God

The Limits of Science (II)

The material of the universe — be it called matter or energy — has three essential properties: essence, emanation, and effect. Essence — what things really “are” — is the most elusive of the properties, and probably unknowable. Emanations are the perceptible aspects of things, such as their detectible motions and electromagnetic properties. Effects are what things “do” to other things, as in the effect that a stream of photons has on paper when the photons are focused through a magnifying glass. (You’ve lived a bland life if you’ve never started a fire that way.)

Science deals in emanations and effects. It seems that these can be described without knowing what matter-energy “really” consists of. But can they?

Take a baseball. Assume, for the sake of argument, that it can’t be opened and separated into constituent parts, which are many. (See the video at this page for details.) Taking the baseball as a fundamental particle, its attributes (seemingly) can be described without knowing what’s inside it. Those attributes include the distance that it will travel when hit by a bat, when the ball and bat (of a certain weight) meet at certain velocities and at certain angles, given the direction and speed of rotation of the ball when it meets the bat, ambient temperature and relative humidity, and so on.

And yet, the baseball can’t be treated as if it were a fundamental particle. The distance that it will travel, everything else being the same, depends on the material at its core, the size of the core, the tightness of the windings of yarn around the core, the types of yarn used in the windings, the tightness of the cover, the flatness of the stitches that hold the cover in place, and probably several other things.

This suggests to me that the emanations and effects of an object depend on its essence — at least in the everyday world of macroscopic objects. If that’s so, why shouldn’t it be the same for the world of objects called sub-atomic particles?

Which leads to some tough questions: Is it really the case that all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible? Are there other elementary particles yet to be discovered or hypothesized, and will some of those be constituents of particles now thought to be elementary? And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, won’t scientists still be in the dark as to what those particles really “are”?

The progress of science should be judged by how much scientists know about the universe and its constituents. By that measure — and despite what may seem to be a rapid pace of discovery — it is fair to say that science has a long way to go — probably forever.

Scientists, who tend to be atheists, like to refer to the God of the gaps, a “theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.” The smug assumption implicit in the use of the phrase by atheists is that science will close the gaps, and that there will be no room left for God.

It seems to me that the shoe is really on the other foot. Atheistic scientists assume that the gaps in their knowledge are relatively small ones, and that science will fill them. How wrong they are.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness

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….

I previously addressed Landsburg’s claim about natural numbers, here; for example:

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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness

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 holding nothing 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.) Therefore, you don’t see “nothing”; you see an open hand, which appears to be empty. Nothing, by contrast, can’t be described in terms of an open hand or the absence of an object in the space above an open hand. 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, though not necessarily of energy) that exists only because there is something.

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 (a particular person) actually continues to exist, though not in a form that you would you would label with the name of the particular person. Here again, we have “nothing” (i.e., absence of a person) only because there was something. But we do not have nothing; there is still brain matter, which has assumed a different electrochemical state than before brain death. (This is not to say that the residue of a person is the same thing as the person. Nor is it to deny those wondrous things — persons and their many positive accomplishments — that emerge from the activity of the brain.)

Generally:

Nothing more can be said of nothing than that it is the alternative to something. 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 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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology

Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology

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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology

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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing

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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
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?
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 Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Mysteries: Sacred and Profane

A philosopher named Jamie Whyte, about whom I have written before (“Invoking Hitler“), is the author of Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking. According to the publisher, it is a

book for people who like argument. Witty, contentious, and passionate, it exposes the methods with which we avoid reasoned debate…. His writing is both laugh-out-loud funny and a serious comment on the ways in which people with power and influence avoid truth in steering public opinion.

Bad Thoughts is witty — though “laugh-out-loud funny” is a stretch — and, for the most part, correct in its criticisms of the kinds of sloppy logic that are found routinely in politics, journalism, blogdom, and everyday conversation.

But Whyte is not infallible, as I point out in “Invoking Hitler.”  This post focuses on another of Whyte’s miscues, which is found under “Mystery” (pp. 23-26). Here are some relevant samples:

…Consider … the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Unity of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct entities — as suggested by ‘Trinity’. Yet each is God, a sinle entity — as suggested by ‘Unity’. The doctrine is not that each is part of God, in the way that the FM tuner is part of your three-in-one home stereo. Each is wholly God.

And there’s the problem. It takes only the most basic arithmetic to see that three things cannot be one thing. The doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity is inconsistent with the fact that three does not equal one.

Whyte goes on and on, but the quoted material is the essence of his “case” that the Blessed Trinity (Catholic usage) is impossible because it defies mathematical logic. What is worse, to Whyte, is the fact that this bit of illogic is “explained away” (as he would put it) by calling it a “mystery.”

I am surprised that a philosopher cannot accept the idea of “mystery.” Anyone who thinks for more than a few minutes about the nature of the universe, as Whyte must have done, concludes that its essence is beyond human comprehension. And, yet, the universe exists. The universe — a real thing — is, at bottom, a mystery. Somehow, the mysteriousness of the universe does not negate its existence.

And there are scientific mysteries piled on that mysteriousness. Two of those mysteries have a common feature: They posit the simultaneous existence of one thing in more than one form — not unlike the Blessed Trinity:

Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like “particle” and “wave” to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.

*   *   *

The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world” (or “universe”).

As Shakespeare puts it (Hamlet, Act I, Scene V), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or in your physics.

If Whyte wants to disprove the Blessed Trinity, he must first try to disprove the existence of God — a fool’s errand that I have addressed in other posts; for example:

A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)” (see the first section, “Atheism,” which inter alia addresses Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, which is summarized in this article by Krauss)

Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?

Steven Landsburg writes:

…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….

…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—and once they exist, all hell (or more precisely all existence) breaks loose: In The Big Questions I’ve explained why I believe the entire Universe is, in a sense, made of mathematics. (“There He Goes Again,” The Big Questions Blog, October 29, 2009)

*   *   *

The existence of the natural numbers explains the existence of everything else. Once you’ve got that degree of complexity, you’ve got structures within structures within structures, and one of those structures is our physical Universe. (If that sounds like gibberish, I hope it’s only because you’re not yet read The Big Questions, that you will rush out and buy a copy, and that all will then be clear.) (“Rock On,” The Big Questions Blog, February 8, 2012)

With regard to the first quotation, I said (on October 29, 2009) that

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 … ?

I admit to having said that without the benefit of reading The Big Questions. I do not plan to buy or borrow the book because I doubt its soundness, given Landsburg’s penchant for wrongheadedness. But (as of today) a relevant portion of the book is available for viewing at Amazon.com. (Click here and scroll to chapter 1, “On What There Is.”) I quote from pages 4 and 6:

…I assume — at the risk of grave error — that the Universe is no mere accident. There must be some reason for it. And if it’s a compelling reason, it should explain not only why the Universe does exist, but why it must.

A good starting point, then, is to ask whether we know of anything — let alone the entire Universe — that not only does exist, but must exist. I think I know one clear answer: Numbers must exist. The laws of arithmetic must exist. Two plus two equals four in any possible universe, and two plus two would equal four even if there were no universe at all….

…Numbers exist, and they exist because they must. Admittedly, I’m being a little vague about what I mean by existence. Clearly numbers don’t exist in exactly the same sense that, say, my dining-room table exists; for one thing, my dining-room table is made of atoms, and numbers are surely not. But not everything that exists is made of atoms. I am quite sure that my hopes and dreams exist, but they’re not made of atoms. The color blue, the theory of relativity, and the idea of a unicorn exist, but none of them is made of atoms.

I am confident that mathematics exists for the same reason that I am confident my hopes and dreams exist: I experience it directly. I believe my dining-room table exists because I can feel it with my hands. I believe numbers, the laws of arithmetic, and (for that matter) the ideal triangles of Euclidean geometry exits because I can “feel” them with my thoughts.

Here is the essence of Landsburg’s case for the existence of numbers and mathematics as ideal forms:

  • Number are not made of atoms.
  • But numbers are real because Landsburg “feels” them with his thoughts.
  • Therefore, numbers are (supernatural) essences which transcend and precede the existence of the physical universe; they exist without God or in lieu of God.

It is unclear to me why Landsburg assumes that numbers do not exist because of God. Nor is it clear to my why his “feeling” about numbers is superior to other persons’ “feelings” about God.

In any event, Landsburg’s “logic,” though superficially plausible, is based on false premises. It is true, but irrelevant, that numbers are not made of atoms. Landsburg’s thoughts, however, are made of atoms. His thoughts are not disembodied essences but chemical excitations of certain neurons in his brain.

It is well known that thoughts do not have to represent external reality. Landsburg mentions unicorns, for example, though he inappropriately lumps them with things that do represent external reality: blue (a manifestation of light waves of a certain frequency range) and the theory of relativity (a construct based on observation of certain aspects of the physical universe). What Landsburg has shown, if he has shown anything, is that numbers and mathematics are — like unicorns — concoctions of the human mind, the workings of which are explicable physical processes.

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. Numbers and mathematics are no more mysterious than other ways of describing things and manipulating information about them. But the information — color, hardness, temperature, number, etc. — simply arises from the nature of the things being described.

Numbers and mathematics — in the hands of persons who are skilled at working with them — can be used to “describe” things that have no known physical counterparts. But  that does not privilege numbers and mathematics any more than it does unicorns or God.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
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 Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Probability, Existence, and Creation: A Footnote
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life

An Explanation Is in Order

In two recent posts (“Libertarianism and Morality” and “Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote“) I make it a point to locate social morality in the beneficial social convention known as the Golden Rule, which arises from self-interest and empathy. This might come as a surprise to readers who are familiar with my deism (see this and this), my denunciation of strident atheism (see this, for example), and the high value I place on the Judeo-Christian tradition (see this, for example).

As a deist, I am not prepared to say that morality comes directly from God, about whose nature and involvement in the workings of the universe I am agnostic. I am prepared to say the following:

  • It is possible that there is a God who takes a “personal” interest in human beings and their doings.
  • Such a God could have endowed human beings with free will.
  • The Golden Rule, as a manifestation of free will, would therefore be God-given.
  • And the degree to which human beings abide by the Golden Rule could be one “test” (among others) by which God judges the worthiness of His creatures, individually and collectively.

The Atheism of the Gaps

Greg Perkins, writing at Noodlefood in 2008 (“Why the New Atheists Can’t Even Beat D’Souza: The Gap in Religious Thought“), criticizes Dinesh D’souza’s article, “Taking Aim at God, and Missing,” wherein D’souza essays a defense of the “God hypothesis.” There is much to criticize about D’souza’s argument, but Perkins — an Objectivist and therefore, I assume, an atheist — should have looked in a mirror before writing this:

…Dinesh D’souza continues his counters to “New Atheists” such as Christopher Hitchens. This time we find him saying that “Thanks to the astounding discoveries of modern science, I think the God hypothesis has a lot more going for it today than it did in the eighteenth century.”…

[H]istory is littered with examples of something “supernatural” being arbitrarily asserted as the explanation, only to be retracted later as our knowledge expanded….

In other words, science will explain all and nothing will be left to God. That is the import of Perkin’s post, at any rate. He does precisely what he accuses D’souza of doing; that is, “not knowing the answer to a puzzle” (the basis of existence) entitles Perkins “to go and make one up.” The gaps in scientific knowledge do not prove the existence of God, but they surely are not proof against God. To assert that there is no God because X, Y, and Z are known about the universe says nothing about the creation of the universe or the source of the “laws” that seem to govern much of its behavior.

If theists of D’souza’s stripe are guilty of assuming the answer they seek, atheists of Perkins’s stripe are equally guilty of the same thing. Both want to generalize from evidence whose limitations cannot be guessed at. “Unknown unknowns” dominate the mystery of existence.

This is my position:

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.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
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?
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 Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation

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.

Related reading:
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….

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
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?
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 Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence

Landsburg Is Half-Right

*     *     *

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

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

*     *     *

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?

Related posts:
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
Evolution and Religion
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
The Universe . . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery