October 23, 2010

Waiting for Godot in All the Wrong Places part Alef

Hatched by Dafydd

This post inaugurates -- I was tempted to type "christens" -- an unbounded series of brief posts exploring the ideas presented in a book published this year titled New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., a Jesuit priest and doctor of philosophy.

I have always been fascinated by the topic of teleology, the argument that observable coherence, coincidence, and order in the universe cannot be accidental; that the many coincidences are in fact synchronicities forming a design that implies a designer... in other words, a theistic deity. That is the overarching tack taken by Spitzer in this book; he uses contemporary physics to argue two essential points:

  1. The universe has a begining, which occurred a finite time ago.
  2. The sheer improbability that various physical constants of the universe would so arrange themselves, by random chance, as to make life of any kind possible implies instead a Master Designer creating the universe precisely to bring about life.

The teleological argument fascinates... and yet frustrates: The former because I am a true agnostic; I don't know whether God exists, but I accept that the question is fundamental to all ethics and morality; and the latter because every proof I have studied eventually flounders, and nearly all for the same reason. At some point, physics always gives way to metaphysics, accompanied by a glorious abandonment of all epistemology. In other words, at some point, every argument devolves into, "But of course that proves God exists, as any fool can see!"

Yes; any fool.

My problem is that I studied mathematics for many years, earning a B.A. and M.A. in the field... which means I have an intuitive grasp of the structure of mathematical syllogisms, lemmas, and theorems; when that structure is violated by some supposed proof, alarm bells go off inside my skull, and I begin writing circles and lines and paragraphs in the margins explaining why the putative "proof" has just gone phooey.

I just began reading, reaching page 25; as I peramulate and percolate through the book, I shall periodically drop a postcard into Big Lizards, giving my impressions of Spitzer's arguments. So far, all he has done is assert Point 1 above: That in the Standard Big Bang Model, the universe, including space and time, has a distinct beginning about 13.7 billion years ago (13.7 Ba or Ga, the nomenclature is in flux) -- which I certainly buy; that's what I was always taught it said. He also posits that in three different alternative Big Bang Models, the same Point 1 is also true; but I can say nothing so far, because I'm not familiar with these alternative models for the Big Bang, and we haven't journeyed far enough into the book for me to pass judgment.

We haven't yet gotten to Point 2, that the improbability of life-friendly physical constants implies a supernatural creator. That's the one I'm most interested in. (You can see how Point 2 depends critically upon Point 1: Time itself must be finite, because in infinite Time, any possibility, no matter how improbable, will occur.)

That's all for this post. Keep watching the skies, keep watching the skies!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 23, 2010, at the time of 4:34 AM

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The following hissed in response by: snochasr

As one without the prerequisite degrees, I look forward to your journey. You have already raised one question I consider significant. Evolutionists insist that 13.7 billion years is essentially infinite, sufficient at least for intelligent life to have arisen by mere happenstance. Your author seems to have the view that it is NOT long enough to make "us" possible. Might we anticipate an actual mathematical definition of this probability?

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2010 5:58 AM

The following hissed in response by: Nerys Ghemor

As for myself--I am a believer, but I am none too crazy about attempts to prove anything about God by material/scientific means. That's a quick way to end up with abuses like "intelligent design theory" (which wastes a perfectly good name on some very trashy "science"). The way I look at it is this: if I believe that God is the source of all truth, then why should I feel threatened by anything that science could discover? Does the age of the Earth or the nature of our evolution bother me? No. Would it bother me if I found out, for instance, that there are other universes beyond our own? No. If confirmed according to the proper scientific method, in which independent verification is made devoid of ideology, then it is simply truth about a part of our experience. But not all of our experience. Science simply tells us what's out there, what we could do. It doesn't assign value or purpose, or tell us why we shouldn't do things. (Though to be sure: it can tell us what will happen if we split the atom, but science itself doesn't tell us which uses are appropriate.)

So I would submit that if you are looking for a proof of God through science, then you will inevitably find yourself disappointed. Either science will change and make the person who proposed that idea appear as though he/she only believes in a God-of-the-Gaps, and that his or her conception of deity is being progressively stripped of power to the point of ridiculousness--or you will run into the fact that science can only tell us about a specific set of possibilities in our lives, and that it is inherently unable to delve into the realms of meaning and emotion. And if you choose to admit nothing but physical evidence, then that inherent limitation will force you to an agnostic conclusion (if you are intellectually honest, as opposed to claiming that "science UNEQUIVOCALLY PROVES there is no God" which is intellectually dishonest for the same reason as claiming that science proves God is).

I do think that science, and in particular the laws of mathematics, can be quite revealing. And I do believe that the intricacy of Creation does give us a lot of food for thought about the nature of God. (It certainly makes one think about the need for an omnipotent/omniscient deity, given the mind-boggling number of variables involved in designing the world that we are trying to understand, with SO much on all macro- and micro-levels.) But those observations are not proof.

It is what I call "experiential evidence"--the sort of thing that you cannot transfer to another human being (and even if you could, it would still lose at least some degree of immediacy...hmm...good sci-fi premise there...). You can describe a feeling or a dream/vision, and you can hook someone up to an EEG and see the neurons firing, or open up their skull and prod a certain part of the brain, and you can observe these things, but that still tells you nothing about what it really means. It is a different mode entirely, one whose laws are felt rather than scientifically observed. Our culture is not one that really wants to go into that mode or acknowledge it as real these days. And without that, it is no wonder a "proof" will not occur.

Anyway, sorry about the filibuster here, but I just wanted to throw out some food for thought--that your author might not be taking an approach that is going to work, even from the perspective of one who DOES believe.

The above hissed in response by: Nerys Ghemor [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2010 8:09 AM

The following hissed in response by: BlueNight

So cosmology suggests mathematically that this universe did not need a creator for a big bang. Cosmology also suggests several other things mathematically, among them:

This spacetime universe is a "brane" which exists in a pseudospacetime with infinite other branes, and when they "bump," the kinetic energy causes a big bang in the two that "bump".

This spacetime universe is a three/four/ten dimensional "shadow" of a more-dimensioned mathematical reality.

These concepts are mind-bogglingly vast in their scope, and yet hard-line Atheists, the ones who say an Abrahamic God is impossible, don't seem to be asking what "life" would be possible in such pseudospaces or hyperrealities. (Perhaps God is infinity divided by zero on a mathematical hyperreality, for example.) They keep ignoring that however the universe/multiverse is constructed, eventually they hit "turtles all the way down."

I just know that our moon almost perfectly covers the sun during a solar eclipse, and if that isn't suggestive, I don't know what is.

The above hissed in response by: BlueNight [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2010 9:32 AM

The following hissed in response by: Captain Ned

I'll stick with Oolon Colluphid's four books on the subject.

The above hissed in response by: Captain Ned [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2010 11:12 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Evolutionists insist that 13.7 billion years is essentially infinite, sufficient at least for intelligent life to have arisen by mere happenstance. Your author seems to have the view that it is NOT long enough to make "us" possible. Might we anticipate an actual mathematical definition of this probability?

It's important not to stir different concepts together higgledy-piggledy.

First, evolutionary biologists consider the time required to evolve human beings to be a heck of a lot less than 13.7 Ga; that's the age of this entire universe!

The age of the Earth is much, much less, more on the order of 4.5 billion years; and there does not appear to have been any form of life, even proto-viral, for about the first billion years. Thus, the earliest life on Earth would have formed ca. 3.5 Ga.

(As to why it formed then and not earlier, it's possible the Earth was still too hot, or too volatile, or that it just takes a lot longer for abiogenesis -- creation of life from non-life -- to occur than it takes for life to evolve once it exists in its most primitive form.)

Second, modern evolutionary theory does not envision species arising through "mere happenstance;" rather, the particular mix of chemicals and energy found on the Earth is acted upon by the physical laws of the universe, and this drives evolution.

The evolution of life on this planet is no more "happenstance" than the fact that compressing 235-U to sufficient density will produce fission: Evolution is a physical property of life (under some circumstances), just as fission is a physical property of Uranium (under some circumstances).

Third, it's not "evolutionists" or even most physicists who believe that the brief age of this universe (only 13.7 billion years) implies a Creator; it's a small minority. I am pretty sure a much larger group of physicists reject the argument on grounds similar to what I will write in my next post; while the overwhelming majority refuses to hold an opinion, believing there are too many uncontrolled variables to draw any conclusion at all.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2010 2:46 PM

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