The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
In 1982 I was a biology major at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia Arkansas when the legislature of that state passed and the Governor signed into law a bill mandating the teaching of Biblical "creationism" whenever evolution was mentioned in public schools.
As someone raised in the Southern Baptist tradition this put me in a rather unique position. At first I defended my church. Then, seeing through the lies and deception they actually preached, I became a hard Atheist and opposed them- loudly. Until I began to see the same unquestioning fervor in the faces of my new friends. I came to the regrettable conclusion that many (but not necessarily most) Atheists are Atheists for the same reason many Theists are Theists. They just want to be.
I decided there and then that I would make up my own mind and recognize no authority above my own, be it Theistic or Atheistic or anything in between, when it came to what I believe and accept what ever answer I was led to by the best honest investigation I could make as a layman whether I found it attractive or not- and I meant it. This is the culmination of that effort (due to its length I had to post it in two parts). I make only one assumption; that the world is logical simply because I can only think logically and things appear to behave logically. But ultimately even that is a matter of faith because I can not prove it is logical. Part one:
The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
A Layman's Response To The Ongoing Debate Between Science And Theology (from the book Toward A New Religion copywrite 2004)
Does God exist? Theists say yes. Atheists say no. Whom am I to believe?
Traditionally, the cosmos has been explained as a deliberate act of creation by God, but if we resort to religion as an answer to the puzzle of existence then which one do we chose? Most faiths rely on the assertion that they were revealed to men called “prophets” to be given to the people they served. However, anyone can make claims about religious knowledge so how can the average person tell if what they say is true? This is the question we will now address.
Usually people making such claims point to supernatural signs they say cannot be explained scientifically. But how do we know if something really is a “miracle” or something else we don’t yet understand? Just because something cannot be explained naturally now does not mean that it can not be explained in the future. In fact history is full of events that were first thought to be acts of God, which later turned out to be of natural origin. Besides even if something is never explained that does not mean that it doesn’t have a natural explanation only that one has never been found.
To see how an occurrence might have been misinterpreted as miraculous and what it could have led to lets examine one of the most famous of all. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead; the central event in Christianity the religion I, myself, was raised in (there is some debate over whether Jesus really lived but for the sake of argument we will assume he did). In the story Jesus is beaten, crucified, and left for dead by the Romans but did he actually die on the cross? Death by crucifixion took days but the Gospel accounts say he succumbed after only a few hours. Why?
One theory says he didn’t die on the cross but “swooned”. This is consistent with the injuries described by the Bible. Some people who suffer severe trauma have a condition called pericardial tamponade where the sac surrounding the heart fills with fluid muffling the beat and restricting how much blood it can pump to the rest of the body. It doesn’t take long for the victim to lose consciousness and appear dead, especially to those untrained in medicine. The treatment for such a condition begins with relieving pressure on the heart by draining the fluid in the pericardium. Physicians today use a shunt but a spear point would suffice.
If he was taken down after this and his body spirited away as the story suggests (after all the Romans supposedly posted a guard at his tomb to prevent his followers from stealing the corpse) he could have briefly revived later. To his disciples it may have looked as if he really did come back from the dead and was, indeed, the promised messiah. Later other stories of the miraculous simply clustered around this one leading to the establishment of one of the world's great religions. There is no proof this event happened this way (or that it happened at all) but the fact remains if it did occur and it can be explained naturally it shows Christianity is false- doesn’t it?
No. Maybe the account is accurate and Jesus really is the Son of God. Just because someone else "swooned" doesn't mean Jesus did. However, the lack of evidence for it coupled with an alternative explanation of the details of the story (true or not) compels me to doubt it.
This doubt doesn’t mean we can dismiss the existence of miracles as a sign of the truth of this or any other religion though. Maybe a naturalistic explanation for a particular event can’t be found because there is none to be had. But if that’s true then what religion are we to accept? They all claim miracles, but they all can’t be true and any doubt thrown on the miraculous in one religion could cast doubt on all religions, for if it is possible to explain one miracle might it not be possible to explain all of them?
To substantiate any claim of the miraculous one would have to show that no materialistic explanation is possible by demonstrating an event both happened and is totally incompatible with the laws of nature as we understand them and I, at least, have never come across such a proof. This doesn’t mean divine intervention isn’t real only that stories that invoke it can’t be relied upon. Without some sort of personal revelation by God in some form that would leave absolutely no doubt as to its truth, I have no reason to accept the claims of any religion, but that does not mean that I could not resort to God apart from religion as an explanation based on other reasons. A skilled magician, after all, may be able to duplicate a supposed miraculous event, but it would be wrong for him to conclude from that, that God does not exist because it does not follow that there is no God even if there is no reason to believe in miracles.
Other scholars reject that line of thought, however. Quoting the great Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker says that without evidence an Atheistic (no God) philosophy is the only reasonable conclusion. He says, for example, we cannot prove there is not a tea pot in orbit around Mars but it would be ridiculous to even consider that such an object could possibly be circling that planet so we rightly don’t believe it. The problem I have with that point of view is that it is itself an unsubstantiated assertion about the “true” nature of the world. That it is composed of a "material" called "energy", that exists objectively without the need to be observed (though most admit they don't know what energy is), and thus there is absolutely no need of God and it makes that claim without proof that it is in fact true. If we can only legitimately come to conclusions that follow from valid premises or observations then Atheism must offer evidence that there is no God not just show a lack of evidence for It because that is not proof against It. And you can’t honestly criticize others for making untestable statements then turn around and do the same thing yourself (such as advocating the objective existence of energy for the only way to know the results of any test of it requires seeing them). So even though we have no reason to think a tea pot is orbiting Mars and can honestly say we don't, we can’t say there isn’t one either and all we can do is admit we have no knowledge of such a thing. Likewise, for now we can’t say there is no God and should, therefore, take an Agnostic position. But Atheism expressed as an absence of belief and not as an active disbelief is legitimate.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal, however, held that even without “proof” it is better to believe in God than not believe because if you believe and are right you will be rewarded but if you are wrong you will not have lost anything. But if you don’t believe and are wrong you risk eternal damnation. So it is better to believe than not. This is called “Pascal’s wager” and on the surface sounds reasonable but, again, which religion do we accept? Pick the wrong one and you could still go to hell. How to choose? Well first you have to establish that God even exists. How do we do that?
There are, in fact, at least three philosophical arguments for the existence of God. The first, called the ontological argument, also offers a clarification of just what we mean by the word. It is the definition of God and it includes existence as a necessary part of It.
The most familiar form of the argument was constructed by St. Anselm of Canterbury. It states that the idea of God is the greatest possible concept that there is. Nothing greater may be thought of and because of this God must of necessity exist because an object that exists merely as an idea in the mind is not as great as an object that exists on it’s own accord in reality. If God does not exist, then It is merely an idea and thus not as great as something that does exist. This is a contradiction. God cannot be the greatest concept and be only an idea while another object, say a rock, not only exists as a concept but also in reality. Therefore for It to be the greatest concept imaginable, existence would have to be a property of God, for surely God is greater than a rock. (As we shall see later on, postulating existence as a property of God also avoids another argument against It which asks that if the universe requires a creator, then shouldn’t the creator require a creator and so on and so on into infinity because it asserts that God is contingent on nothing but Itself. In other words just because the universe may need a creator it doesn’t follow that God requires one.)
This argument has been attacked almost since its inception and the first formal criticism of it is, I believe, just as faulty as the argument itself.
If it is assumed that existence necessarily follows from perfection (since that which is perfect is greater than that which is flawed), then one could assume that any object perceived as perfect in the mind should also exist outside of it, but this is absurd. A perfectly symmetrical and proportional mountain in my mind does not reflect a real one in the world. Mountains are not perfect cones. Because there is no perceived correlation between perfection in the mind and the existence of an object in reality the argument is judged false. Just thinking of something doesn’t make it real (which is why we don’t seem to share our world with gnomes, dragons, and unicorns).
Another refutation was formulated by Immanuel Kant. He believed that existence could not be considered to be an attribute of any concept saying, for example, that a sum of money in the mind, say $20.00, has exactly the same properties and the same value as real money. The concept of it does not change in any way whether it is held in my mind or in my hand (this is especially true in our modern cashless society where wealth is measured in credits and debits on a computer screen). So, Kant says, concepts are not enhanced at all by the inclusion of existence as a property because if you could think of something like money as being you could also think of it as not being without contradiction and the idea of God is no different.
This criticism, I think, fails for the same basic reason as the first. It assumes the concept of God is subject to the same limitations as ordinary concepts, but it could be said that the idea of God is not ordinary. A perfect mountain in my imagination is still subject to the laws of physics and geology but God as the greatest conceivable concept is not subject to anything but Itself.
A good example of a concept that may not be considered to be bound by the same rules as a lesser one is the universe as a whole. Consider entropy. If you recall from our discussion earlier if we assumed that “new” energy could be created from nothing we should also suppose that there would probably be an equal chance “old” energy would be destroyed at the same rate keeping the total energy level in the universe constant. In fact the apparent conservation of matter and energy has been well established by scientists and is referred to as the laws of thermodynamics.
The first law says that neither matter nor energy may be created or destroyed only changed in form. The second says that energy flows in a definite direction. Heat from a flame will flow into a block of ice melting it but we never see heat flow from the colder ice back into the flame making it hotter. Energy levels tend to equalize and once that equilibrium has been achieved energy flow stops (for this reason philosophers call entropy the “arrow of time”).
The universe as a whole, however, is not the same as the systems within it. The total energy level of the universe will probably never change. There is no apparent input from outside of it nor is any energy released. All the energy that has ever existed still seems to be a part of it. In this way the universe as a whole is different from the subsystems within it, which we know can gain or lose energy.
Likewise, the concept of God is not the same as other lesser ones, which may be contingent upon It because, as pointed out earlier, God is not contingent upon anything but Itself. So just as having 3 sides and 3 corners is necessary to the idea of a triangle, a logical, intrinsic reason for being may be necessary to the idea of God, but how could we know? It would be a mistake to assume that existence is an attribute of God before we have reason to believe that God does in fact exist, but the possibility of existence being a necessary property of God would not, itself, violate the principal of composition because the idea of such a fundamental cause upon which everything else depends creates no contradiction between the whole and it’s parts. The Ontological argument fails, therefore, as an argument but it may succeed as an explanation.
Another so-called “proof” of the existence of God is the teleological argument and its proponents say that because the world shows evidence of order and design there must be a designer. This usually takes the form of the watch implies a watchmaker analogy originally formalized by the British theologian William Paley and it is the main weapon used by Christian fundamentalists in their misguided war on Darwinism. It states that if a relatively simple mechanical device, such as a watch, requires a watchmaker, then surely something more complex, such as a living cell, must require an intelligent designer, i.e. God. The watch is said to be “irreducibly complex” because it has gears, an escapement mechanism, a dial, and hands to indicate the time. If any of these parts are missing it will not function so it cannot be made any simpler. The cell, they say, is the same. Without all it’s parts it can’t reproduce so it must have been created whole in the beginning.
The doctrine of irreducible complexity depends on the notion that things were intended to perform from the beginning in the same way we see them performing now. To illustrate the fallacy of this line of reasoning let’s consider something even more complicated than a watch.
A motorcycle has two wheels, an engine, handle bars, and a chain drive. Eliminate any of these parts and it will not function as a self propelled motor vehicle, therefore, it is irreducibly complex as a motorcycle. But if you remove the engine, lighten the frame, and add pedals you will have created a human powered machine that is irreducibly complex as a bicycle. Taking away the chain and pedals will leave you with a child’s scooter. Next remove one wheel and extend the handle bars and you have a wheel barrow. Get rid of the handles and stand the remaining wheel upright on it’s axle and you have a potter’s wheel. Finally, lay it on its side and increase the size of the axle to match the diameter of the wheel and you will have a trunk like cylinder similar to those fashioned from trees and used by ancient engineers to move the heavy stones used to construct the great monuments of the world such as the pyramids of Central America.
Now going forward in time you can see by a succession of simple modifications and additions we have progressed from a natural object like a tree to a complicated machine and by the creationist’s own logic every step along the way can be thought of as being “irreducibly complex” as to how they are used at any particular stage. Obviously things do not have to be created whole at the beginning to do the things we see them do now. I have to admit here I intentionally used an example that requires intelligent guidance similar to the watchmaker analogy to show the weakness of the argument using the creationist’s own methods but evolution needs no direction. As Stanley Miller showed, life could have arisen from multiple adaptations of previously existing chemical processes until they reached a point where they were able to replicate certain molecules naturally thus revealing this “argument” for the canard it is.
Some other creationists try to refute evolution directly on statistical grounds. A favorite argument is that there is just not enough time for the emergence of new species as described by Darwin. Imagine, they say, a chimpanzee at a typewriter. There are 26 letters in the english language and an almost infinite number of ways they may be combined, however, even they admit, given enough time it could, by sheer chance, reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare without a single mistake. But is it likely? Even if it typed at a rate of a letter a second without a break the time it would take for a single chimp to do that would exceed the age of the universe itself by about 350 times by the largest estimate I’ve seen (which I will not dispute) so such an event can be reasonably dismissed and any copy of Hamlet we happen to come across can safely be assumed to be the product of human labor. Given that there are thousands of genes in the average organism the chances that natural selection by itself could account for all the different species seems just as ludicrous. The fallacy lies in the premise that there is only one chimpanzee typing. If there were two, though, it would only take 175 times the age of the universe to reproduce Shakespeares works still a long time but nowhere near what it was. Four chimps would half the time again eight yet again and so on. All you need is enough chimps.
Likewise, if there are enough planets (and astronomy seems to suggest there may be millions of billions of them) the odds of evolution by natural selection being able to explain the myriad life forms on one, Earth, are not only well within reason they actually favor it. There is only a 1/36 chance that a lone person rolling a pair of dice will get a 2 on just one throw but if there are a hundred players the odds are greater that at least one of them will get a 2 than no one will even if they are all limited to a single toss. The advocates of these arguments are not stupid they are perfectly aware that statistics does not support their contentions leaving me with no choice but to conclude that this is a deliberate attempt to deceive their audience in order to advance their beliefs.
In fact that natural selection may provide a mechanism for what appears to be deliberate design to arise spontaneously out of disorder may easily be illustrated mathematically by what is referred to as the Fibonocci sequence (named after Leonardo Fibonocci who discovered it while studying population growth in rabbits). The sequence itself is very easy to understand. It basically is a series of numbers that increase in a pattern that is based on the addition of two previous numbers. It goes like this; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc... As you can see if we start with 1 the next digit will also be 1 because 0+1=1. The following number equals 2 since 1+1=2. Then, moving on down the line, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, and so on.
But the Fibonocci sequence is not limited to the realm of pure mathematics. It may also be found in the very architecture of living things. It can be seen in the spiral of a sea shell and the curve of a ram’s horn though the best example is probably the way the leaves are arranged around the stalks of some plants. They follow the sequence because that allows each one to gather sunlight without being in the shade of another one higher up. Plants with irregular distribution patterns tend to die out because the leaves on top, which are the only ones not in shadow, cannot, by themselves, produce enough food for it to sustain itself. The ones that are able to survive and reproduce are those plants that display the pattern, in this case a five pointed star when seen from above (other plants with more leaves display patterns based on different parts of the sequence). It takes three clockwise descending revolutions around the stalk, passing five other leaves (not counting the first), to reach the next one that is in line with the starting point. Going counter clockwise, however, the same number of leaves are passed in only two rotations. This gives us the Fibonocci sequence 2, 3, 5. The first two digits being the number of revolutions in either direction and their sum being the number of leaves passed. This highly mathematical order arises naturally without any need of intelligent guidance.
A contemporary version of the argument, intelligent design, which tends to but doesn’t necessarily oppose evolution attempts to get around criticism like this by looking to, among other things, the delicate balance of the basic forces in the universe itself; concluding that the cosmos must have an architect because the odds of such a system emerging by itself are so microscopic they may be dismissed entirely. For instance, if the “strong” force were less potent the “weak” force would overtake it and atoms would disintegrate almost as soon as they are formed and the elements and the life that depends on them could not exist as we know them. Likewise if gravity were any stronger the universe would only be able to expand a little before collapsing in on itself leaving no time for life to develop. The only logical conclusion we can come to, they say, is that the world is purposely designed for intelligent life.
Of course, as before, this assumes that this is the only possible universe but there is no guarantee that is the case nor that every potential cosmos must provide conditions compatible with life just because ours does. In fact because of the narrow parameters in which life flourishes most other universes, if they exist, probably are barren. So this may just be one of a small number of worlds that just happen to be conducive to life.
Proponents of creationism may counter that there is no evidence of other such worlds (conveniently forgetting they have don’t have any supporting their position either) but I have more reason to accept multiple universes (as long as they don’t involve decoherence) for the simple reason other worlds don’t result in contradiction and, as I hope to show later, divine intervention does.
No matter how astronomical the odds are against it as long as they don’t equal zero an infinite number of possible universes over the course of an eternity could, by themselves, produce intelligent life many, many times over. This does not mean that the laws that allow such a chance are not contingent upon God, though, only that design or what we take to be design in and of itself is not proof of God. It may very well be that God set up the laws of nature like this in order to allow the universe the potential to evolve as we know it (wouldn’t a smart watchmaker build a self-winding time piece so he wouldn’t be bothered with having to constantly maintain it?). Such a view has been taken in the past and is called Deism.
As a proof the argument fails but teleology may be able to account for man’s awareness of God even if his understanding of It has been distorted by time and tradition.
One of the most difficult problems philosophers have ever studied was proving the existence of other minds outside their own. We can be sure of our own consciousness but what about self-awareness in others?
It would be nice if I could relate that the answer had been found but I cannot. The fact is the problem has not been solved nor is it likely to be. The closest anyone has ever come, in my opinion, is a British mathematician named Alan Turing.
Turing was trying to determine how one could tell if a computer was sufficiently sophisticated to be considered intelligent and, therefore, conscious. Known as the Turing test it involves a human judge that is isolated from both another human and the computer to be tested. The judge submits a series of questions to both man and machine and if he cannot tell which answers he receives came from the machine and which came from the other person the only logical conclusion he could come to would be that both were intelligent and self aware. (We unconsciously conduct this test ourselves all the time. We never ask others formal questions to determine whether or not they are sentient in casual settings, but we can still distinguish between self awareness in people and the absence of it in most other life forms.)
The recognition of pattern is one of the most basic characteristics of consciousness. Psychologists have determined that our sense of beauty arises from the appreciation of form and symmetry. Rhythm in music, rhyme in poetry, form in sculpture, all instill in us a sort of awe, sometimes to the point of being almost hypnotic. Even the most abstract paintings display subtle patterns that can induce the same feelings we sometimes experience when looking at a particularly beautiful sunset or mountain vista.
The association of order with intelligence and the recognition of order in the world would, it seems to me, naturally lead early men and women to conclude that a supreme mind, similar to their own, created the universe. Why else would they subscribe otherwise random events (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc...) with angry purpose? Even polytheistic cultures tend to assert a hierarchy of gods and spirits descending from a single creator. There is some historical evidence that I believe supports this hypothesis (although it does seem to be tainted by the effects of myth). One is found in the 19th psalm of the Hebrew Bible “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.” Then in the Book of Exodus, which recounts the legend of Moses’ encounter with God in the form of a bush that burned without being consumed. Moses dared to ask God It’s name. The simple reply? “I AM.” The same foundation of the self we all share. Another example comes from the Hindu Rig-Veda (a polytheistic religion): “In the beginning was the self alone in the form of a person who, looking around, saw nothing but himself”. Then, as in the Bible, that self, that mind which the Hindu’s call Brahma created the cosmos. The similarities between these two passages as well as those from other faiths leads me to this conclusion; an intuitive origin of a spiritual world view, distorted by history and (mis)guided by simple philosophy (possibly aided by the ceremonial ingestion of hallucinogenic plants?) is inherent in our awareness, this offers a better explanation than the religious assertion of divine revelation, like that in the story of Moses, or the atheistic position that belief in God arose from man’s fear of death.
Saying that religion arose as a panacea to mask the dread that followed from mans discovery of his own mortality is, in my opinion, just a lazy way to dismiss something you don’t agree with. One could just as easily say that atheists deny God because it frees them from the moral restrictions of most religions but that would be equally wrong (natural selection may favor “moral” behavior simply because cooperative societies are more successful than uncooperative ones, look at the bees and ants). It may apply to a few isolated cases but I find it hard to believe that so many religious martyrs, trying to avoid death, would have willingly faced the gruesome tortures and methods of executions they did for nothing more than wishful thinking. It is more than replacing a religious dogma for a secular one, however, it is bad logic and insulting to all the intelligent men and women of the world who hold these beliefs whether you or I agree with them or not. It is quite possible the concept of immortality arose from an intuitive realization of an inherent stability of self-awareness, similar to that that may have lead to a belief in God (recently some neurologists, such as Michael Persinger of Laurentian University Ontario, have described what they believe to be an area of the brain that predisposes us to religious thought and I do have to admit this does make some sense because programming such as this could have arisen out of a sub-conscious recognition of what our ancestors took to be design, which was evolutionarily necessarily to be able to anticipate events in order to survive them, and, if true, may even actually someday prove to be evidence in favor of this model.)
Spiritualism may have begun in early man as a consequence of pattern seeking inducing a vague feeling of unease, somewhat akin to that of being watched even though no one else is around. That simple feeling could have given rise to the ritual appeasement of those spirits in nature and ultimately to formal ceremony and religion. Now if God does exist the discovery of that fact by primitive cultures could rightly be considered one of the greatest flukes in history. If, however, that belief arose out of a subconscious recognition of what we perceive as design, its development is more understandable and a Deistic view of the world more plausible since the world appears to be filled with patterns and cycles that can be understood and predicted.
Classical Deism holds that God caused the universe to exist as an act of will but chooses not to act in it but rather established the laws that it operates by naturally. This theology transcends the problems posed by the concept of a God that must occasionally intervene in the operation of the world through miracles in order to keep it developing in the desired direction, but it is not a convincing proof of the actual existence of God. In order to do that it must be shown that the universe could not explain its own origin leaving God as the only alternative which consequently is the province of the third argument.
There are several variations on the cosmological argument but the most common is based in cause and effect. Stated simply, it argues that for every event there must be a cause and that that cause must itself have a cause which also must be preceded by a cause and so on and so forth back in time to an ultimate first cause. It is this first cause that philosophers of religion like St. Thomas Aquinas identified as God, the uncaused cause or prime mover of everything that has unfolded since.
David Hume criticized this argument, indicating that if we assert that God requires no cause we have no basis for assuming that the universe must have one. Hume’s point here, however, depends on the notion that causes must be external to their effects. The ontological argument’s concept of necessary existence, however, clearly states that God does not need to rely on something else to explain It because not being contingent on something else is not the same as having no cause. The requirement that a triangle has 3 sides “causes” it to also have 3 corners, because those lines must meet eventually. This “effect” arises naturally from the definition of a triangle and is intrinsic to it. Likewise, God’s reason for being could arise naturally from It’s own definition. So the argument does not exempt God from causes. It merely says that if It exists it is due to the internal consequences of It’s own definition. In other words, God is not uncaused but is, in fact, It’s own cause.
Besides, even though it is true that Hume showed that the concept of cause and effect could not be proved absolutely, he did not prove that it was false either. To throw it out because its absolute validity has not been shown is not, in my opinion, wise. In fact, the advent of the continuum in relativity theory seems to me to provide a mechanism through which causality could operate that Hume’s 18th century Newtonian view of isolated matter existing in absolute space and absolute time could not. Therefore, I think that it is reasonable to assume that cause and effect is a legitimate idea (though we may have to modify it’s definition) and if that assumption is made for one thing it must be extended to all things to which it may apply unless there is a compelling reason to make an exception and that includes the possibility that God is the cause of the universe.
The Big Bang seems to lead to the conclusion that the cosmos did have a beginning, but what if it turns out that it oscillates. A universe that goes through phases of expansion and contraction may have always existed. Or what if ours is just one of an infinite number of universes being born in a Big Bang and expanding forever isolated from each other through all eternity? Would a cosmos with no beginning need a prime mover?
I believe that logic suggests that it may because simply pushing things back, one after another, without end is just a linear version of a circular argument. Philosophers who support this view say if the cosmos has no identifiable point of origin and there is no discernible link between existence and non-existence then the question, “how can something come from nothing?”, is misleading and meaningless (personally I’m suspicious of this position because if the universe cannot explain itself and we are not allowed to frame our inquiries in this fashion we have, by default, assumed a mystical world where anything is possible but, of course, if a common element between the two can be found this particular criticism itself may be dismissed as invalid and we may legitimately ask the question in this way).
But even if things in a system do go back infinitely in time what explains the system itself? Why should it exist at all? The universe may have always existed but if it is logical it must have a logical reason for being. The question, it seems to me, could, for the time being, be rephrased- “What is it about nothingness that keeps it from being absolute?”, or, “Why is there something instead of nothing?”
Assume that the Earth has always existed just as it is now. In such a world there would always have been life but life is dependent on the planet on which it lives. The planet may exist without life, and many of them do, but life could not exist without an Earth to grow on, therefore even though they are equal in age, one is still contingent upon the other and nests within it. Also because the organisms that make up the ecology of that world are made of the same substance as the planet itself we can say that they come from it (that is they share a common element so if we can find a similarly common characteristic between existence and non-existence we can say whatever the basic stuff of the world is it, too, came from nothing without making a meaningless statement). Infinity does not excuse explanation. So, likewise, might not the universe (because it cannot explain itself) be contingent upon a God (which for some reason we don’t yet understand does Itself comes from nothing) even though it may be co-eternal with God?
The last criticism of the cosmological argument I want to talk about is based on how the word “universe” is defined. It says that if the cosmos consists of everything that is, then there is nothing outside of it that could have created it. The argument then goes even further by saying that the universe consists of only physical phenomena. It seems quite obvious to me, however, that this is just a case of circular reasoning that assumes knowledge about the universe we do not have. For it to be valid we would have to know all the contents of the cosmos in order to exclude God as a part of it. The fact is, though, we don’t know every single thing that exists in the cosmos and the history of science itself is full of discoveries of things not previously known. Even if we assume the universe is just physical, asserting that nothing exists outside of it it is not tenable because we have no knowledge that only physical things can exist so we just don’t know that the universe is all there is. If one defines the cosmos as everything and that God exists; God is then part of the cosmos by that definition even if everything else is contingent upon It.
The cosmological argument says that if the cosmos (defined as what can be sensed as physical) cannot explain itself then an explanation must be found elsewhere. Einstein showed that the universe is a continuous energy field and the level of energy in it depends upon how much space curves overall. It may have a great deal of curvature locally but if the total curvature is zero because the energy of the outward expansion of the Big Bang is exactly balanced and canceled out by the force of gravity trying to pull it all back in then space/time is flat and there is no net kinetic energy to the universe as a whole. But how do I, a layman with no access to the instruments of an astronomer, know the Big Bang happened?
A clue can be found in a problem called Olbers’ paradox (named for a 19th century German astronomer named Heinrich Olber), which is a direct consequence of Newton’s theory of gravity. It asks why, if all the stars in the cosmos are attracted to each other is the night sky black? If Newton was right, it says, and the world has always existed as it is now, the sky should always be white! This is because all the stars would collapse together due to their mutual gravitational attraction unless there was something pulling them back and holding them in place. The only force known that could do that would be gravity pulling in the opposite direction which would mean that another star would have to be behind the first. But that star too would require a gravity source on the other side of it or it too would be pulled in and so on into infinity for no matter how many stars there were there would always have to be a balancing force on the other side so no matter where you looked (since the stars are scattered in all directions) your line of sight would always lay on a path that led to the surface of a star thus making the night sky white.
Now it could be argued that the further out a star is the dimmer it appears because the light from it spreads out spherically and dims at a rate equal to the cube of the distance so that we just don’t see them. However, the volume of space increases at the same rate the further out you go and that space could accommodate more stars (providing more light), which would be needed to maintain a static universe.
Or may be there are vast clouds of obscuring dust blocking our view. But if that was true then wouldn’t they start to glow white from an infinity of absorbing all that radiant heat?
The third possibility that all the stars are lined up perfectly behind one another is so unlikely as to be absurd.
So no matter what it may be concluded that if the cosmos is static and unchanging the sky should be filled with an infinite number of stars and appear white. Since the night sky is black the universe must be finite and if it is finite it cannot be static.
There are only two possibilities to explain a finite universe; one – all the stars are moving toward each other, which would imply that they all were created separately far apart from each other, which is unlikely; or two – all the stars are moving away from each other, which would mean that they were created together in the far ancient past. The Big Bang.
An argument presents itself here and some philosophers have used this to try to make the connection between existence and non-existence; that the world is nothing more than a fluctuation in a vacuum similar to a virtual particle. This argument attempts to make a connection between something and nothing (if matter is just a form of energy it, too, is equivalent to zero or nothing) but in my opinion it actually fails because it uses the term zero (0) incorrectly.
To see for yourself what kind of problems can arise from the improper use of zero in mathematics study the problem below:
start with the equation: “a=b”
next multiplying both sides by “a” gives us “a2 =ab”
subtract “b2” from both sides to keep it equal “a2-b2 =ab-b2”
then factor “(a+b)(a-b)=b(a-b)”
now divide both sides by “a-b” “(a+b)(a-b)/a-b=b(a-b)/a-b”
giving us “a+b=b.”
If “a=b” and we make “a” equal to 1, then “b” also equals 1, but the last line of the equation states “a+b=b” or substituting 1 for “a” and “b” then 1+1=1 or 2=1. How can this be? If you go back and check all the steps there are no apparent mistakes in operation. This non-sensical answer arises when the equation “(a+b)(a-b)=b(a-b)” is divided by “a-b.” Until this particular operation is performed there are no difficulties. In fact the resolution of the problem up to that point equals an absolute value of zero. If “a=b” and both are equal to 1 then “a-b” is the same as 1-1=0 but dividing any number, even zero itself, by 0 (0/0 as is done here) is not allowed because it can lead to absurdities just like this if your not carefull (that point is the sole purpose of this demonstration, it is not meant to "prove" anything else so any other translation is a misinterpretation).
The reverse is also true. Zero divided by any number always equals zero:
It would appear the proponents of this and similar arguments confuse 0 meaning “nothing” with 0 meaning “no difference”. In other words, it is ambiguous. It also violates a fundamental rule of mathematics, that is, zero divided by any number equals zero (half of nothing is still nothing).
In this case zero obviously means equilibrium, like a scale with 1 ounce of gold in each pan. The scale would read zero meaning no difference, but there would still be 2 ounces of gold. So I have no reason to conclude that uncertainty could explain the world “popping” into being like a virtual particle for the simple reason it seems that you must first have something to be uncertain about (besides even virtual particles need an infusion of pre-existing energy in order to become stable and thus “real” and where does that come from?). This doesn’t mean the universe isn’t flat. It very well could be, but this argument cannot be used to explain why it exists.
If the vacuum is a potential (as opposed to a kinetic) energy field and energy, regardless of form, is equivalent to matter (which is something) you can’t then assume the vacuum is the same as nothingness because, by simple logic, the vacuum must also be something (even “virtual” particles are dependent on the inherent uncertainty of a pre-existing continuum).
This argument violates the very foundations of the mathematics it is built upon (zero divided by two equals zero) and if you contradict the premise the conclusion you reach is invalid, so I have no reason to assume the cosmos, as described by this hypothesis, can explain itself. In fact as complexity appears to arise from simplicity, not the other way, around and a “flat” universe in which exactly half the energy in it is positive and attractive (gravity) and the other half is negative and repulsive (the outward expansion) seems to be the simplest possible physical description of the world I have no reason to assume a materialistic explanation can ever be found. This implies that there is something that must be pre-existent in order for the universe to exist. But what? And where did it come from? How can anything, even if it has no beginning in time, be created from nothing if such a thought violates the basic rules which led us here to begin with?
The root of the problem, in my opinion, lies in our common understanding of opposites. What most people consider to be opposites, actually have more in common than not. For instance, +2 and -2 are both integers and equidistant from the point of origin (0) on the number line. The only difference between them is one lies to the left of zero and the other to the right. Everything else about them is identical. In logic however, the opposite of +2 is not so precise.
The relationships that terms in a sentence have to each other are defined by the copula, the linking word(s) connecting subject to predicate. We link words either positively or negatively with “is” or “is not”. Therefore the opposite of +2 is that which is not +2. The color orange is not +2. A television is not +2. Therefore in this example anything that is not +2 is an opposite, but we commonly don’t think of them as such. In fact we usually don’t think of them at all. Negating only one property between two objects only tends to illustrate their closeness to each other. True opposites would have nothing in common. Taking this to its logical conclusion by applying the term “is not” to “being” as a whole we get an opposite of “no being” or absolute nothingness. A vacuum in physics, therefore, is not the same as nothingness. It is a potential energy field that may expand into a universe. This begs the question - “Why does the universe have the potential to exist?”
Logic says that for something to come from something else there must be something in common between them. In the syllogism it is the middle term that unites the major and minor premises and leads to a conclusion. A physical analogy might envision the energy passed from a cue ball to another ball, which is pocketed in a game of pool or in life it is the DNA passed from one generation to the next. So what does existence have in common with nothingness? Are they not complete opposites?
The answer is that they are both concepts. They are both ideas. That is what they have in common. It is the only thing they have in common. Nothingness is the only thing that may be thought of in completely negative terms except for the fact that it is a concept which is something. Nothingness is a concept, you’re thinking about it right now!
Whatever you can conceive, anything at all that exists, you may negate it without contradiction simply by putting a variation of the words “is not” in front of it. By applying these two words to the totality of existence then we should arrive at the logical definition of "absolute nothingness". But the concept of nothingness itself can still be contemplated. Which means that nothingness is not absolute. Which means nothingness is not nothing. In other words nothingness by itself is a contradiction!
David Hume once pointed out that no thing is demonstrable unless its contrary implies a contradiction. The concept of nothingness results in contradiction, a violation of the most basic rule of logic, Nothingness can not be an idea while also being devoid of properties since we could not have performed the operations in logic that allowed us to define it. Nor can nothingness be absolute and a conceivable concept as there would literally be nothing to think about. Absolute means just that. Absolute. No exceptions. Not even potential. But since it is conceptual we can say it obviously does have potential which demonstrates there is no such thing as a “state of nothingness” nor can there be. Just saying, “non-existence exists” is absurd.
The only way to avoid a paradox is to have a stable non-contradictory state of existence as opposed to non-existence. Further to avoid a non-sequiter that state must be a fundamental concept in nature as that is the only connection between being and nothingness and because of that link the one can come from the other. It may be a triviality but saying, “existence exists” has no inherent contradiction. Nothingness is unstable because it is self-contradictory, and that is why, I believe, there is something instead of nothing.
The world more and more does seem to be just numbers, values, and probabilities. A materialist may say that the number nine, for instance, must be expressed physically as stones or coins to exist but what is the physical? Albert Einstein proved that mass (matter) is just energy in particle form. Erwin Schrodinger discovered that matter could be manifested as a wave, which is energy in kinetic form. And Max Born showed that waves are just the probability distribution of a possible event (that is where the particle will actually appear when the wave collapses). That event is mathematical in nature and mathematics itself is nothing more than the rules that govern numbers which, apparently, are concepts that can only be seen by the mind.
Others say the numbers themselves are merely the products of material processes in the brain we impose on the world. But it seems to me this is just substituting one unsubstantiated statement for another. One can not assert the brain and its processes are material in order to prove the brain and its processes are material. The brain is made of tissue composed of cells built from molecules of atoms that are particles of matter which is energy...
My strongest objection against materialism, however, is that it is self-contradictory. Even though materialists claim to believe in reason they seem to advocate a form of mysticism when it comes to the problem of origins. For example they often say asking what happened before the Big Bang is misleading and meaningless because that implies time. Since time can not exist prior to the Big Bang, questions about an era of “pre-time” are non-sensical.
But if we now ask, “Well why was there a Big Bang?” The materialist answer is generally, “Because the laws of physics allow it.” If you then inquire as to where the laws of physics came from they will almost always respond that they synonymous, co-emerging with the universe. While sounding reasonable this explains very little. For the laws of physics to emerge they had to have had the potential to emerge. Without that potential they wouldn’t have emerged so didn’t the potential itself have to be pre-existent? We then beg another question, “Why is there potential?”
“Because of the laws of uncertainty”, the materialist asserts!
“But don’t you have to have something to be uncertain about?”
The question/response pattern that is beginning to emerge here seems to be that of infinite regress; axiom based on axiom based on axiom, which Gödel warned us about.
There is a story entitled the “Tower of Turtles” illustrating the problem with this type of reasoning. There are different versions of the tale but basically it goes like this:
A physicist is giving a public lecture about the structure of the universe as described by science when an elderly lady in the audience raises her hand.
“Yes?” he says rather annoyed at the interruption.
“Sir you have it all wrong. I know how the world really is!”
“Please enlighten us madam.”
“The universe sits on the back of an elephant which is riding on the back of a turtle.” She informs him.
“But what, pray tell, is the turtle riding on madam?” the physicist asks condescendingly.
“Ah! You can’t fool me sir! Its turtles all the way down!”
This amusing little story makes a serious point. If materialism is logical it must be able to explain itself- but it can’t (remember 0/2=0?).
I have little reason to believe materialism is true because all it offers is a circular argument, an unexplainable infinite regression, or a contradiction that suggests logic is an illusion built on a mystery. All the while ignoring the obvious question, “Why is there a 'tower of turtles' at all?”
But idealism (the view the world is basically nothing more than a concept) follows directly from the definitions of being and nothingness themselves and suffers from none of those problems. In fact because immaterial ideas in the form of numbers seem to be the building blocks of everything, including the atoms the brain is made of, idealism would seem a more logical belief. Even the seemingly chaotic can be described mathematically by fractal geometry. The connection between being and nothingness as mathematical concepts appears to me to be irrefutable.
Looking at the world as concept also seems to fit a general trend in the advancement of knowledge, that is generalizing and simplifying a field of knowledge to a succinct entity. In biology, the entire spectrum of life on earth has been reduced to one idea – DNA. Chemists have gone further by taking the very stuff DNA (as well as what everything else in the world is made of) and explaining it with the atom. Again, one simple theory that unites an entire science. Reducing the universe to a concept, based on its common relationship with nothingness as an idea, is the ultimate expression of this, it cannot be reduced any further.
So toss temporal causality out the window. There is no "arrow of time". Just redistributions of probability patterns. Our sense of "before" and "after" is just an illusion caused by our seeing the world in cross section.
Think logical contingency instead which has nothing to do with "time" (remember the story of the eternal Earth and the life upon it?). So if we could step out of our universe and look back on it I think it would look like a 3d sculpture that has a kind of eternal existence, thus avoiding the question, "What happened before the Big Bang?", rippled with probability waves and "fuzzy" spots that mark great clouds of uncertainty, with one "end" being the foundational laws of physics and the other the heat death of the universe where entropy no longer allows the exchange of energy necessary for an event to occur.
But this does not mean the world is determined.
It does not matter how a particular universe evolves. Since everything that happens within it is nothing more than a link in a chain of contingency of ever more fundamental rules leading back to the basic laws that describe that system in the broadest possible way. So it might be that, from the point of view of free observers, universes are instantaneous conceptions allowing them to see at once how they turned out. Our “before” and “after” perception of time would then be an illusion arising from our being “in” the world. For just as a three dimensional globe can not be reduced to a two dimensional map without distortion “past”, “present”, and “future” may exist simultaneously, so to speak, but look to us spread out in order to fit the way our brains perceive the world.
If you could trace the world’s logical development, like a lightening bolt it would form a jagged path where each articulation marks a point where each course in its evolution is “determined”. But though they are contingent on what “precedes” them, instead of occurring one after the other in time the events those points describe just happen all at once as a matter of chance.
A model such as this that is founded on the concept of contingency on a hierarchy of successively more general principles instead of the traditional notion of temporal causality is not inconsistent with free will and indeterminacy because the specific form a universe takes is not dictated by “God” and the choices we make still originate within us. For example perception of choice in sentient creatures permits free will which is a type of behavior explained by psychology which comes from biology that depends on chemistry which is based on atoms ultimately governed by the particular physics in this universe. So the cosmos is not determined because it could have gone off in a different direction at any point along the line and still have been obedient to these rules.
As to whats outside the universe? Another one based on different physics. In fact I think there are an infinity of universes, spreading out like a light cone, all based on different physics. But they do not divide but "grow" by incorporating into themselves waveshapes permitted by their probability curves; however, their vertices all converge on the same source of potential. Just because there may be an endless number of universes doesn't mean they don't share the same "reason for being". Thus the model predicts a multi-verse explaining why our particular universe has the properties it does without resorting to the problem plagued theory of decoherence.
Idealism was advanced formally by George Berkley, Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland, who based his views not on reason but on the apparent changing nature of the objects we experience. For instance, a tree up close would look differently from far away. Its size, color, and even shape may vary, but if the physical properties of an object seemed to change by the way they are looked at, the only constant was that they were in fact perceived. Berkley went on to extrapolate from that a philosophy of idealism summed up in the phrase “esse est percepi” (to be is to be perceived) that is opposed to the philosophy of materialism, which says that inanimate objects do in fact have an existence of their own apart from the mind.
If things exist only when they are observed then what happens to them when they are not observed? Naturally they would vanish because nothingness, by this definition, (which I am persuaded is the correct one) is the absence of perception. If, however, I am only aware of what I perceive myself how can I be sure I am not the sole observer? How do I know all this is not just a figment of my imagination? After all my own self consciousness is the only thing I have direct knowledge of. Why then should I elevate my sense experience above my reason which organizes and decodes the raw data they merely provide especially when the senses by themselves can be so easily fooled (for example optical illusions).
Logic, on the other hand, if done correctly will only lead to true answers. Notice how the middle term "B" occurs in both the major and minor premises thus connecting the minor term "A" to the major term "C" allowing for a conclusion. For a mistake to be made here the terms must contain incorrect information in the first place. And that information is supplied for the most part by imperfect senses.
A is B major premise
B is C minor premise
A is C conclusion
The extreme form of this doubt in the senses leads to a belief that you are alone and everything that you see is nothing but an illusion called solipsism. Unfortunately I cannot disprove it, as it applies to the world of the senses but, on the other hand, I have no reason to believe it either.
All the evidence I have says that for a concept to exist there must be a mind to consider it. For example I can have 9 coins in one hand and 9 stones in the other but where is the number 9 apart from what I hold? Aside from the fact they are “physical” I can sense no other property they have in common. But changing the quantity doesn’t seem to affect the physical characteristics of either group so that particular integer itself is not intrinsic to either group. 9 has attributes I can understand. It is the square of 3. It is an odd number. And I can distinguish those traits from; say, the number 8 which is even and not a square. So even though it is not tangible it is a thing in its own right. However, I can not point to anything in nature and say, “This is the number 9 by itself.” I can only think about it. It is an idea that exists only in the mind.
Further since minds like my own seem to be of the world and therefore contingent upon it, there must be another more fundamental mind not contingent upon the world, but rather the world upon It. That mind is likewise a concept, but one that is aware of Itself. Therefore, that mind, which is the fundamental awareness, must have existence as a property because being self-referential is part of Its definition per the ontological argument. And because It must also follow the same rules of logic as any other concept in order to avoid contradictions which would negate It’s own existence It may only be aware of and thus “cause” the existence of other concepts that are rational and orderly in accordance with the teleological argument (in other words the laws of nature arise naturally from the laws of logic and cannot deviate from them). Others may disagree but in a world of black holes, quantum uncertainty, and virtual particles, I really don’t think it is unreasonable to believe that there is a fundamental, rigidly logical consciousness that observes the workings of the universe, especially if such a mind not only explains the world but also explains Itself while its contrary (nothingness) results only in contradiction.
As long as the world I see and have outlined in these pages continues to unfold in a logical consistent manner I must assume it, and the rules it appears to operate by, to be real. Thus I can have some confidence in my senses as long as they subserve my reason not the other way around.
Applying Occam’s Razor to my next question, “Who was observing it before I existed?”, the idea of a Prime Observer is, I believe, the simplest most logical answer. The doubt I have for that which I sense does not apply because this form of idealism is based on reason, not experience so I can be confident the world outside my room will not disappear when I close my door. A famous limerick makes the point:
There was a young man who said God
Must think it exceedingly odd,
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the quad.
Dear Sir; your astonishment’s odd;
I’m always about in the quad,
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by yours faithfully, God.
Berkley’s empirical basis for his belief in idealism was, in my opinion, flawed. The apparent changes in objects may easily be explained by differences in perspective, which obey strict mathematical rules. But where I believe he failed with large objects, scientific idealism may succeed with the particles and waves. Since that is what the macroscopic world is made of it again follows that the universe as a whole is also nothing more than a concept (no matter how I look at it I come back to the same conclusion). Further as any concept requires a mind capable of perceiving it; so to the mind of God must of necessity be infinite if the universe is infinite in any way.
In this way God also keeps the cosmos orderly. An infinite observer transcending the “plane” in which the “material” universe exists has the benefit of showing how the conservation laws regarding, for example, particle spin (as well as other phenomena) could be maintained over vast distances because, just as a lookout on a high mountain peak surveying the valley below can simultaneously see two travelers miles apart before they ever get close enough to see each other, a Prime Observer could observe both particles at the same time. Even if said particles are on opposite sides of the universe a Prime Observer conception avoids the problems that arise from what is known as the “many worlds” theory by decoherence a materialistic hypothesis which holds that in order to avoid uncertainty whenever there is an event with more than one possible outcome the entire universe actually splits, like a wave in an interferometer, to accommodate every single one.
Considering the rapidity of nuclear interactions as well as the sheer number of them and the fact that there is more than a handful of probable outcomes for any event and all must occur separately, parallel universes (or as some people call it the “multiverse”) must be being created continuously at a rate that boggles the mind. Imagine tossing just one coin ten times. The first flip would produce two coins, the second would create four since each of those would have two possible outcomes.