Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In The Beginning

Like a good lawyer at trial, I would like to give and ask for a few stipulations:
  1. Matter exists.
  2. Energy exists.
  3. Information exists
  4. Rules exist
  5. Each of these exist at this moment as a result of cause and effect that stretches back either to some point, or to infinity.
  6. It is unlikely that we will ever know whether these first causes of each of these exist or if they are infinite.
  7. The human mind is incapable of grasping the idea that any of these came from nothing.
  8. The human mind is incapable of grasping the idea that the causes of these things are infinite.
Up until this point in this series of observations/stipulations, there is no advantage to either the God or no God side of the debate.

I suspect that one reason folks tend towards theism is that it is easier to imagine a spiritual world as infinite, and the finite world as being created by the spiritual. Some who have blogged on the no God side here have suggested that time began with the big bang, and that prior to this there was no time. This fits perfectly with the concept that in the spiritual realm there is no time, and thus infinity is no longer impossible to consider.

Also, state elsewhere but repeated here as appropriate to this post, it is impossible for us to grasp matter or energy as have a first cause without a spiritual dimension to "create" it, but it is even harder to imagine how information or rules were included in a godless explosion of matter and energy.

8 comments:

bernardo said...

"Matter exists."

Sure, it is unreasonable to doubt that. Any conclusion that anyone could ever come to - other than games of logic, such as math - assumes that we all see the same stuff and that it has certain properties.

"Energy exists."

Not quite as straightforward, but ok. Energy exists in the same way money "exists"; It may for all effects and purposes be equivalent to actual stuff, but how you measure it, how much of it you decide you have, and how much stuff it's worth, are not trivial things to determine. But yes, energy does exist, and it's not quite as made-up as money (but I like the analogy).

"Information exists."

What is information? Just patterns of stuff, or facts about their properties? In other words, is a book information, or is a book only information when it is read by an intelligent being? I'm guessing you mean the latter, in which case it might be more precise to say "facts, ideas, models, and opinions exist". Did they exist before intelligence existed?

"Rules exist."

Well, like with matter, it LOOKS like rules exist, and any conclusion you reach about the real world must assume that rules exist. So, like with matter, it's an assumption we're forced to make in order to move forward with any kind of inquiry and discovery.

"Each of these exist at this moment as a result of cause and effect that stretches back either to some point, or to infinity."

Sure.

"It is unlikely that we will ever know whether these first causes of each of these exist or if they are infinite."

You could say that. I'm a little more optimistic, but I'm just guessing, given how good we are at figuring out stuff.

"The human mind is incapable of grasping the idea that any of these came from nothing."

What do you mean? How do you kow this?

"The human mind is incapable of grasping the idea that the causes of these things are infinite."

What do you mean? How do you kow this? Are you saying I am incapable of really meaning it when I say "Stuff has always been around"?

"Up until this point in this series of observations/stipulations, there is no advantage to either the God or no God side of the debate."

You mean, neither "God did it" or "It came from nothing / It's just always been there" sounds more likely so far? I guess that's correct.

"It is easier to imagine a spiritual world as infinite, and the finite world as being created by the spiritual ... Time began with the big bang, and that prior to this there was no time. This fits perfectly with the concept that in the spiritual realm there is no time, and thus infinity is no longer impossible to consider."

Why do you have trouble thinking that the current world is infinite in some aspect, but no such trouble thinking that about the spiritual world? Why must the real world have been created, but not the spiritual world? Why must the real world be finite, but not the spiritual world? Who created our creators?

"It is impossible for us to grasp matter or energy as have a first cause without a spiritual dimension to "create" it, but it is even harder to imagine how information or rules were included in a godless explosion of matter and energy."

There could be an infinity of universes, each with some combination of possible "settings", each with one set of rules. So our "settings" (1)could have been deliberately designed, (2) could have happened by luck, or (3) could have been certain to happen if universes with all settings exist. I like the third option best, although I understand why most people prefer the first one to the second one.

So you're guessing "God did it". Here's my guess: All possible universes exist. That's all possible sets of rules, and for each set of rules, all possible arrangements of matter and energy. One of this infinity of universes was such (had such properties and such an arrangement of matter and energy) that we developed. And now, here we are wondering how the properties of our universe, and the stuff in it, came to be. Well, they were always around, as are all possible alternatives.

But say you don't buy that. Ok. I ask you, then, Why could the properties and matter/energy in the universe not be generated by some natural process? What if there is a kind of causal mechanism for generating universes, one that operates at a dimension we would have a hard time imagining? This could be similar to your spiritual dimension, but rather than being run by an intelligence, it's (like our dimension) governed by rules.

As a naturalist, I do not have to say that this universe is the only one that there is, or that its origin was governed by rules whose complete workings we can still observe. But I do have faith in the idea that all of this is the simple, mechanical result of thoughtless natural processes, or systems with rules - and there is no evidence that disproves that point of view.

But since the rules that governed the origin of the universe are so hard to deduce just from observing the behavior of the universe itself, some people choose to believe that the origin of the universe was deliberately guided by an intelligence with a plan. No evidence disproves that point of view either, but I personally find it simpler to keep divine intervention out of my models of possibly-natural phenomena whenever possible. And "whenever possible", it turns out, is all the time.

Randy Kirk said...

Randy said:
"It is unlikely that we will ever know whether these first causes of each of these exist or if they are infinite."
Bernardo said:
"You could say that. I'm a little more optimistic, but I'm just guessing, given how good we are at figuring out stuff."

By this I was referring to the fact that should we find what we believe to be a first cause, it is intellectually impossible to grasp the idea that nothing caused the thing to which we have given the title first cause. In other words, some now think that the big bang was the beginning of the universe, but the big bang came from a dense accumulation of stuff (matter, energy, etc.) What caused that accumulation? I propose that we cannot know if this was the first cause or whether causes and effects must recede infinitely.

Randy Kirk said...

Randy said:
"The human mind is incapable of grasping the idea that any of these came from nothing."
Bernardo asked:
"What do you mean? How do you kow this?"
I'll put it back to you, Bernardo. How would we grasp such a concept? What possible mechanism could be propose that would explain anything materializing out of nothing.

Randy Kirk said...

I think the reason it is easier to contemplate a spiritual dimension as being infinite is that the spiritual dimension does not have to meet the criteria of what we know or think we know about nature. We can throw out all the rules, and like any good supernatural thriller, once you throw out the rules of nature, you can also throw out the rules of human logic.

Then, once having reached the conclusion that such a realm exists as the best explanation for infinity, there are all the bits and pieces of evidence that have been discussed elsewhere on this blog that support the idea of this spiritual dimension and, of course, God.

Duck said...

The theist error is to imagine a spiritual dimension that is not limited by the laws we observe in Nature, but to then attribute to that spiritual dimension qualities of things that exist in Nature, like the human personality. But religious people will inevitably project natural attributes onto the spiritual dimension. God is just such a projection. There is a fundamental confusion about dimensions.

You are right, the human mind can't conceive of existence outside of the natural constraints of time and space, matter and energy. So religious people conceive of what they can conceive, natural things. Personalities that have will, emotions, desires, loves and hates. Your realization that the spiritual realm, if it exists, can't be like the natural realm should lead you to understand that the human religious imagination cannot help but to get it wrong.

Randy Kirk said...

How would God explain Himself to us other than to use things we can understand. Theists who have thought about it at all would 100% agree that we cannot conceive of God. We can't even be allowed to gaze on his person.

You, however, would like to ask God to pick up a rock that is to heavy for Him to lift. It is no different that thinking that humans will be able to imagine what they can't conceive of.

bernardo said...

It's funny how, when it comes to God, you recognize that it is impossible to completely grasp his nature, that the only way to explain or start to understand him is through imperfect analogies/metaphors, and that we should trust the conclusions we arrive at through those imperfect analogies/metaphors. Yet, when it comes to the natural world, you say that, since it is impossible to completely grasp its nature, since the only way to explain or start to understand it is through imperfect models, we therefore should not trust the conclusions we arrive at through those imperfect models.

Sure, some skepticism of science is good. Heck, it's what causes science to progress. And Randy's skepticism of science tends to be quite reasonable, which is not the case with many vocal Christians. But it's still worth pointing out that, in general, there is no good reason to trust your speculations about the nature of God more than your observations about the nature of the physical world. (And, as any atheist will tell you, there is no good reason at all to trust speculations about the supernatural, e.g. theism.)

Randy Kirk said...

Thanks for the compliment, but you misconstrue my attitude. I don't think it is inappropriate to use imperfect models or to trust those that have some ability to predict. I do wonder why anyone is trusting the GW models since my research suggests not one of them is even able to predict things that have already come to pass.