Sunday, January 4, 2009

Designed or Undesigned--that is the question

As promised several days ago, I'm going to respond to Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis, one piece at a time. In this post, I'll take on chapter 2, 4, and 5, which talk about the issues of evolution, cosmology, and order in the universe.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all share in common the idea that the universe was created and is sustained by God, even though all three religions define God differently. Stenger, in looking for evidence of God, thinks that if God exists, we should be able to find some physical signs that God was involved in creating the universe, and that he is involved in sustaining it. The evidence that he thinks he should see is a place in the development of the universe (especially the development of human life) where natural descriptions are not enough.

Here's one criterion he uses. "In principle," he says, "the creation hypothesis could be confirmed by the direct observation or theoretical requirement that conversation of energy was violated 13.7 billion years ago at the start of the big bang." He goes on:
However, neither observations nor theory indicates this to be have been the case. ... Remarkably, the total energy of the universe appears to be zero. As famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking said in his 1988 best seller, A Brief History of Time, "In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that the negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero."

So the universe actually just cancels out, and is really nothing after all. But not, as Francis Schaeffer might put it, nothing nothing. Just nothing with some amazing properties.

Which is a very key point in all of this. In his explanation on why there is something rather than nothing, Stenger fumbles around with the idea that nothingness is less stable than, I suppose, somethingness:
[M]any simple systems of particles are unstable, that is, have limited lifetimes as they undergo spontaneous phase transitions to more complex structures of lower energy. Since "nothing" is as simple as it gets, we cannot expect it to be very stable. It would likely undergo a spontaneous phase transition to something more complicated, like a universe containing matter. The transition of nothing-to-something is a natural one, not requiring any agent. (emphasis mine)

This is one of those points where I think Stenger can't ignore metaphysics. Indeed, he tries to shrug it off, but it's actually rather painful to watch:
Clearly many conceptual problems are associated with this question. How do we define "nothing"? What are its properties? If it has properties, doesn't that make it something? The theist claims that God is the answer. But, then, why is there God rather than nothing? Assuming we can define "nothing," why should nothing be a more natural state of affairs than something?

Stenger's use of the word natural is basically consistent, referring to things that follow the same basic laws of physics. The problem, of course, is that he sets this at odds with the concept of a creator God, without bothering to delve into any of the relevant metaphysical questions.

Although he uses the word natural consistently, he does not use the word nothing consistently. Indeed, if "nothing" has properties, doesn't that make it something? He asks the question, but never answers it. The kind of nothingness that he claims will spontaneously become something is not, as I mentioned earlier, nothing nothing. To illustrate what I mean, I'll use Schaeffer's words (from He Is There and He Is Not Silent):
Suppose we had a very black blackboard which had never been used. On this blackboard we drew a circle, and inside that circle there was everything that was--and there was nothing within the circle. Then we erase the circle. This is nothing nothing.

In other words, no laws under which it is likely that "nothing" will spontaneously "decay" into "something." No symmetries to say that "nothingness" is perfectly uniform throughout. Nothing nothing has no symmetries, and no asymmetries. There is nothing measurable about it. That is what, I think, you get without a creator. Schaeffer was wise to dwell on this.

Stenger wants to say that the universe came into existence because it had to, and I agree. That is because I don't think God is a piece of the universe that might, in theory, be cut off from it. God is as inescapable as are the laws of the universe and the truths of mathematics. But here we are getting into metaphysics, and I know Stenger hates that. The point I want to stress, though, is that the God of the Bible need not create a universe from "nothing." Rather, in my view, he created the universe from "nothing nothing," that is, He is the source of all reality, not just matter and energy.

The fact that matter and energy always seem to behave themselves is a testament to the divine act of creation. Of course, when we overly anthropomorphize God, it seems silly to think of a guy like you or me trying to keep all those particles in check; but when we shed all of our childish visions of God, we see that the incredible uniformity that underlies all the diversity of the universe is a symptom of there being only one God, a being so other it is literally breathtaking for me to contemplate.

To say that diversity comes from uniformity naturally is not an argument against God, as Stenger thinks it is. Rather, the fact that meaningful diversity comes from beautiful uniformity is a stroke of divine genius (although intelligence, after all, is hard to actually define).

Well, I have already spent a great many words on cosmology. There is more that Stenger has to say about the design of the universe.

In Chapter 2, Stenger talks about evolution, and I really won't go there. I will simply say that I am with Francis Collins on this one, and my comments on cosmology should also apply to evolution. (I've already blogged a little about evolution here.) However, I noticed something in this chapter that Stenger picks up full force in Chapter 5, which is titled, "The Uncongenial Universe."

Basically the argument goes like this. If there were a God who created this world and human beings in his image, then the universe would be well-suited to human life. By empirical evidence, it is not. Therefore, there is no God.

Here is some of the empirical evidence he cites:
  1. Our bodies are not as efficient as they could be if they were designed by an engineer (p. 69)
  2. The universe is really big, and there is "an awfully large amount of space where humanity will never make an appearance." (p. 156)
  3. The universe is really old. (p. 156-7)
  4. It would be practically impossible for us to travel to another planet congenial to our form of life. (p. 158-9)
  5. Complex organisms such as humans evolve "by famliar, purely reductive physical processes without the aid of any overarching holistic guiding principle." (p. 162)
  6. The portion of the universe that is "structured" is very small (p. 162-3)

Point number 5 can be addressed, I think, in the manner I have already dealt with cosmology. All other points are merely statements of the form, "This certainly isn't how I would've designed the universe." Indeed, the idea that God "wasted" space and time (as implied in a subheading of Chapter 5) presupposes that one already has a good idea of how God should have created the universe. Yet that is exactly how Stenger argues; it is more metaphysics than physics, though he doesn't think it is.

Which leads me to one point I can't stress enough to both theists and atheists. Whether or not you see design in the universe is, in some sense, irrelevant. In order to see or not see design in the universe, you have to anthropomorphize God in some way. Either God created the world as you would have (though perhaps more skillfully), or he created it in a way that you don't like, and in either case you're making God in your image. Note that theists can be just as guilty of this as atheists.

Rather, what we really learn from the fact that God created the universe is that matter is intrinsicaly good. Scripture does not teach us how matter behaves, how far it extends into the universe, or even really what it is in the first place. However, it does teach us that matter is intrinsically good, and thus it makes sense to study it eagerly as scientists.

I think a quote from Robert Wilken's The Spirit of Early Christian Thought will bring my point home:

But early Christian thinkers offer no philosohpical argument for the existence of God drawn from the world of nature. ... They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather, they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God. God was not a principle of explanation. In seeking God they sought to understand the God they already knew. (p. 16)

The knowledge of God provides a framework in which all sorts of other knowledge can be properly integrated. Real knowledge about the universe amounts to personal growth within the context of knowing God. Stenger makes the mistake of thinking that science can work outside of this framework.

Ultimately, I get back to my very first point about Stenger from my last post about his book. He fails to give necessary attention to the metaphysical questions that we must answer. If we are the product of chance in a universe where matter is not intrinsically good, then what can we say? Are humans better off alive or dead? Is science worth doing in the first place?

However you choose to answer those questions, if there is no God, then there is no way to justify your choice outside of yourself. It is merely your personal, private truth. A full pursuit of knowledge demands that we have some framework in which to integrate both a description of the universe and an evaluation of our role in it, and its role in our lives. Such a pursuit cannot even begin without the knowledge of God on some level.

I think these chapters contain Stenger's strongest arguments in the whole book, and that is probably because he knows that most about these subjects, from evolution to cosmology. I have argued that he is lacking in his metaphysical interpretation of the science he presents. However, I have not disputed any of his science, and I do not think it is necessary to do so. I understand many Christians feel it is necessary, and I respect that, but I must say I think that is a losing battle. When scientists say, for example, that they have confirmed Darwinism and the big bang through extensive testing, I am inclined to believe them. They can have nothing to gain by falsifying the evidence.

However, scientists can have many reasons to make metaphysical claims and try to back them up with their science. While science may be relevant to metaphysical questions, I think Stenger fails to actually deal with the metaphysics, and therefore his empirical claims don't do all that he wants them to do. There is more that I could say, but I think I'll stop for now.

3 comments:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Kate
    http://educationonline-101.com

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  2. COMPREHENSIVE VIEW OF SCIENCE OF RELIGION (THEOLOGY)

    I have written following two papers which may lead to the realization for a higher theory of everything:

    (i) Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator,
    (1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, Lonavla Yoga Institute, Lonavla, January, 2006)
    (ii) In Scientific Terminology, Source of Gravitational Wave is God
    (2nd World Congress on Vedic Science, BHU, Varanasi, Feb 2007)
    I have presented these two papers at the two different International Conferences. I am now submitting some views for being considered for Unified Field Theory

    From Scriptures: (Prem Patra by His Holiness Huzur Maharaj)
    The Current which manifested in the beginning of the creation is the Current of Sabda (Sound) and of Chaitanya (Consciousness). From whom that Current issued forth is known as Soami (Supreme Being). This Current, by turning back can merge again in the Holy Feet of Supreme Being. The entire creation manifested from this current and is sustained with its energy and when the Current of the Holy Feet is withdrawn, the creation ceases to exist.This Current of the Holy Feet is the Reservoir of all energy, tastes and pleasures, knowledge, skill, shapes, forces and light etc. etc. and of the entire creation, is also the Creator of all of them.

    From Science:
    Gravitation Force is the cause of manifestation of the creation (birth of planets, stars), its sustenance and when it is withdrawn towards centre or source the entire creation ceases to exist. Photons have originated from gravitons. In black holes photons merge into gravitons. In Black Holes, Gravitational Force is so high that it does not allow even light to escape. What does it mean then? It simply means that the gravitational force at black-holes attracts light towards it with much greater velocity than the speed of light. In fact, all forces including electromagnetic force, material force (strong and weak nuclear force) all merge into gravitational force in black-holes and becomes one force there and when the creational process starts again from a Black-Hole all the forces appear (manifest) again and descends downwards to create billions of stars, planets, satellite, asteroids and various life forms.

    Hence it can be assumed that the Current of Chaitanya (Consciousness) and Gravitational Wave are the two names of the same Supreme Essence (Seed) which has brought forth the entire creation.

    All cosmological researches should be conducted keeping in view of the following philosophical facts:
    It has been stated in Bible (John I-1) “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,”
    Mohammedans hold that God uttered ‘Kun’ (i.e. ‘Came into being’) and the creation came into being (Holy Quran, Sur. Bakr (II.117).
    In Chhandogya Upanishad it is written “Tadaikshat bahu syam prajayeyeti” (VI-2-iii) i.e. “It thought (desired) Would that I were many! Let me procreate myself!” The Aitareya Upanishad says,”Sa ikshat ‘lokannusrija’ iti (I-1-i) i.e. “He bethought himself (desired) – ‘Let me create worlds’, etc. etc.
    It is written in Chapter VII of Srimad Bhagavadgita : Sri Bhagwan said, “Arjun, now listen how with the mind attached to Me and practicing Yoga with absolute dependence on Me, you will know Me in entirety and without any shadow of doubt” (1). I shall unfold to you in its entirety this wisdom alongwith the Knowledge of the qualified aspect of God, having known which nothing else remains yet to be known in this world (2). Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason and also ego; these constitute My nature eightfold divided. This indeed is My lower (material) nature : the other than this, by which the whole universe is sustained, know it to be My higher nature in the form of Jiva, O Arjuna. (4-5). Arjuna, know that all beings have evolved from this twofold Prakriti, and that I am the source of the entire creation, and into Me again it disappears.(6)
    The Radhasoami Religion also tells that, the ‘Word’ mentioned above is in fact Current of Sound or Current of Consciousness or Prime Current of Spirituality which was issued forth from its Source, or Creator or God. This Current has later on produced light and other forces. The scientists are discussing these days about dark energy which constitute about 96% of the entire universe which is not known to us. Only 4% part of the universe is known to us by all scientific means. In fact this 96% invisible portion of the universe is the vast expanse of spirituality which can be designated as field of gravitational waves in scientific terms. Visible portion of the universe (4%) consists of consciousness (gravitational force), mental force (electromagnetic waves) and material force (strong and weak nuclear force).
    Body = Nuclear Force (weak as well as strong)
    Mind = Electromagnetic Force.
    Consciousness = Gravitation Force.
    According to Radhasoami Religion the whole Universe can be sub-divided into three grand divisions viz.
    1. Region of Pure Spirituality
    2. Region of Subtle Maya
    3. Region of Gross Maya
    Nuclear forces dominate Region of Gross Maya (Gross Material Region), Electro-magnetic forces dominate Region of Subtle Maya (Subtle Material Region) and Gravitational Force dominates Pure Spiritual Region.
    This is the only Truth which can be verified scientifically and can be termed as ‘higher theory for everything’. This also supports the statement of Sir Sahabji Maharaj that ‘the goal of science – Truth; the goal of philosophy – Ultimate Reality; and the goal of religion – God’ are the three names of same supreme essence.
    Many things are common between Current of Consciousness and Gravitational Wave.
    1. Current of consciousness can not be seen by any means and gravitational wave can also not be seen.
    2. Current of consciousness is the weakest force on earth. Its strength goes on increasing on higher regions. Gravitational force is also very weak on earth and strong on Sun and even more stronger on black holes.
    3 Tendency of both current of consciousness and gravitational waves are towards their source or centre.
    4. Current of consciousness and gravitational force are both regarded as the creater of all the celestial and terrestrial bodies of the whole universe. They are also sustainer of these and when they turn back towards their source or centre the whole universe will collapse.
    Hence it can be assumed that the source of current of consciousness and gravitational wave is the same i.e. God or ultimate creator.
    This theory is based on scientific deduction. In scientific terms it can be said that the ‘gravitons’ are the elementaryparticle which was issued forth in the beginning of the creation accompanying with sound ‘Radha’
    Many views on the Origin of Universe are available. Most popular view is that universe was born with a big-bang from a highly dense energy point. But I have some different view on it. I think the universe was not born from a concentrated point or ball like structure but it has been evolved from an infinite vast expanse of field of gravity. Philosophically or religiously we may call it field of consciousness or spirituality.
    A great flow of current of gravitation force descended down from this source and has created many regions of pure gravitation force below it. This was the creation for quite some time in the first phase of the creational process. In the second phase, with a Big-Bang, when the current of gravitation force further descended down then electromagnetic forces and matter (weak and strong nuclear forces)manifested and the entire universe of the second phase was completed with the admixture of all the forces viz., gravitation force, electromagnetic forces, and matter (weak and strong nuclear forces. The completion of the whole cosmos in two phases was also hinted in one of the speeches of Prof. J.V.Narlikar some years back. When the process of creation of universe reverts back the matter merges into electromagnetic force and then finally electromagnetic forces merge into gravitation force and nothing remains except field of gravity. The cycle of universe completes like this.



    =====================================
    Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge. (Romila Thapar, A History of India, volume one).

    I suggest : Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

    ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

    Meditation is the art of looking within and science of doing nothing. We don’t use anything in meditation. We just try to concentrate to meditate at some point in human anatomy known as ‘chakra’ in Indian System of Yoga. The current of mind is flowing outward through the senses and unconsciously. The mind comes at rest gradually through regular practice of meditation. Then comes self realization and enlightenment. Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

    Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor. E.Q. stands for Emotional Quotient. An intelligent person may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intelligent. An intelligent person having certain level of positive emotions can be said as wise. An intelligent person lacking wisdom will turn autocrat. A wise man will always be a democrat who respects others existence.

    Some may raise doubt that how could be the Wisdom quantified? The answer is simple -if Mental Age of I.Q. can be quantified then Wisdom can also be quantified, of course, comparatively with more efforts. Wilhelm Stern had given the formula of I.Q.. It is, Mental Age/ Chronological Age x 100. Spiritual Quotient (S.Q.) leverages both E.Q. and I.Q.
    Radha Soami Faith is a branch of Religion of Saints like Kabir, Nanak, Paltu, Soamiji Maharaj and others. You may call It a New Wine in Old Bottle. We should not expect any miracle overnight.

    In this discussion, it appears, that experts from various disciplines are participating someone of course from psychology. He /she can understand my views more clearly.

    Maslow has given Hierarchy of Needs. At the top of it is need for self-actualization or self-realization.

    In our society we should learn To Live and Let Live and help to satisfy others need. When the lower order needs, physiological and sociological both, are satisfied then only a person think to satisfy need for self-realization in true sense. Else he/she may spend all his/her life to satisfy at the most the for self-expression instead of self-realization.

    It is, therefore, the duty of every responsible person, at the least, of our society to give serious thought over it.

    For the satisfaction of need for self-realization i.e. establishment of harmony of individual consciousness with that of universal consciousness we need following three things:

    1. Mater or Guru (A Self-Realized Soul)
    2. Secret of Levels of Universal Consciousness
    3. Method for traversing the path.


    Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

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  3. Very good effort in abstract thinking.

    I liked the following statement,

    "The transition of nothing-to-something is a natural one, not requiring any agent. (emphasis mine)"

    Can we prove this in laboratory?

    Think on this line probably you may get the answer.

    I call "Nothing" itself as God if it turns into "Something"

    P.J.LAKHAPATE
    plakhapate@gmail.com

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