concepts by way of abstracting elements from the world around them—shapes, lines, sets, groups, and so forth—either for some specific purpose or simply for fun. They then go on to discover the connections among those concepts. Because this process of inventing and discovering is man-made—unlike the kind of discovery to which the Platonists subscribe—our mathematics is ultimately based on our perceptions and the mental pictures we can conjure….

[W]e adopt mathematical tools that apply to our world—a fact that has undoubtedly contributed to the perceived effectiveness of mathematics. Scientists do not choose analytical methods arbitrarily but rather on the basis of how well they predict the results of their experiments….

Not only do scientists cherry-pick solutions, they also tend to select problems that are amenable to mathematical treatment. There exists, however, a whole host of phenomena for which no accurate mathematical predictions are possible, sometimes not even in principle. In economics, for example, many variables—the detailed psychology of the masses, to name one—do not easily lend themselves to quantitative analysis. The predictive value of any theory relies on the constancy of the underlying relations among variables. Our analyses also fail to fully capture systems that develop chaos, in which the tiniest change in the initial conditions may produce entirely different end results, prohibiting any long-term predictions. Mathematicians have developed statistics and probability to deal with such shortcomings, but mathematics itself is limited, as Austrian logician Gödel famously proved….

This careful selection of problems and solutions only partially accounts for mathematics’s success in describing the laws of nature. Such laws must exist in the first place! Luckily for mathematicians and physicists alike, universal laws appear to govern our cosmos: an atom 12 billion light-years away behaves just like an atom on Earth; light in the distant past and light today share the same traits; and the same gravitational forces that shaped the universe’s initial structures hold sway over present-day galaxies. Mathematicians and physicists have invented the concept of symmetry to describe this kind of immunity to change….

I started with two basic, interrelated questions: Is mathematics invented or discovered? And what gives mathematics its explanatory and predictive powers? I believe that we know the answer to the first question. Mathematics is an intricate fusion of inventions and discoveries. Concepts are generally invented, and even though all the correct relations among them existed before their discovery, humans still chose which ones to study. The second question turns out to be even more complex. There is no doubt that the selection of topics we address mathematically has played an important role in math’s perceived effectiveness. But mathematics would not work at all were there no universal features to be discovered. You may now ask: Why are there universal laws of nature at all? Or equivalently: Why is our universe governed by certain symmetries and by locality? I truly do not know the answers, except to note that perhaps in a universe without these properties, complexity and life would have never emerged, and we would not be here to ask the question. (“Why Math Works,” Scientific American, August 2, 2011)

Probability, Existence, and Creation

A point that I make in “More about Probability and Existence” is made more eloquently and succinctly by Jacques Maritain:

To attempt to demonstrate that the world can be the effect of chance by beginning with the presupposition of this very possibility is to become the victim of a patent sophism or a gross illusion. In order to have the right to apply the calculus of probabilities to the case of the formation of the world, it would be necessary first to have established that the world can be the effect of chance. (Approaches to God, Macmillan paperback edition, pp. 60-1.)

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

UPDATE 01/11/16:

Philosopher Gary Gutting writes:

The idea of a cosmological argument is to move from certain known effects to God as their cause. To construct such an argument, we need a principle of causality: a statement of which sorts of things need causes to explain them. The simplest such principle would be: everything has a cause. But this is too strong a claim, since if everything has a cause, then God will have a cause and so be dependent on something else, which would, therefore, have a better claim to be God. A cosmological argument will work only if we have a causal principle that will not apply to God….

A cosmological argument is an effort to carry the search for an explanation as far as it can go, to see if we can discover not just an explanation of some single thing but an explanation of everything—for, we might say, the world (kosmos in Greek) as a whole. Let’s call this an ultimate explanation. We want, therefore, an argument that will show that God is the ultimate explanation. Perhaps, then, the causal principle we need is that there must be an ultimate explanation (provided by an ultimate cause).

Now, however, we need to think more carefully about what an ultimate explanation would explain. We’ve said it’s an explanation of everything, but just what does this mean? Something that needs explanation is, by definition, not self-explanatory. It needs to be explained by something other than itself. As we’ve seen, if we sought an explanation of literally everything, then there would be nothing available to provide the explanation.

If there is to be an ultimate explanation, then, it must be something that itself requires no explanation but explains everything else. The world that the cosmological argument is trying to explain must not be everything but everything that needs an explanation. But what things require explanation?

One plausible answer is that we must explain those things that do exist but might not exist, things that, to use the traditional technical term, are contingent….
Correspondingly, for the cosmological argument to work, the explanation of everything contingent must be something that is not contingent; namely, something that not only exists but also cannot not exist; it must, that is, be necessary. If it weren’t necessary, it would be contingent and so itself in need of explanation. (Notice that what is necessary is not contingent, and vice versa.) Simply put, the God the cosmological argument wants to prove exists has to be a necessary, not a contingent, being.

Here, then, we move to a still better principle of causality: that every contingent thing requires a cause. But we still need to be careful. Most contingent things can be explained by other contingent things. The world (the totality of contingent things) is a complex explanatory system…. If this makes sense, the cosmological argument can’t get off the ground because, as we’ve seen, its God is a necessary being that’s needed to explain what contingent things can’t….

What does this mean for our effort to construct a cosmological argument? It means that our argument must deny that there is an infinite regress of contingent things that explains everything that needs explaining. Otherwise, there’s no need for a necessary God.

This is a crucial stage in our search for a cosmological argument. We have a plausible principle of causality: any contingent being needs a cause. We now see that we need another premise: that an infinite regress of contingent things cannot explain everything that needs explaining….

We can agree that there might be an infinite series of contingent explainers but still maintain that such an infinite series itself needs an explanation. We might, in effect, grant that there could be an infinite series of tortoises, each supporting the other—and the whole chain supporting the Earth—but still insist that there must be some explanation for why all those tortoises exist. That is, our argument will require that an infinite regress of contingent things must itself have an explanation. This gives us the two key premises of our cosmological argument: a principle of causality and a principle for excluding an infinite regress.

Now we can formulate our argument:

1. There are contingent beings.
2. The existence of any contingent being has an explanation.
3. Such an explanation must be provided by either a necessary being or by an infinite regress of contingent beings.
4. An explanation by means of an infinite regress of contingent beings is itself in need of an explanation by a necessary being.
5. Therefore, there is a necessary being that explains the existence of contingent beings.

This argument is logically valid; that is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is true…. [“Can We Prove That God Exists? Richard Dawkins and the Limits of Faith and Atheism,” Salon, November 29, 2015]

That looks like my argument.

Existence and Creation

Logic and facts are puny things when it comes to the question of existence. Human beings do not (and probably cannot) comprehend the essence of matter-energy — the stuff of which the universe and everything in it is made. The following observations are therefore on a conjectural plane with all such musings.

TERMS

Universe = everything that exists anywhere, including other realms (multiverses), unconnected with “our” universe; parallel realities (many worlds); and other discrete assemblages of matter-energy in space-time.

God = hypothetical uncaused cause of the universe — a being or force whose power, knowledge, and degree of involvement in the shape of the universe and its events are matters of faith.

FIVE POSSIBILITIES

1. The universe simply exists without cause, has always existed, and will always exist unless it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

2. The universe simply exists without cause, but came into existence at a specific (if indeterminate) time, and may persist or not (see 1).

3. The universe is coterminous with God (a kind of monism), has always existed, and will always exist, though its essence and form may change.

4. God and the universe are eternal, but God exists apart from the universe and may change the essence and form of the universe.

5. God is eternal and exists apart from the universe; He brought the universe into existence at a finite time, and — in addition to changing its essence and form — may extinguish it at any time.

DISCUSSION OF THE POSSIBILITIES

The idea of an uncaused universe runs counter to human experience, which finds a cause for everything. This is true even for quantum fluctuations, which involve the movement of energy from state to state but do not change the total amount of energy in the universe. Possibilities 1 and 2 are therefore counterintuitive.

Possibility 3 is consistent with some strains of theism and animism, and it is hard to separate from possibility 4. If the universe is coterminous with God, then (presumably) God shapes His own essence and form, but that leaves open the related possibility of a God who can diminish Himself and eliminate His ability to further manipulate the universe. This seems unlikely.

Possibility 4 posits an eternal force or being which stands outside matter-energy-space-time and shapes it (initially and/or continuously, to some degree). The unappealing aspect of possibility 4 is the eternal coexistence of God and universe, which allows the universe to arise without cause.

This leads to possibility 5, which is the most appealing one. It enables causal relationships in the fabric of matter-energy-space-time, while explaining the creation of those things, in the first place, by an uncaused cause. That uncaused cause precedes the universe, which is the proper relationship if God is not “just” the universe or coexistent with it (possibilities 3 and 4). And if God stands apart as Creator, then God (almost certainly) possesses the power to extinguish His creation. Possibility 5, of course, is consistent with the Big Bang, though there may be more than one of them in the past and future of the universe.

For the while, I leave (as an exercise for myself and the reader) the question of God’s role in the initiation and evolution of the universe and its contents.

Existence of God (Wikipedia article, with links to external sources)
Universes, by John Leslie
The Bible (Douay-Rheims):

Book of Genesis
[1] In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. [2] And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. [3] And God said: Be light made. And light was made. [4] And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. [5] And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day.

[6] And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters. [7] And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament, and it was so. [8] And God called the firmament, Heaven; and the evening and morning were the second day. [9] God also said: Let the waters that are under the heaven, be gathered together into one place: and let the dry land appear. And it was so done. [10] And God called the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good….

Gospel According to Saint John
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it….

The Improbability of Us

An argument often used against the belief in a Creator who designed the universe runs like this:

The existence of humans is indeed improbable. The laws of nature that govern our existence are but one set out of infinitely many possible sets of laws of nature. Ad had they differed only slightly the universe would be a mere swirl of subatomic particles, free from medium-sized objects like rocks, trees and humans. And even given the actual laws of nature, evolutionary history would have taken different twists and turns and failed to deliver human beings. (Jamie Whyte, Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking, p. 125)

Embedded in that seemingly reasonable statement is an unwarranted — but critical — assumption: that there are infinitely many (or even a large number) of possible sets of laws of nature. But there is no way of knowing such a thing. There is only one observable universe, and one set of observable and (mostly*) consistent laws of nature within it. It is impossible for the human mind to conjure an alternative set of consistent natural laws that could, in fact, coexist in a possible universe. Any such conjuring would be mere speculation, not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Given that, it is impossible to deny that a grand design lies behind the universe. But it is also impossible to prove, by the methods of science, the existence of a grand design. The fact of the universe’s existence is, as I have called it, the greatest mystery.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
A Dissonant Vision
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
__________
* The exception is quantum mechanics, the science of the sub-atomic world. Sub-atomic particles do not seem to behave according to the same physical laws that describe the actions of the visible universe; their behavior is discontinuous (“jumpy”) and described probabilistically, not by the kinds of continuous (“smooth”) mathematical formulae that apply to the macroscopic world.

Landsburg Is Half-Right

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God does not play dice with the universe. — Albert Einstein

Einstein, stop telling God what to do. — Niels Bohr

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In a post at The Big Questions blog, Steven Landsburg writes:

Richard Dawkins . . . [has] got this God thing all wrong. Here’s some of his latest, from the Wall Street Journal:

Where does [Darwinian evolution] leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must be at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.

But Darwinian evolution can’t replace God, because Darwinian evolution (at best) explains life, and explaining life was never the hard part. The Big Question is not: Why is there life? The Big Question is: Why is there anything?

So far, so good. But Landsburg doesn’t quit when he’s ahead:

Ah, says, Dawkins, but there’s no role for God there either:

Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings

That, however, is just wrong. It is not true that all complex things emerge by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings. In fact, the most complex thing I’m aware of is the system of natural numbers (0,1,2,3, and all the rest of them) together with the laws of arithmetic. That system did not emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings. . . .

Now I happen to agree with Professor Dawkins that God is unnecessary, but I think he’s got the reason precisely backward. God is unnecessary not because complex things require simple antecedents but because they don’t. That allows the natural numbers to exist with no antecedents at all. . . .

What breathtaking displays of arrogance. Dawkins presumes that the only kind of intelligence that can exist is the kind that comes about through evolution. Landsburg wishes us to believe that complex things can exist on their own, without antecedents, which is why there is no God. (He fudges by saying “God is unnecessary” but we know what he really believes, don’t we?)

Landsburg’s “proof” of the non-existence of God is the existence of natural numbers, a “system [that] did not emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings.” Landsburg’s assertion about natural numbers (and the laws of arithmetic) is true only if numbers exist independently of human thought, that is, if they are ideal Platonic forms. But where do ideal Platonic forms come from? And if some complex things don’t require antecedents, how does that rule out the existence of God — who, by definition, embodies all complexity?