Does the Universe Need God?

By Sean Carroll | March 21, 2011 11:02 am

I’ve had God on my mind lately, as I’ve been finishing an invited essay for the upcoming Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. The title is “Does the Universe Need God?“, and you can read the whole thing on my website by clicking.

I commend the editors, Jim Stump and Alan Padgett, for soliciting a contribution that will go against the grain of most of the other essays. As you might guess, my answer to the title question is “No,” while many of the other entries will be arguing “Yes” (or at least be sympathetic to that view). I think of my job as less about changing minds than informing — I want thoughtful people who are committed Christians reading this volume to at least understand where I am coming from, even if they don’t agree. Think of it as an elaboration of “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists,” which was a bit breezier.

Hopefully there is still a bit of time for tweaking the essay before the editors get back to me with their comments, so please let me know if you think I’m getting something importantly wrong. Again, the whole thing is here, but I’m including the final section (minus the footnotes) as a teaser below the fold. In the earlier sections I do more nitty-gritty cosmological stuff, talking about the Big Bang, the anthropic principle, and meta-explanatory maneuvers. In this section I finally evaluate the God hypothesis in scientific terms.

God as a theory

Religion serves many purposes other than explaining the natural world. Someone who grew up as an altar server, volunteers for their church charity, and has witnessed dozens of weddings and funerals of friends and family might not be overly interested in whether God is the best explanation for the value of the mass of the electron. The idea of God has functions other than those of a scientific hypothesis.

However, accounting for the natural world is certainly a traditional role for God, and arguably a foundational one. How we think about other religious practices depends upon whether our understanding of the world around us gives us a reason to believe in God. And insofar as it attempts to provide an explanation for empirical phenomena, the God hypothesis should be judged by the standards of any other scientific theory.

Consider a hypothetical world in which science had developed to something like its current state of progress, but nobody had yet thought of God. It seems unlikely that an imaginative thinker in this world, upon proposing God as a solution to various cosmological puzzles, would be met with enthusiasm. All else being equal, science prefers its theories to be precise, predictive, and minimal – requiring the smallest possible amount of theoretical overhead. The God hypothesis is none of these. Indeed, in our actual world, God is essentially never invoked in scientific discussions. You can scour the tables of contents in major physics journals, or titles of seminars and colloquia in physics departments and conferences, looking in vain for any mention of possible supernatural intervention into the workings of the world.

At first glance, the God hypothesis seems simple and precise – an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being. (There are other definitions, but they are usually comparably terse.) The apparent simplicity is somewhat misleading, however. In comparison to a purely naturalistic model, we’re not simply adding a new element to an existing ontology (like a new field or particle), or even replacing one ontology with a more effective one at a similar level of complexity (like general relativity replacing Newtonian spacetime, or quantum mechanics replacing classical mechanics). We’re adding an entirely new metaphysical category, whose relation to the observable world is unclear. This doesn’t automatically disqualify God from consideration as a scientific theory, but it implies that, all else being equal, a purely naturalistic model will be preferred on the grounds of simplicity.

There is an inevitable tension between any attempt to invoke God as a scientifically effective explanation of the workings of the universe, and the religious presumption that God is a kind of person, not just an abstract principle. God’s personhood is characterized by an essential unpredictability and the freedom to make choices. These are not qualities that one looks for in a good scientific theory. On the contrary, successful theories are characterized by clear foundations and unambiguous consequences. We could imagine boiling God’s role in setting up the world down to a few simple principles (e.g., “God constructs the universe in the simplest possible way consistent with the eventual appearance of human beings”). But is what remains recognizable as God?

Similarly, the apparent precision of the God hypothesis evaporates when it comes to connecting to the messy workings of reality. To put it crudely, God is not described in equations, as are other theories of fundamental physics. Consequently, it is difficult or impossible to make predictions. Instead, one looks at what has already been discovered, and agrees that that’s the way God would have done it. Theistic evolutionists argue that God uses natural selection to develop life on Earth; but religious thinkers before Darwin were unable to predict that such a mechanism would be God’s preferred choice.

Ambitious approaches to contemporary cosmological questions, such as quantum cosmology, the multiverse, and the anthropic principle, have not yet been developed into mature scientific theories. But the advocates of these schemes are working hard to derive testable predictions on the basis of their ideas: for the amplitude of cosmological perturbations, signals of colliding pocket universes in the cosmic microwave background, and the mass of the Higgs boson and other particles. For the God hypothesis, it is unclear where one would start. Why does God favor three generations of elementary particles, with a wide spectrum of masses? Would God use supersymmetry or strong dynamics to stabilize the hierarchy between the weak scale and the Planck scale, or simply set it that way by hand? What would God’s favorite dark matter particle be?

This is a venerable problem, reaching far beyond natural theology. In numerous ways, the world around us is more like what we would expect from a dysteleological set of uncaring laws of nature than from a higher power with an interest in our welfare. As another thought experiment, imagine a hypothetical world in which there was no evil, people were invariably kind, fewer natural disasters occurred, and virtue was always rewarded. Would inhabitants of that world consider these features to be evidence against the existence of God? If not, why don’t we consider the contrary conditions to be such evidence?

Over the past five hundred years, the progress of science has worked to strip away God’s roles in the world. He isn’t needed to keep things moving, or to develop the complexity of living creatures, or to account for the existence of the universe. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the scientific revolution has been in the realm of methodology. Control groups, double-blind experiments, an insistence on precise and testable predictions – a suite of techniques constructed to guard against the very human tendency to see things that aren’t there. There is no control group for the universe, but in our attempts to explain it we should aim for a similar level of rigor. If and when cosmologists develop a successful scientific understanding of the origin of the universe, we will be left with a picture in which there is no place for God to act – if he does (e.g., through subtle influences on quantum-mechanical transitions or the progress of evolution), it is only in ways that are unnecessary and imperceptible. We can’t be sure that a fully naturalist understanding of cosmology is forthcoming, but at the same time there is no reason to doubt it. Two thousand years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to invoke God as an explanation for natural phenomena; now, we can do much better.

None of this amounts to a “proof” that God doesn’t exist, of course. Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance. Attempting to explain the natural world by appealing to God is, by scientific standards, not a very successful theory. The fact that we humans have been able to understand so much about how the natural world works, in our incredibly limited region of space over a remarkably short period of time, is a triumph of the human spirit, one in which we can all be justifiably proud.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
  • kris

    Hi there,

    Well thought out, written, and executed. While I may have gone about things differently on a few points, your way is laudable and comports itself well within the context of the essay.

    There is one statement I think may aid in completeness, however. In the final paragraph you are describing the merits of scientific models. Isn’t another important characteristic of a good model that it makes accurate predictions?

    Just a thought. As I said, well done.

    Kris

  • Nex

    Wow, what a nonsensical question to ask.

    Does the Universe need god? Of course, if humans had never came up with the concept of god the Universe would have surely imploded by now! Thankfully we did and the absurdity of this idea is the only thing that keeps the expansion going.

  • Josh

    Nitpicky question. Sean writed in dtung:

    “To his surprise, Einstein found that general relativity implied that any uniform universe would necessarily be non-static – either expanding or contracting. In response he suggested modifying his theory by adding a new parameter called the “cosmological constant,” which acted to push against the tendency of matter to contract together. ”

    Did Einstein really appreciate that GR could imply an expanding as well as a contracting universe? When I usually teach this stuff, I note that the dynamics implied from Einstein’s Equations and most normal entities that have non-zero stress-energy tensors imply a global contraction. This leads more-or-less naturally to an attempt to balance out this “attractive” stuff so that the Einstein Tensor is uniquely to zero with the normal sign-convention on the metric yielding a positive energy density with a negative pressure for a cosmological-constant-like entity.

  • Christopher Kandrat

    I think it causes a lot of tension between people who believe in different gods. And if you tell people theres one or none, the current people would go insane.

  • David George

    Does the universe need physical cosmology?

    “All else being equal, science prefers its theories to be precise, predictive, and minimal – requiring the smallest possible amount of theoretical overhead.”

    Accepting this statement and given all the possible “theories” that follow in the article, it appears that physical cosmology has a long way to go before it meets the scientific preference for low overhead. And what is the theory that “predicts” big bang nucleosynthesis and microwave background radiation? (Or the “initial” hot dense state?)

    I believe there are several arguments to be made for a universe — and a non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-omnibenevolent creative power — that is not dreamt of in the philosophy of “standard model” physical cosmology, but I get the feeling you aren’t interested in them. Good luck explaining not-God by string theory, etc.

  • AnotherSean

    Well, I get stuck thinking about this issue also. Probably, I have no more favorable opinion of an anthropormphic character than you do. But, in reviewing your article, I notice you admitt that “God” is an entirely different metaphysical category, completely different than any scientific hypothesis. I agree. But if thats true, then I don’t think that the arguments following from the scientific method you give are particularly useful in deciding its existence. In other words, if God is not a scientific concept, then we end at that point, and nothing more can be said. Now at this point you can say the concept is gratuitous, Ockham’s razor cuts it out, so forth. Thats fine, but this is just seems to me to be another way of saying we shouldn’t believe things we don’t have scientific evidence for, which is an hypothesis and not a conclusion. Please let me know if I’m missing something which is entirely possible.

  • Jim Johnson

    Sean, I wouldn’t say this is importantly wrong, but since you did ask for input…

    In your final paragraph, in the sentence, “Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. ” I would change that to “isn’t in the business of disproving things”.

    “Disproving” fits in the context of the paragraph better than “proving”, and besides, most readers would probably react with, “Wait! Science proves things all the time. It proved water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.” or some such, which I’m sure is not where you want your reader’s mind to be during your summation.

  • spyder

    I don’t know about this God of which you are talking, but it appears to me that Shiva is sure dancing on our heads at the moment.

  • http://sievemaria.com sievemaria lucianus

    Why just one GOD ?

    The fact is – Life is too hard to do for just your self – we humans need someone to look up to – to fear – to – challenge us , and to reward us (with supersymmetry ?) and at times – horrifyingly punish us.

  • Lord

    Cosmology already has God in the multiverse.

  • eyesoars

    IMO, the question “Does God Exist?” is ill-posed.

    Simpler questions, “Did a sentient entity create the observable universe?” are still unanswerable, but may make the absurdity of the proposition more apparent.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Josh– I’m not sure what you mean. For every contracting solution of GR, there is an expanding solution, just by time reversal. I’m pretty sure Einstein knew this.

    Jim– “Proving” is really what I meant, in particular to draw a distinction between the logical/mathematical notion of “proof” and the necessarily more provisional nature of scientific demonstration. That may not be clear to everyone, but unfortunately the essay is already far too long and they’re going to cut it.

  • http://math-frolic.blogspot.com Shecky R.

    I s’pose I’m in the Stephen Jay Gould camp of viewing science and religion as two completely separate magesteria with little to say to one another. I love (good) science, but also recognize that it could conceivably be almost entirely wrong (…i.e., if we are all just simple automata created by a highly advanced civilization that has pre-programmed our every thought, perception, and sense of reality). On the religion-side, if there is a God I imagine he is so beyond human comprehension and understanding that it is almost futile to attempt discussion or description of him.

    Can’t help but think from wording of the question that most respondents will be promoting the Anthropic Principle in one form or another — your essay may not have spent enough time on it, and a little too much time on some side topics (hard to know without actually seeing the other respondents). But it’s certainly a fine essay.

  • Glenn

    Love it! We can’t find 96% of the universe or prove string theory, but we know enough to decide it God exists.

    Funny stuff thanks for the laughs.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Does the universe need meaning?

    Ideas, concepts, meanings, semantic information, even the abstract mathematics used to describe the universe are all things that exist, but are they actually required? Is a universe without meanings conceivable, and if so, what would it be like? Is it inevitable whenever self-similarity exists in the laws of physics?

    If the laws of physics as they exist have given rise to computation and meaning, and our qualia-experience of them, and the laws of physics are as they are because they could be no other way, then what are the boundaries on the physical systems where this can apply? If physics is computation, and the state of the universe holds meaning, would it not be peculiar if this was limited to that tiny bit of the universe that is ‘alive’? (As if life was at all distinct from dead matter from the point of view of the laws of physics.) If the laws of physics require it, can any physical system be entirely without it? Absolute zero? Few categories have such sharp boundaries on close enough examination. How many neurons are required before we quantum-jump from ‘zero’ to ‘one’? Are not all universal Turing-machines equivalent? On what basis can we reject outright the idea that the universe computes, that the subject of its computation has meaning (however dim and confused or nonsensical), or that by the same means that we qualia-experience our own thoughts, that the universe itself might too?

    And if the entire universe is conscious, and our own consciousnesses only especially dense concentrations of awareness within this sea of thought, what would you call such an experiencing ‘mind’?

    Pure speculation, of course, but all done without stepping outside the bounds of natural law, or inventing phenomena not already known to exist (i.e. in ourselves). We cannot know whether the universe needs such a pantheist ‘God’ without understanding the physical roots of intelligence, information, meaning, and qualia-awareness.

    Philosophy is fun! But not very amenable to getting definite answers to interesting questions.

  • GMH

    My only objection to this is that you shouldn’t be talking about a “dysteleological” set of uncaring laws, but an “ateleogical” set. The laws have NO purpose, rather than a malign or hostile purpose. A dystheist would be somebody who believes that God exists, but that God is evil; an atheist says there is no God.

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    Does God need a universe?

    What would be the purpose of it anyway?
    Maybe he just wanted to become a real man! Maybe anybody can be God.

  • Alan

    Thanks for the article. Isn’t space itself the origin of everything – Professor Frank Wilczek’s “grid” (the quantum vacuum) or something beyond that ? I am very interested in what life, for instance me as a being actually is, “sitting” in this grid (isn’t 99.9 % of our mass actually an energy in this vacuum?), and the possibility of continuation of consciousness/awareness after death simply because there is scientific work looking at this possibility. If these studies pan out to an affirmative this raise the question:

    What is the structure of space, this grid and indeed our universe that may allow this possibility? Doesn’t this make this whole universe/space thing God-like? And all generated within the multiverse.

    You cite Hawking’s question in your main article “What place, then, for a creator?”. John Polkinghorne answers:

    It would be theologically naive to give any answer other than: “Every place – as the sustainer of the self-sustained spacetime egg and as the creator of its quantum laws.”

    I also find it rather spooky that, for our universe, you can’t have consciousness without quantum-based laws running through and through so that if there is some continuation of awareness then this is all built in.
    And then another question, where do “I” actually go afterwards – what is this journey? Is it a journey? It just seems to me that in this violent universe universe governed by known laws there may be a kind of deeply personal aspect which is being missed.

    Camp fire+beer questions but valid surely.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I know Blackwell’s title is meant to provoke somehow, but it’s so simultaneously loaded and vacuous it barely warrants acknowledgement, much less a respectful answer. It’s incredibly silly to talk about the “needs” of the universe, even as a metaphor, so why ruin a potentially interesting debate with such a turd for an opening salvo?

    Anyway, the discussion is fine as far as it goes, but limiting arguments to more-or-less doctrinaire conceptions of God vs. the superior explanatory power of science is shooting fish in a barrel. Of course religious thinkers have done a piss-poor job at describing the world and predicting its behavior (when predictable at all). That any of them would attempt to argue otherwise simply demonstrates how impervious to reason they are, not that this particular horse hasn’t yet been flogged enough. It’s been beaten to atoms by now; I doubt cracking its nuclei will be any more persuasive.

    A far more interesting debate might go this way: Religious thinkers would first acknowledge, at least for the sake of argument, that whatever The Explanation might be for existence, neither their particular mythology, nor any recognizable derivative thereof, have anything useful to contribute to finding accurate answers. With that out of the way, to what extent has modern scientific theory excluded any necessary role for an intelligent, purposeful actor in shaping existence? What role, if any, could a Creator worthy of the name yet play? If any, what scenarios are conceivable in which the Creator might be “natural”? Would it be worthy of worship, or even consideration? If we were to, say, inhabit a simulation or a false vacuum deliberately created in a lab, how might that effect science? Religion? Is it even worth it for scientists and theologians to consider such questions?

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    Sean,

    I really admire your posts and thinking but I think this conclusion is weak:

    “Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase “and that’s just how it is.””

    You get rid of God, fine, but you now want people to accept a universe that exists which has rational laws and just assert there is no explanation at some point. You point out the laws the universe operate just fine on their own, again I think this makes sense, but then I think you make a stretch implying the question “so where do these laws come from in the first place?” doesn’t need an answer.

    Now, you bring up a good point with “Humans just think explanations are needed but there doesn’t need to be one.” But not only is this disappointing intellectually, that we will come so far only to find out the answers stop, but also, it seems to me to be no more than a guess.

    Sorry to be making a “watchmaker” type argument here, but when you come across a very rational set of laws that describe all aspects of the universe (something like string theory hopes to do) I think it is a much easier pill to swallow thinking rational laws may have origins in a lawgiver then to conclude “well, I guess this is just how things are and there is no reason I should expect an explanation”.

  • http://www.physics.ucsb.edu/~brewer/ Brendon J. Brewer

    Joseph Smidt, comment 20, wrote:

    “You get rid of God, fine, but you now want people to accept a universe that exists which has rational laws and just assert there is no explanation at some point. You point out the laws the universe operate just fine on their own, again I think this makes sense, but then I think you make a stretch implying the question “so where do these laws come from in the first place?” doesn’t need an answer. ”

    I agree. We don’t know the answer != these questions don’t have answers.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Is it even worth it for scientists and theologians to consider such questions?”

    If a pantheist proposed that artificial intelligence would have to be aware of the meaning of the information it processed, that it would experience it, is that a testable prediction? Would that open a way to identify the minimum required? Or if it’s not testable, what else might there be that isn’t testable?

  • jpd

    i hesitate to speak for most scientists, but i think this is more accurate:

    “Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase “and that’s the only way that makes sense.””

  • http://www.urbancowgrrl.blogspot.com Julia

    The universe may not need God (and science certainly doesn’t need God since I believe science and religion are two completely different concepts – one is fact based observations and one is a philosophical meditation on existence as a whole) but apparently people have always needed a God. My husband just finished reading The Faith Instinct and kept reading bits and pieces of it out loud to me. It’s so interesting I want to read it now. He’s an athiest and I’m a Christian and it was fascinating to both of us.

    Your comment “imagine that no one had thought of God yet” got me thinking that after hearing bits and pieces from that book it sounds like from anthropologist’s point of view that would be impossible for our species to not have come up with some greater diety that comes in the form of us. I don’t think scientific discovery will ever make athiests out of everyone but hopefully it will continue to break down dogma in religion as ancient superstitions are shown to be just that – superstitions.

  • http://www.unshieldedcolliders.org Jonathan Livengood

    Sean,

    I haven’t read the whole piece — just the part in the post above — so, maybe some of my remarks are anticipated in the other material. That said, I wasn’t sure about the following:

    1. You write, “How we think about other religious practices depends upon whether our understanding of the world around us gives us a reason to believe in God.”

    I’m not sure exactly which religious practices you have in mind, but my own experience with religious practice leads me to think that your claim is false. Religious practices are more often grounded on revelation or something similar to revelation (or more neutrally, supposed or alleged revelation) than they are on scientific (or even pseudo-scientific) inferences from the character of the world. That is, for many religious people, experience of and relationship with God is direct. Conviction that God exists follows from direct experience of God (or what is believed to be direct experience with God), not from scientific or logical/ontological proofs, demonstrations, arguments, or evidences that God exists.

    2. You write, “If and when cosmologists develop a successful scientific understanding of the origin of the universe, we will be left with a picture in which there is no place for God to act.”

    I have heard this in a few places recently, and I don’t see any methodological justification for it. What I *can* see methodological justification for is the weaker Laplacian claim that given an account of the type you suppose, there would be no reason to hypothesize that God acts. But in order to say that there is no room left for God to act, you need to preclude cases of causal over-determination, and I see no grounds for doing that in general.

    3. Related to my previous two points, I worry that your title is apt to mislead. The right question isn’t whether the universe needs or fails to need God, it is whether our *models* or *theories* of the universe need or fail to need God. Here, I think atheist/agnostic cosmologists are on pretty firm ground. You can say with Laplace, “I just don’t need that hypothesis.” You give some compelling philosophical arguments in your wrap up, and though I haven’t read the rest, I’m sure the scientific arguments are compelling as well. Such a conclusion should be devastating to anyone who bases his or her religious practice on cosmological arguments for the existence of God. But, as I said earlier, I don’t think there are any such people. So, the fact that we don’t need God in order to account for facts about cosmology is no challenge at all to religious practice.

    4. Finally, I am worried about this passage:

    “There is an inevitable tension between any attempt to invoke God as a scientifically effective explanation of the workings of the universe, and the religious presumption that God is a kind of person, not just an abstract principle. God’s personhood is characterized by an essential unpredictability and the freedom to make choices. These are not qualities that one looks for in a good scientific theory. On the contrary, successful theories are characterized by clear foundations and unambiguous consequences.”

    I might be reading uncharitably, but at first glance, it looks like you are putting meteorology, history, sociology, economics, epidemiology, ecology, psychology, neuroscience, and big chunks of animal biology out of science. Those fields are characterized by lots of complexity that makes prediction fraught, appeals to the “free” actions of persons or near-persons in explanations of phenomena (especially in history, sociology, and economics), and a basic lack of well-confirmed, generic equations that describe phenomena in their domains (scattered equations here and there, yes, but not anywhere near the level of physics). Am I just being unfair here?

  • Truly Anomalous

    No.

  • whoschad

    I’m not sure of the nature of the Blackwell publication, but it seems like you are treating God as merely another scientific hypothesis among many. This might be adequate to address some of the other claims in this particular book, but I was under the assumption that the most recent Christian theology places God at a level more fundamental to reality than science. If this is what they are claiming, (namely, that science, or the scientific method, isn’t the ultimate descriptor of reality) – doesn’t going the route of claiming that God is a failed scientific hypothesis miss the point?

    Like I said, I’m not sure of the nature of the Blackwell book – maybe that IS what they’re claiming – but wouldn’t most theologians agree with you that God doesn’t work as a scientific hypothesis (the key word being: scientific)?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Joseph– I think the chain of explanations either terminates somewhere, or goes on forever. Both are certainly options, although I personally find it easier to imagine that there is some final level. My point is just that there’s nothing wrong with the last level of explanation being a certain set of laws of nature. We can’t simply say, a priori, that we need something beyond that.

    Jonathan– I can’t speak for people’s inner mental states, but there are a lot of people who explicitly attempt to ground religion on attempts to explain the world. I predict that the rest of this volume will have many examples. Or you can just look at the footnotes in the full article. I would actually argue that this would be the most intellectually respectable way to ground religion, but that’s not the point of this article. As far as the list of sciences, I think you are reading uncharitably. All the workers in those fields would love to ground their theories in clear and unambiguous principles. It may be difficult, but that’s still the goal.

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    Metaphors are useful in coming up with hypotheses, but they are notoriously useless in validating them. I’m particularly suspicious of what gets imported into discussions of cosmology by the expression “fine tuning” which seems to imply a tuner even though all it actually asserts is that only a tiny set of parameter values is consistent with intelligent life. One has the imagine of God as somebody fiddling around with an old fashioned radio as if there were some way to make physical sense of varying the parameters, some dial you could adjust. Even beyond the absence of any notion of how an agent could vary parameters, however, there is the far more basic problem of why such a being would vary ‘em. We talk about the personhood of the deity as if there were a question of whether there is such a person when the more fundamental question is whether the notion of person makes sense in a cosmic or transcosmic context. The only candidates for personhood in our experience, after all, are humans or perhaps non-human animals but at all events beings with needs and therefore desires. What could an infinite being possibly want? At least the old pagans assumed that Zeus, father of gods and men, had balls so that their cosmology made some sense. What is Yahweh supposed to be missing? How can an infinite being have purposes? Seems deeply illogical to me.

  • Ray

    @Joeseph

    Uck. The whole lawgiver argument thoroughly sickens me. The very concept presupposes a being that can conform to the strictures of rational thought. To do this it must act in a complex and highly regular, or dare I say lawlike manner. That is to say, the lawgiver presupposes the very thing it is meant to explain.

    As Jim Harrison says, the way out of this mess is to just recognize that the concept of natural law is only a metaphor, and not a very close one either. Natural law is very much like the similar metaphor “the law of the jungle.” There is no lawgiver of the jungle — that’s pretty much the point of the expression. Likewise, there is no being out there dictating gravity from on high.

    And while we’re at it, I’d also point out that the notion of creating something presumes a concept of time, complete with a thermodynamic arrow. So likewise it makes no sense to speak of a being creating the regularities in our universe (including time) without postulating a meta-universe with all the same regularities and then some.

    The only reason anyone would think God can explain anything is that they haven’t thought it the whole way through.

  • Kevin

    @ray the law giver argument is only meant to explain the presence of law in the created universe. It does not attempt to explain (or need to explain) the presence of a law in the world of the creator

  • http://www.unshieldedcolliders.org/ Jonathan Livengood

    Sean,

    There is a big difference between what educated apologists usually say in defense of Christianity (and other religions) and what grounds the religious practices of most Christians (or other religionists). I’m not saying that there are no defenders of cosmological arguments (e.g. Swinburne, Taylor, Craig, and Polkinghorne) — although even those guys would, I think, continue to practice their religion if they were convinced that their favored cosmological arguments were wrong. What I’m saying is that those kinds of arguments do not have the place in Christian life that you seem to think they have. In order to pursue the question with any rigor, we would have to at least do surveys of Christians to find out why they believe what they do. I am guessing that most have not reflected on the question at all. Among those who have reflected on the question, I doubt that more than 5% would offer cosmological arguments. My guess is that insofar as people give “scientific” answers at all they will appeal to design arguments, not cosmological arguments, and even those will probably be rare.

    Moreover, the *grounding* claim is the thing that I think is worrying in the passage I quoted. One might defend an argument for some conclusion without basing one’s belief in that conclusion on that argument. Of course, one should think that the argument is sound if one is giving it, but initial belief might come from another argument or might not have come from an argument at all — unless observing or experiencing something counts as an argument. One might, for example, believe on the basis of a religious experience but recognize that such experiences are first-person, not third-person evidence.

    I’m not sure what your “this” is referring to when you write: “I would actually argue that this would be the most intellectually respectable way to ground religion.” Could you clarify?

    I guess I was unclear with my point about many of the special sciences, since I don’t think what you said in reply actually responds to what I was trying to say. (In particular, I agree that science ought to aim for clear and unambiguous explanations. I even agree that theists generally do a very poor job of deriving any testable consequences from the very squishy “God hypothesis”; however, I don’t think that “essential unpredictability” and “free choice” are the right things to pick on because by picking on those, you throw out a lot of perfectly respectable science.) Let me try again. Consider a rational-choice economic model for a grocery store. The model might suppose that people are rational agents who act freely to optimize perceived quality and cost of goods that they purchase. Suppose that with enough specificity, the model does a good job of predicting purchases in the store. It seems like we then have an explanation of purchases at that store in terms of the free actions of the people who shop there. So, it doesn’t look like explanations that call on free action are ipso facto unscientific. Do you still think I’m reading uncharitably? If so, could you say how you think your argument avoids scuttling economics, sociology, and history (at least)?

  • Ray

    Kevin

    Either you accept that regularities in reality (call them natural laws if you must) do not require a lawgiver, or you must bite the bullet and believe that your god obeys a law created by an even greater lawgiver. To do less would be nothing short of hypocrisy.

    So which is your choice: atheism, rank hypocrisy, or turtles all the way down?

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @Ray,

    Thank you for your response, but I think it too is weak. (Time for me to commit intellectual suicide. :) This comment is just for fun!)

    You are trying to explain God using normal concepts we use to describe the rest of our universe. *Now, this may be the correct thing to do* but I think there are reasons to believe it may not be. For example, you say for God to create requires time etc… as if rules that apply to our experience necessarly apply to Him.

    Now, before people laugh me off for being crazy (which I realize you will all do anyways :) ) let me give you an analogy. (Look up the Wikipedia article on Axiom of Infinity to follow along). You cannot describe infinity sticking to finite sets. Infinity *literally* has to be inserted as an axiom. “The axiom of infinity cannot be derived from the rest of the axioms of ZFC, if these other axioms are consistent. Nor can it be refuted, if all of ZFC is consistent.”

    Now, do infinite sets exist? I will let you decide, but my point is if they do exist you can never use finite sets to describe their properties as infinity cannot be derived from finite mathematics. What you learn from finite sets literally cannot describe infinte sets.

    My point: It is possible for something to exist and be logically consiatant and rational and yet still be completely out of your grasp to describe correctly using known facts. For example, If we lived in a world where man had “dicovered” {ZFC – infinite sets} he would be powerless to then go and try to prove properities of infinity using facts he has learned from finite mathematics.

    If someone said “Infinite sets can’t have property X because… fact about finite sets… fact about finite sets… etc…” that person would draw incorrect conclusions about infinite sets.

    Likewise by analogy, though it may not be true, it is may be possible that God on one hand exists and on the other we have no facts that can correctly decribe real properties He posesses so trying to is vein. Now, in writing this I have realized I have opened the door up for many critiques, *but* on a basic level without worrying about the technical details, I hope to convey by example it may be possible for something to exist and be perfectly rational and illuminatiing but beyond your power to fully comprehend, describe and explain using facts you know. (Just like infinite sets cannot be derived from all the facts about finite sets that exist combined.)

    @Ray #31 an 33: “The only reason anyone would think God can explain anything is that they haven’t thought it the whole way through… So which is your choice: atheism, rank hypocrisy, or turtles all the way down?”

    It is actualy very ironic/amusing to find someone accuse others of not being able to think things through and then come to the conclusion that these are the only viable options. (Ironic in that the accuser apparently has a hard time thinking things through himself while at the same time throwing around the word hypocrisy!!! :))

  • Lievo

    Wow. Great text thanks.

  • Kevin

    why does the world of the creator of the universe have to obey the same laws of logic, physic? It doesn’t seem to be a requirement to me that you have to extend the rules past the boundary of a world we experience to one we have no knowledge of.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @Ray #31

    “The only reason anyone would think God can explain anything is that they haven’t thought it the whole way through.”

    Also, I have learned from experience that anyone who feels the need to append “if you were smart enough you would see it” type statements should be trusted like a snake-oil salesman. In fact! I met a law professor who said they train lawyers to be on the lookout for such statements because usually they are said when there is a subtle problem with their reasoning they hope others look past.

    If an argument really was clear and intelligent you don’t have to go out of your way to “remind” people that is must be. (It should just be obvious.)

    Classic example is Fox News who feels compelled to assert to its viewers that they are “fair and balanced”. :) (If they actually were why would we need this constant reminder?)

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    God as an explanation is an invention of the Abrahamic religions.

  • Ray

    @Joeseph
    Intellectual suicide indeed. I could point out your technical errors (the whole apparatus of set theory, axiom of infinity included, is built upon finite manipulations of a finite number of symbols which, if you regard set theory as foundational, are represented as finite sets.) There is however a bigger problem here. To claim that god is incomprehensible within the language of science is to admit unabashedly that you have no bloody idea what you’re talking about. You argue for god by analogy to human minds, human laws, human watchmakers, and then you excuse yourself by saying that you don’t really mean what you say.

    There was a time when the idea of god was a hypothesis like any other. Read 1 kings 18:25-40. It is the very embodiment of the scientific method. The fact that believers now go to every effort to hide their god from science is not some great advance in philosophical understanding. It is merely a consequence of the fact that every time defenders of a God hypothesis have played fair, their ideas have been shown to be false.

    @Arun — don’t blame the Jews for this one. It was mostly the Greeks (think Plato’s Timaeus.) who probably got it from the Persians, at least as far as systematic theological thought goes. That said, etiological tales are far older than any of these cultures.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    Ray

    “To claim that god is incomprehensible within the language of science is to admit unabashedly that you have no bloody idea what you’re talking about. ”

    I don’t think that is true. On this very blog it has been argued that, for example, morality cannot be proven or disproven by science and yet I would think it is a stretch to say people who think things like “it is bad to kill”, “it is bad to rape” dont know what they are talking about.

    People understand rape is wrong and yet cannot prove it scientifically and I don’t think they are out of their mind.

    Also, I am not maintaining some weak-sauce version of God that “necessarily” hides beyond the reach of science. All I am saying is:

    1. It makes sense to me, and a lot of other intelligent people by the way, that if an elegant set of rational laws describing every scale of universe exists (like say string theory for example) that it is *possible* that there is an explanation beyond “It’s just that way end of story.”

    2. *If* there is an explanation it only makes sense to me that the explanation has the property of being rational given the laws are rational. (If rational laws have a source then it seems to make more sense that the source itself is rational then to believe an irrational source gave way to rational laws.)

  • Bivins

    Sean,

    I agree fundamentally with what Jonathan has said. But, I want to take it one step further. God and science attempt to answer different questions. Science is very good at answering how things work, or even how they came into being. God answers “why”. These are two completely different questions and in fact two different realms.

    What you have artfully done (and I have read many similar articles over the years, including yours) is a classic bait and switch. Science has never been able to even approach the question of “why”. Religion (Christianity, at least) barely, if ever, attempts to answer “how”.

    God: “why”
    Science: “how”

    In fact, their wheelhouses are almost completely mutually exclusive. There seems to be plenty of room in the Universe to answer both.

    However, unfortunately, science is failing at one of the very tests you are using to condemn God; the ability to predict. Lately (<20 years ago), almost all mature branches of science are currently in (glorious) upheaval as they've all experienced crisis of unpredictability.

    For instance, we should be able to predict what MESSENGER sees when it opens the veil of ignorance that shrouds Mercury. Alas, with just cursory observations, we already have to almost completely re-write what we "know" about the formation of rocky planets.

    Quantum mechanics; same dilemmas (or opportunities), now that the Super Collider is up and running.

    Paleontology; more of the same — future fossil finds will invariably re-write what we “know” about evolution.

    Why is it that whenever we build a bigger telescope, the Universe seems to retreat to just outside that device’s field of view? Why isn’t the unknown Universe getting smaller? Why is it that the known Universe shrinks in comparison to the unknown Universe whenever we expand of observational sphere?

    Why it that whenever we build a better microscope, the Microverse seems to shrink even further out of view?

    I know. I know. Sean, I am "guilty" of the same "sin" that I have just said that you are; I have condemned science for not being able to answer questions for which it isn't even attempting to answer.

    Does that make me a hypocrite?

    Science has NEVER answered why. Ever. Even the first, almost most fundamental scientific question has never been answered by science.

    Sean, "why is the sky blue?"

    Science has been dodging this question for at least 15,000 years. Probably, in all honesty, for millions of years of Human evolution. The scientist will distract by answering "how" in its place.

    But, my Pastor will gladly answer "why". As has been noted in this blog, God is usually personified, which actually lends credence to the Pastor's answer for "why", because persons are allowed to do things arbitrarily. Further, for the Christian, the scientist’s answer becomes, "how God did it".

    In other words, they both fit neatly together is our vast, complex, wonderful Universe.

  • Sphere Coupler

    “Does the Universe Need God?”

    The question is irrelevant.

    “God” is the Universe and the Universe is god.

    Mankind is the Universe’s unconscious attempt to express and understand itself.

    At one point humans did not understand the gods of fire and the wind, and then emotion and a god was created for each emotion and then humans tried to tackle societal relations with a god…

    We have always attributed that which we do not yet understand to a god.

    God is X…a place holder.

    The question is,
    Do some humans still need the concept of a seperate entity/god?

    The answer is yes…some do.

  • Ray

    On this very blog it has been argued that, for example, morality cannot be proven or disproven by science and yet I would think it is a stretch to say people who think things like “it is bad to kill”, “it is bad to rape” dont know what they are talking about.

    Sean is not me. You will find that I’m the one arguing against his moral anti-realism on that thread. My view is that, while the term “bad” is mildly ambiguous (as is much in natural language,) that ambiguity does not go so far as to allow an understanding of the term which would exclude rape and murder.

    Now mind you, I do allow that there are a few basic things one has to assume to get his understanding off the ground, which basically boil down to “empiricism works — usually.” But this is not a blanket license to make any unfounded assumption you feel like in addition, unless you like being demonstrably wrong on a regular basis.

    As for your points 1 and 2. That’s a whole lot of ifs. And as they say, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts…” Further, “the source itself is rational” is a long way from even establishing the minimal deist god. And this too is a far cry from the divinity of Jesus and whatever other nonsense you pay homage to on Sundays (I’m guessing from your school, that you’re a Mormon — let me know when you find those golden plates, mate.)

  • http://nuweb.neu.edu/ialtunkaynak/ Baris

    Great article. Hopefully in the future we won’t need to argue about this anymore according to this article:

    – Religion to become extinct, says model of census data:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197

    I wonder what the situation is in the US?

  • http://sievemaria.com sievemaria lucianus

    What difference does it make if there is a god or not ? Just like SantaClaus or the Easter Bunny !

  • Sphere Coupler

    “What difference does it make if there is a god or not?”

    For those not inclined to investigate, for those that are not wired like you and me, somewhere to hang one’s hat,to ease the mind, so that the god of mt St Helen or mt Vesuvius worries us no more and we can continue with our daily lives without donating time to understanding (cause thinking is hard)and some people do not have the time to independantly think and others who know not how to think just follow blindly because it’s comfortable or some such reasoning.

    God is a necessary intellectual evolutionary place holder for some humans.

    and then theirs this…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZEO1Lug25s

    which is a great song but is really just a diversion.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @Ray,

    “you’re a Mormon… golden plates ”

    Well, it was fun talking with you, however, apparently my initial suspicions beginning with #37 have been confirmed. It is pointless arguing against fallacious arguments (ad hominem and strawman in this case) because your opponent can prove *anything* using fallacious arguments.

    Ad hominem: because throwing out words like “Mormon” and “golden plates” are intended to evoke boogyman type ideas when you get stuck and can’t think of anything intelligent to say: “Psst… did you hear? So and so is Mormon! Oh my goodness! They must be wrong about unrelated subject X!”

    Strawman: because my arguments about rational laws have nothing to do with the existence of things like “gold plates”. Just because it is easier to avoid the actual argument being made and try to construct a strawman and knock that down to save face doesn’t make it anything other than a fallacious argument.

    Lastly, I suggest you take notes from Sean. He is not religious (and therefore not Mormon oh my heavens!!!) and yet he is intelligent enough that he doesn’t need to resort to fallacious arguments to make his case. (If I am wrong, show me where Sean feels the need to use fallacious arguments to make his point?)

    They aren’t needed when you know what you are talking about. Kant, Hume, Plato, and all the great thinkers of history have one thing in common: they attempt avoid using well-known fallacious arguments to prove their points.

  • Richard Engkraf

    Bertrand Russel’s definition of faith: A belief which cannot be shaken by evidence to the contrary.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @Richard,

    That’s a very interesting definition of faith, thanks for sharing!

  • Ray

    “Psst… did you hear? So and so is Mormon! Oh my goodness! They must be wrong about unrelated subject X!”

    So, God is unrelated to Mormonism. I had no idea. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    Anyway. The Mormon bit was an afterthought. You were so hazy about what you meant by the word “God,” I deemed it necessary to do some minimal research. If you’re not trying to claim the Mormon God is remotely plausible. Feel free to say so. It was just an educated guess. If you are in fact a Mormon, maybe you should think about why you profess beliefs that you are too embarrassed to defend.

  • Sphere Coupler

    @41
    The question *why* is a failure to grasp the world around one’s self, like why did this happen to me?
    Rather than a superficial quest into a why,why,why,circular trap of reasoning.
    If you ask how then you can avoid many why questions that have no meaning in the construction of a concrete reality.

    *Why* is an unending question, why does it rain, why does water condensate,why is the atmosphere cool,etc.

    Richard Feynman on the question *why*.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

  • http://www.rodoula-kelly.blogspot.com kelly alamanou

    univers IS God.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    It’s interesting to note that the inspiration and confidence to undertake scientific enquiry emerged from a theology that separated the Creator from the creation, Wis 11:21, and a desire to search for God’s handiwork, Ps19.

    One wonders then if the inspiration and confidence was not there, would science have emerged at all? Pierre Duhem and Stanley Jaki, and more recently James Hannam, make compelling arguments in favour the birth of science under a medieval Catholic theology.

    As for your article – Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists – I’m surprised it does not contain any discussions on whether these Cosmologists who are atheists either started out as atheists or they lost their faith through thier scientific work. Furthermore a discussion on the contributions to Cosmology from Grossteste and Cusa would have been helpful.

  • nnmns

    Sean you’ve put a lot of effort into this and I think generally you’ve contributed to the understanding of the universe and the understanding of what we know about it.

    I do have a major quibble about use of “God”. It seems to me that when you speak of “God” you psychologically at least cede the high ground. To speak of something as a proper noun usually presupposes it exists and you are discussing it. I realize you are not doing that but the psychology is there.

    I believe you’d make your point better and represent the real theological situation better if you replaced most occurrences of “God” by “a god” or more precisely “a god or gods”. In places you could use “his god” or “their gods” and such.

    In arguing a god is not needed you don’t want to seem to assume there is one. Also different people believe in different gods, with some believing in multiple gods. The “a god” language recognizes these facts and moves the argument to neutral linguistic ground.

  • Georg

    Does the univers “need” somethingat all?

  • AJKamper

    @ Joseph Smidt

    I’ve seen your type of argument before, and here’s where it falls apart for me:

    Person 1: “So, since in our universe everything needs a cause, but that leaves us without a first cause, we are going to step outside the realm of stuff we normally understand to get the proper answer.”

    Person 2: “I’m not sure that’s the case, but it makes sense.”

    Person 1: “You can think of this like a transfinite number, or Goedel’s proof, where the only way to describe it correctly is to jump outside the system.”

    Person 2: “Interesting, I follow you.”

    Person 1: “And that cause outside the system needs to be a conscious, free-willed, infinitely powerful and benevolent interventionist entity.”

    Person 2: “Wait, what?”

    That’s the rub. Even positing the need to step outside the system, there is no scientific reason to assume any of the characteristics that people associate with God. Even rationality, as you claim: there’s nothing that makes the rules here particularly rational.

  • Josh

    Time reversal solution in GR:

    I’m not sure if you’re still reading comments, Sean, but I’m curious as to whether a time reversal in GR for a contracting universe without a time-dependent scale factor is a physically meaningful solution. It seems to me that such a solution would imply locally that objects would be “anti-gravitational”. This is a perfectly valid solution to the Einstein Equations, but did Einstein really consider it a viable cosmology? Or maybe I’m missing something. (Likely that!)

  • http://moleseyhill.com mat roberts

    Hi Sean,

    I liked your article. In particular I agree with your point wrt fine tuning that option 1 is not given enough credence.

    Just for me could you use SI units – ergs per cubic centimeter area bit parochial.

    Cheers
    Mat

  • Chase

    Hey Sean,

    Very interesting blog entry. I am a Christian, I do believe in God. But I am also a scientist (physician actually) and can definitely respect your systematic approach to answering this question. I think you would agree that the universe is quite a vast place and although we have made a lot of progress in understanding the underlying physical parameters–nothing is absolute. Science is always making progress and we are (hopefully) coming closer and closer to Truth.

    One thing that I struggle with and find irreconcilable scientifically when you try to disprove God is actually one of the fundamental laws of science, namely the law of conservation of energy. If energy is neither created or destroyed (same goes with matter), then where does it come from? I’m not up on the latest science as to the origin of everything, but the “Big Bang Theory” still seems to be prevalent, at least colloquially. My question is, where did all the matter/energy initially come from?

    If someone were to discover a loop-hole in this fundamental principle, I believe that the argument against the existence of God would be much stronger. But as a firm believer in God, I find everything that I know to be true to be tethered to that principle.

    On a side note…I find science to be much to perfect and ordered to be just random.

    Hopefully you get a a chance to read this and give some feedback.

    -Chase

  • Ray

    @Chase. I’ll save Sean the trouble of answering that one again:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/02/22/energy-is-not-conserved/

    The important points:
    1) Gravitational fields can produce or consume any of the forms of energy that are generally treated in the standard model.
    2) While you can do bookkeeping and treat the energy as being stored within the gravitational field, it’s a little screwy (in particular, speaking of a gravitational energy density seems a lot less physically meaningful than we would like)
    3)That said, if you insist on preserving energy conservation anyway, the total energy content of the universe ends up being zero — it has to do with the fact that the universe is geometrically flat, as measured by CMB experiments. Thus, to the extent that energy conservation holds in General Relativity, the generation of the universe from empty space would not violate it. (Now mind you, it is not known that the pre-big-bang state of the universe was empty space, but assuming that does not create any energy conservation problems at least.)

  • Ald

    Interestingly you end your article mentioning the human “Spirit”. Do you care to elaborate or explain for the use?

    Has science explained the spirit concept?

  • AnotherSean

    Jonathan’s view is the closest to mine. In your response to him, you claimed that grounding religion in explaining the world is the most intellectual respectable thing to do. I think this reflects the fundamental difference between certain classes of views. First, I think there is a number of activities and human experiences that are completely legitimate, even though not intellectualy respectable. Watching the final four, bowling, so forth. Even creating art and talking with the neighbor are not necessarily rational projects, but are no less important because of it. Participating in religious practices could just be another such example, without implying anything unsavory. So not everything has to be intellectually “respectable”. Once more, it seems to the extent that we force people to deffend religion as a type of science we make a categorical mistake, and this leads to ID and all the other horrors. So I think your equating the two things is the scene of the crime.

  • Phil_Osopher

    At the scientific level, a lot has been learned for the past 20 centuries of course, but at the philosophical one, the atheist position is exactly the same since the “De Rerum Natura” of the famous epicureanist Lucretius ( http://www.iep.utm.edu/lucretiu/ ). It’s kind of funny that many modern scientists think they have invented any new philosophically relevant arguments since epicureanism, just because many scientifically relevant discoveries have been made since then, while actually, at the philosophical level, not much has changed. The true difficult questions are not whether one needs a “creator” as a primary cause or not, but rather the questions of the emergence of consciousness and those on the nature of free will, or whether a part of mystery will always remain or not when a system starts thinking about itself. For instance, the way epicureanists were trying to reconcile their deterministic physicalism with free will was through “clinamen”, i.e. indetermination, an incredibly modern intuition. There have also been counter-arguments to that. It’s a fascinating philosophical topic, but up to now modern science hasnt added much to it.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Definitionally, a definition of God as “an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being” while traditional (was it Aquinas that made it a standard?), isn’t a very good operational definition of how we separate religious and non-religious thinking. It is a poor fit to polythesism, animism, or many Eastern religious concepts like Tao and Kharma.

    More useful as an operational definition of that which is divine would be “some being or power that acts with moral purpose or an agenda for human events, in the lives of humans, that is not human, a human creation, or an ordinary animal.” One can worry the “ordinary” part of animal a bit, but the notion is to exclude the moral acts of gorillas and dolphins and dogs and cats and the like, without necessarily ruling out the like of angels, demons, jinn, ghosts, Gaia, and so on. Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web is perhaps a gray area in this definition — she being no ordinary spider.

    Under this operational definition, the deist conception of a Newtonian clockmaker God, reimagined as something setting the Big Bang in motion and fixing the laws of nature, without more, would not constitute God, even if it were done by some gray haired titan surrounded by an Army of angels.

    This operational definition also excludes a truly pure version of a scorekeeper God, one who rewards and punishes us solely in the afterlife, but unlike the Abrahamic Gods, does not tell anyone what the rules by which God keeps score happen to be.

    On the other hand, it would include the Star Wars saga’s mitcholorians, or some supernatural ancient astronauts who brought humanity to a next stage of consciousness and influenced our evolution, even if these being themselves have an evolutionary history of their own (a la Arthus C. Clark’s “2001”). It also permits gods of less than infinite power who are not “omnipotent” or “omniscient” (such as the Greek pantheon, and even the Judeo-Christian God in Genesis who sometimes lacks knowledge of what the humans are up to until he pays attention and discovers their acts), cruel gods who are not “omnibenevolent” (e.g. Satan or the Zoroastrian force of evil), or divine forces who seek balance rather than good (e.g. Taoist conceptions of the divine).

    Under this conception of God, we can reason directly that none of the known inviolate laws of nature have any apparent moral purpose or agenda for human events, at least on their face. They may, as an anthropomorphic principles, does, make it possible for human beings to exist, but the have no preference for good or evil or anything else we do in human affairs; they are nihilist.

    Thus, for this conception of Gods, we must assume that God is a “god of the gaps” who is very shy and acts only through an esquisitely balanced manipulation of random quantum events, and that such a god would be particularly invisible in quantum events in laboratories or distant stars because in such events there is no moral purpose for God to manipulate.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @AJKamper #56:

    Actually, I admire your critique and it is well thought out. I admit what you are saying is related to where I am coming from, and I admit the last leap of your person #1 is probably too far. I guess one question is: what does it mean for laws to be rational etc… First I need to define that and then I need to ask if rational things need rational causes.

    I would say they are rational in that all the laws can be stated using elegant logical constructs. Logical laws, the kind of laws that rational minds like to work with, seem to be at the heart of every physical process.

    *I* would naively imagine that the only laws that would come from a non-rational source would be ones that are non-rational: true chaos, not ones well described be the kind of logic rational minds jive well with.

    I admit this is just a *guess*, but I have a hard time seeing that this is a less-intelligent guess as science so far has told us nothing about where the laws came from in the first place.

    I believe Sean and many other’s position is they come from nowhere and don’t have reasons for being the way they are. I think this is a very acceptable position to take, but I think, given what we *know* thus far (which is next to nothing concerning their origin), it is still also only a guess.

  • stuart taylor

    reading some of the comments has helped me form up what i wanted to say in the first place. “the universe doesn’t ‘need’ anything. it is complete whether anyone in it ever SAYS anything about GOD or anything else in it.” it is ‘us’ that ned to have or not have a GOD mentioned. the basic answer from my standpoint is NO, the universe doesn’t need GOD to be viable as is. we might!

  • Dan

    @#59, Chase,

    How does the Conservation of Energy lead to your Christian doctrines? You wrote, “But as a firm believer in God, I find everything that I know to be true to be tethered to that principle.” Christianity is a complex set of doctrines, how do you logically justify getting a loving, just, incorporeal, omniscient, personal, jealous, omnipotent God from the Conservation of Energy? How does that lead to a Virgin Birth, miracles, the accuracy of the New Testament, Heaven, Hell, the Trinity, or Jesus’ divinity?

    I used to be a conservative evangelical Christian, but I never would have said even then that the conservation of energy was evidence for God’s existence. I could just as easily use the conservation of energy to “prove” any number of supernatural suppositions for which there are no evidence. The conservation of energy in no way leads to the idea of the supernatural, much less a personal god. As a physician I’m sure you understand that it isn’t very helpful to use a mystery to explain a mystery. You wouldn’t say “I don’t understand these symptoms, therefore that is evidence for a supernatural cause of this disease.” In the same way saying “I don’t know how we got here or why energy is conserved, therefore the Christian God” is equally illogical.

  • FmsRse12

    this post is directed against the “God” or against the men of “God” ??…..

  • Dan

    FmsRse12 #68,

    I’d guess that this post isn’t directed against God, but toward people who believe in him/her/it. It would be highly ironic if an atheist was addressing his post to a god, even if god were real I doubt it would read blogs (especially if it was an omniscient god)!

  • Neil

    Does the universe need “God”? I guess the first step is to define “God”. Defining “God” as an explanation for observed but unexplained phenomena (god of the gaps) is a proven loser. “God” as a creator but not intervener(Deism) is still an open question unless cosmological theories like eternal inflation or cyclic universes can be tested and affirmed. “God” as the purpose or meaning for the existence of the universe (why is there something rather than nothing)should endure unless a testable “theory of everything” (not the multiverse theory of anything)comes along.

  • http://thecosmist.com The Cosmist

    I like Hugo de Garis’ ideas on this subject (see http://www.kurzweilai.net/from-cosmism-to-deism ). He points out that while theism (belief in a god who cares about humans) is absurd in view of the evidence, deism (belief in an indifferent creator of the universe) is quite plausible scientifically. As Alan Guth has demonstrated with a mathematical model, creating a baby universe may be physically possible, and as our machines become super-intelligent and tend toward godhood they might be able to actually create such universes. So the idea that we are living inside such a universe created by a super-intelligent deity doesn’t seem so far-fetched, and in this model the universe *does* need God. Anyway, I just wanted to add this very interesting idea to the conversation!

  • Craig McGillivary

    I think you could strengthen the paragraph pointing out that “God did it” doesn’t really help us answer our questions. Also I think that while God’s role as creator of the universe might be important to religious people, what they really care about is the idea that they can have a personal relationship with God. Science absolutely paints a picture of the world in which that is impossible.

  • Bivins

    @51,

    Completely ignoring the question of “why” just because it is hard to answer scientifically (which is exactly what that “explanation” suggests) is so unlike a scientist. Scientists seek out the hard to answer questions. As such, “why” is a valid question. Science is just poorly constructed to answer it. Science does answer how, and you are correct (as I have stated), carefully answering “how” does effectively cover-up for the fact that you never really answered “why”.

    “Why” is a valid question. I have asked Sean to answer me (as the resident Guru on this particular thread — you seem to be an associate Guru in this space); “Why is the sky blue?”

    I would like science to tell me. IF science can answer that, then science will have successfully squeezed God out of the Universe.

    You have tried to refute my argument without addressing what I have pointed out; that Sean’s own test of validity dooms BOTH religion and science because at this time in our lives, both are failing miserably in the realm of predicting the nature of the next discovered phenomena.

    For scientists (I am a professional Computer Scientist and an amateur astrologer), this is a glorious period of time to be alive because I know there are plenty of unknowns for me to try to discover. But, I find cosmology is just continually coming up short for providing answers.

    The very next discovered heavenly body or phenomena, of whatever type, will cause us to once again cast aside a large percentage of our “understanding” as to the nature of the Universe, if not cause us to completely abandon everything we “know” and start all over again. String theory? The Multi-verse? 18-dimensions? Bubble theory? What else is out there?

    I am excited, but I don’t allow my scientific enthusiasm to over-think the role of science in the lives of most people. Or my life.

    Maybe you can tell me, “why is the sky blue?”

    You inferred that the question “why” is a tool used by those who buck authority. I do not disagree. I also have a distrust, on an abstract level, of authority. Maybe, as you say, that is why I want to know, “why”. However, motive on the part of the inquirer does not automatically invalidate the question.

    So, I ask my professor how the sky is blue, then I ask my pastor why the sky is blue, and I come away with a complete understanding. I have therefor answered, “how does God make the sky blue?”

    A true scientist abandons no questions.

    BTW, I am in agreement with #59 (Chase), that the Conservation of Energy (contrived zero sum energy “theory” notwithstanding), does point to fact that science has very finite boundaries when it comes to explaining everything. Our laws of physics say absolutely nothing at all about what there was before the big bang, nor after the big crunch, or the eventual darkening of the Universe (which outcome there will be ultimately be dependent on the nature and amount of Dark Matter — which itself is still unknown).

    Science fails miserably in that regard.

    The fact remains; the very same test Sean uses to bash Christianity also sufficiently bashes Science. Either his test is valid, and both Christianity and Science are too deeply flawed, and therefore the Universe “needs” neither, or his test is itself invalid.

    Once again, Sean, Sphere Coupler, “Why is the sky blue?”

    The point of my diatribe is that even if everything that both you and Sean have asserted are true, it still does not necessarily lead to answering the question of this thread in the negative, nor does it lead to a disproving the existence of God.

    –Robert

  • slw

    I don’t think your definition of god is terse at all. Yes, it uses few words, however each of the words by itself comes loaded with a lot of hidden meaning and little in the way of an actual definition.

    Is omnipotence only the ability to affect the universe created in any way he pleases or also the ability to alter his own being how he chooses? If an omnipotent being arises in one possible universe, does omnipotence include the ability to see and alter other universes, making the existence of an omnipotent being necessary in all universes, if you allow for the possibility?

    All the properties you assign to god seem to be paradoxical in nature.

  • Sphere Coupler

    Bivins #73;

    Sorry to disappoint but I have only commented on this blog a couple of times and in that respect I hardly could be considered “an associate Guru in this space”.

    The sky used to be appear bluer back in the sixties before air traffic increased to what it is today. For three days after the incident of 911, aircraft did not fly over the continental US and the pan evaporation rate increased and the troposphere even smelled a lot cleaner and the sky was bluer, but you really had to pay attention and not be so involved in one’s small world.
    The answer for why is the sky blue is answered by asking the how question first and to help you understand you must first be open to learning, and if you are, then the following site does a fair job of explanation…

    http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/sky_blue.html

    The short answer is Rayleigh scattering.

    Bivens, I’m not here to prove or disprove your belief in a god, that is your personal choice, Personally I have been down both roads and Personally have found them both lacking, therefore I am, as of today neither atheist nor theist because the question, (Is there a god) is irrelevant to me.

    I am not saying that the belief in a god is irrelevant to some and to me in the past, I am just saying that at this stage in my life the question is irrelevant to me…Personally. Sure others belief in a god can affect me such as discrimination from believers and discrimination from non-believers although atheist tend to discriminate less due to the close proximity of thought patterns derived from abstinence of addressing the question.

    I really don’t think any scientist is in the position to disprove a god, nor do I think any theologist is in the position to prove our existance from the act of a god. By whatever means that you have before you, it is up to you to decide, yet that decision is a personal one and will define you, not the world veiw of the person standing next to you.

  • Simon

    I find really useful way to think about so-called “fine tuning” – which often deflates many arguments – is to put the question in terms of simulations (e.g. Monte Carlo on a computer). If you think parameter X is “finely tuned” that presumably means something like “of all the possibilities for X, we require X in the range […] in order for life to occur, and this is a region of parameter space that is highly improbable.” In terms of simulations this means that if you generate N universes with X randomly distributed you find a very small fraction are suitable for life (given some conditions to crudely approximate this.)

    Now, you can hopefully all see that to actually do this you need a sampling distribution for X. In fact, you need the joint distribution for all parameters of the model universe. If any are truly ‘fixed’ for theoretical reasons you could use a delta function. Just saying that X is random isn’t nearly enough to solve the problem, or really say anything about whether X ~ X_obs is unlikely. The answer to whether X is unlikely to be in the ‘goldilocks zone’ is obviously completely dependent on what distribution you chose for X.

    Surely to say some parameter must be tuned – because it’s actual value (or a life-supporting range of values) is unlikely – implies you know the distribution of allowed values. How can anyone know that? What do people assume when they say X (for which we have only ever observed one value) has a value that is improbable?

    (I recall Vic Stenger’s done some Monte Carlo simulations running a toy model of stellar evolution under different physical constant. But I’ve not read this in details.)

    BTW: there’s a really interesting paper by stats guru Radford Neal on “Antropic reasoning” here. Good to see a real expert of probability theory take on this problem, not just us physicists (who sometimes don’t see all the subtleties or solutions).

  • dave chamberlin

    After reading:”The Rare Earth Hypothesis” by Peter Ward I concluded the following.

    If
    1) God didn’t create life (it sure doesn’t look that way)
    2)God didn’t play any part in evolution (it sure doesn’t look that way)
    3) The Rare Earth Hypothesis is correct (read the book, its worth it)

    Then the Man in Charge is a slacker. That or he is a big picture guy, he makes a universe and then moves on.

    Truth is when we venture too far from the shadow of experimentalism then we all become bar room philosophers forever beating a dead horse, Prometheus style.

    I love science and grow quickly bored with religious or even political arguments. If you want to talk politics, then put it into economic terms or leave me alone. If you want to talk theology then I submit you are delusional in what you pretend to know. Some people find great comfort in playing make believe. The need for religion springs from the fear of our actual insignificance. Some of us are no longer afraid. We are apart of something greater, the scientific community that is doing a fine job of beating back the fog of complexity. I could go on but the horse is already dead.

  • BL

    I think that the focus on God as a scientific theory is overly narrow. Instead, we should focus on God as a theoretical posit more generally, where a theoretical posit is just something in our ontology that we haven’t yet been able to observe directly. Lots of theoretical posits are ones in scientific theories, e.g., electrons and dark matter. But lots aren’t. For instance: (1) In common-sense psychology, we posit that people have beliefs and desires even if we don’t know any science at all. (2) A suspicious wife may posit another woman, even if she doesn’t have any easy way to catch her husband red-handed. (3) A plumber may posit a clog in some pipe if there’s a back up. Sure, these can generally be accommodated by science, but they’re not posited through the use of science, just the use of everyday reasoning.

    It’s not too hard to argue that God-as-theoretical posit, even as a non-scientific one, isn’t very good. Even our common sense posits tend to meet certain standards: they do explanatory work, for instance. The God hypothesis doesn’t. Furthermore, we notice there are tons of tensions in the idea: all good, powerful, etc. seems to conflict with evil; intervenes, but never directly enough to be sure it was God; cares a lot about our lives, but never speaks to us directly or reveals Himself. Thus, the idea looks like a mess even if we loosen our standards. So, I think Sean’s point stands even more generally: if you use the methods you usually use to assess theoretical posits, you’ll reject the God hypothesis.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    I’l l say this: For being a fictitious entity, God sure gets a lot of attention. :)

    Even those who know He is fictitious can’t escape devoting their lives, blogs, books and public lectures to discussing Him. (Look at PZ Meyers, God runs his day to day life! Discussing God seems to be all he can find to do with his time and it appears he will sacrifice his entire life to the part of discussing God day in and day out!) Pretty impressive you have to admit!

    God may be fake, but even the atheist world can’t help but revolve around Him.

  • AnotherSean

    BL- I don’t understand your distinction between science and every day causal reasoning, they are just different ends of the spectrum. Furthermore, we make all kinds ofcommon sense assumptions about the world, including value judgments, and its difficult to think of these as being explanatory.

  • AJKamper

    @Joseph Smidt, #79

    Even those who know He is fictitious can’t escape devoting their lives, blogs, books and public lectures to discussing Him. (Look at PZ Meyers, God runs his day to day life! Discussing God seems to be all he can find to do with his time and it appears he will sacrifice his entire life to the part of discussing God day in and day out!) Pretty impressive you have to admit!
    God may be fake, but even the atheist world can’t help but revolve around Him.

    That’s because we live in a nation where radical Christianity is so dominant that it completely shapes public discourse. Where atheists are one of the more despised and distrusted minorities, to the point that it can be really difficult to “come out” to people in the community. Atheists here are outspoken about it because the need for a countervailing force is vital. In countries where it’s more common, there’s not nearly the tendency to be so vocal about it.

  • http://www.theeternaluniverse.com/ Joseph Smidt

    @AJKamper #81

    I see. Well, I give this out as a definition of hell: sacrificing your whole life to discussing something you know is false. (You only get one life!)

    “can be really difficult to “come out””

    Again, I am impressed that people feel a need to be labeled publicly in terms of an entity that is false. I’m not saying it is wrong! But I think it would be an interesting psychological study to see why people feel compelled to want to have the ability to be publicly labeled in terms of a fictitious entity.

    And my original point isn’t that atheists are wrong to do what they are doing. Its to say God is impressive in that He can both be fake and get the entire world, even those who know he is fake, to sacrifice their lives to discussing Him and feel compelled to be labeled in terms of Him. :) He should get some type of kudos for that!

  • Ray

    Smidt

    I see. Well, I give this out as a definition of hell: sacrificing your whole life to discussing something you know is false. (You only get one life!)

    So you enjoy making life hell for the rest of us. How very Christian of you.

  • Kevin

    I think I’m in love with this essay. It dissolves the problem of “creation from nothing” (an issue which I recently encountered in a discussion elsewhere), uses Bayesian reasoning to judge possible explanations, correctly describes parsimony in terms of Kolmogorov complexity, points out the theory-saving in and the predictive issues of God as a hypothesis… brilliant all around.

  • BL

    @AnotherSean,

    I agree that there’s no principled distinction between scientific and casual, everyday reasoning. Scientific reasoning is just common sense gone sufficiently reflective and sophisticated. My point is that even when we significantly loosen the standards that Sean uses to evaluate how good of a hypothesis God is, we get the same result. The idea is just that the theist looks like she’s committed to using very different standards when it comes to evaluating the God-hypothesis than she herself uses for pretty much everything else.

    As for value judgments, I take it that those generally are in a different category. To put the matter loosely, claiming that God did such and such or that electrons are thus and so commits me to the existence of God and electrons. Claiming that genocide is wrong or that ice cream is tasty doesn’t commit me to anything existing nor does it generally impose restrictions on what the world is like. It’s only when we start claiming that there are objective facts about these things that it begins to look like we’re walking on metaphysically dubious ground.

  • AJKamper

    @ JosephSmidt, 81

    Again, I am impressed that people feel a need to be labeled publicly in terms of an entity that is false. I’m not saying it is wrong! But I think it would be an interesting psychological study to see why people feel compelled to want to have the ability to be publicly labeled in terms of a fictitious entity.

    I’m sorry, but this is akin to be saying, “Well, gee, if people think skin color isn’t important in determining the value of a person, then why do so many people say they’re proud to be black?” Because they’ve been persecuted for exactly that! There’s nothing impressive, laudable, or kudo-worthy about the human tendency to hate.

    I wouldn’t make it as personal as Ray, but he’s got a point: if American atheists are in what you call hell, it’s because Christians have put them there–not of their own choice.

  • Acosmologist

    “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists”

    Why (Almost All) Cosmologists’ theories are possibly rubbish?

  • spyder

    In answering the question: Does the Universe Need God?, i only have this to say. I have always lumped the gods and goddesses with war: “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again! Uh-uh! Listen to me.”

  • Eva

    In my opinion the more important question is “Why in the 21st century scientists still need to waste their intelectual capacity to disprove the existence of gods?” Fortunatly they do (it is obviously necessary), but to me that whole situation is utterly absurd!

  • Rich C

    I liked the article quite a bit, and think it provides a respectful but still pretty biting critique of theistic cosmology. One minor quibble: in assessing the options for explaining the “fine tuning” of the standard model parameters, you don’t mention Lee Smolin’s Cosmological Natural Selection proposal. Maybe you don’t really like it but its a) in part testable, and has so far passed the tests its been subjected to and b) provides a mechanism for addressing the fine tuning question that doesn’t rely on a “final theory”, which seems like a good thing since candidate final theories, like super strings or loop quantum gravity seem to if anything provide even more greater scope for universes with physical laws different from our own (hence greater need for fine tuning) than the standard model.

  • Andy F

    Only some people need a god to justify their views/existence. I don’t need a god, and neither does the universe.

    Great article Sean.

  • God

    As God, I can confirm that Sean is absolutely correct here.

    Love, and I really mean it,
    God

  • http://Yahoo G-Man

    Poor Sean, for all of your intellect and eloquence I feel your loneliness all the way over here. Leave the world and its workings to science, and love and spirtuality to God.

  • Bivins

    #75. Sphere Coupler,

    I appreciate your point of view, and I have been down similar paths as you, and I ultimately chose to be a Christian. So, I can dig it. However, I already knew how the sky is blue. I know all about the different refraction rates of each wavelength of light. However, that doesn’t tell me why blue’s wavelength is longer than red. Nor does it address why longer wavelengths should refract more rather than less. Truthfully, there is no law of science that says it should be one way or the other, but it is one way, and not the other.

    These choices all seem arbitrary, but every single “choice” inexorably leads to another and another and another until we have the wonderful tapestry that is the entire Universe.

    You’ve elegantly shown me how. I won’t find out why on this blog. That doesn’t bother me because I do know where to look for that answer.

    That you’ve taken a non-committal stance on the overall question saddens me. You are an intellectual, and a person I’ve already come to admire, and yet you are staying on the sidelines. That is anti-intellectualism to me. That saddens me a little.

    But, I guess I really don’t know you, so…I don’t know…

    –Robert

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  • rich yinger

    Atheists are evidence of god’s existence. Cosmologists who deny god can exist must be poor cosmologists, unless they have identified the boundaries of space. I didn’t hear about that. Every electronic computer programmer knows that only 2 things exist, On or Off, All or Nothing. Where in All is not god? Where in Nothing is anything but god? I guess my problem with atheists is the same as every other religionist I know. They want to define god their way and reject other definitions. From what I was taught God has no boundaries so fence him in at your own peril. The vinegar is just right.

  • Gary B

    The God hypothesis tends to be framed in ultimate terms: “an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being. (There are other definitions, but they are usually comparably terse.)” but it might be more useful to scientific consideration to think in penultimate terms. While this might at first invoke a “Huh?” response, it’s a device fairly common to modern science fiction, with roots in literary and religious writing unto ancient times.

    The ancient form of the device suggests that our reality is merely the dreams or imaginings of a prior reality. The modern form of the device suggests that our reality is a virtual reality existing entirely within a massive piece of software. Either way, “God” ends up being defined, not by extreme adjectives (e.g. omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent), but simply by the contingency of our reality, relative to that prior reality.

    Admittedly, a consideration of penultimacy immediately raises the issue of infinitely nested realities, but that is still useful, if only because we are rapidly moving toward the ability to “nest” new universes within our own, and may need to wrestle with the “God” issue from the other side of the divide. Programmers inevitably learn that being the “creator” vests one’s self with neither omniscence nor omnipotence over one’s creation. Even for “God,” there may be limits, and because of those limits, “God” may need to use shortcuts and cut some corners, and “God’s” creatures might get hints of their creator by noticing anomalies in the programming.

    Maybe that is what relativistic and quantumn physics represent, that when we press beyond the normal perception of our reality, to the infinitely small, or the infinitely large, or the infinitely fast, we start to see distortions that maybe we were never intended to get around to.

    Or maybe not.

    The point is, the possibility of being in a nested reality bears some consideration, is hard to categorically deny, and leaves open the kind of designed contingency that we tend to associate with the existence of “God,” even if that “God” has little to do with the declarations of most of theology.

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  • Delusion

    I do believe the universe needs god. Either for physical or emotional support;god is one of the many things that gives people hope. Science, is honestly not so comforting.
    I may not be a professional or anything, but I certainly know that things just don’t go ‘boom’ and you have a universe. Some things, science just cannot prove.

  • el_dhulqarnain

    Delusion:

    1. That something is comforting doesn’t (necessarily) make it true; only comforting;

    2. If the universe didn’t ‘just go boom’ and exist, how come god went ‘boom’ and exists?

    (Special pleading + argument from incredulity.)

  • Sphere Coupler

    @94 Robert

    Thanks for the compliment, but I assure you I am quite comfortable with my present state. Both atheist and theist have accused me of sitting on the fence waiting to be swayed one way or another and from those perspectives it may look this way, I assure you that I am not sitting on the fence, I am the fence.You naturally see my stance as non-committal and I understand from your view it does look like this, the view from an atheist is the same. It is not an easy view point to obtain because their are so few that (get it).
    I find a unique comfort and freedom that comes from this perspective, I am not troubled or bothered by questions of why…These why questions ultimately boil down to why are we here, and the answer to this question can only be answered by the individual and their are many answers to be acquired and sometimes the answer will change throughout ones life as you may already be aware.
    The way I see this god thing is;
    Their is not a definitive answer to the question…I find the question, (not the concept as it effects the world around me), Irrelevant.
    We are all unique and diversity of thought is important,it causes disturbance and disturbance leads to discovery. For me (god) will remain a placeholder for that which humanity does not yet understand…period.

  • David George

    #97 Gary B wrote, “Programmers inevitably learn that being the “creator” vests one’s self with neither omniscence nor omnipotence over one’s creation. Even for “God,” there may be limits….”

    Thank “God” somebody else can see that!

    #100 el_dhulqarnain wrote, “If the universe didn’t ‘just go boom’ and exist, how come god went ‘boom’ and exists?”

    Maybe god didn’t go ‘boom’, and maybe god can never fully exist.

  • Bivins

    #101. Sphere Coupler,

    I don’t know if you realize this, but you have just defined God as you know Him with this statement, “For me (god) will remain a placeholder for that which humanity does not yet understand…period”.

    Especially since it brings into question a topic much like the Dark Matter conundrum; can man ultimately know everything? Or, is there enough stuff to learn for the Universe t0 always retreat behind man’s sphere of knowledge (by which your definition means there will always be God), or is there not enough stuff and the Universe will eventually shrink inside man’s sphere of knowledge (meaning God has been squeezed out).

    The latter scenario is just as depressing as if there turns out to not be enough Dark Energy to obviate the Big Crunch. Imagine how bored those billions (trillions) of future humans would be once we knew everything. Once God has been disproved using your method, the Universe becomes a very dark place.

    The former scenerio means that there will always be an abundance of unknowns regardless the number of human souls who are in persuit of the edge of the Universe. In this Universe, there will always be unknowns, and therefore always God.

    You may be the fence. But, your front side is pointing at God. Your backside is pointed at a very drab Universe. That tells me that you are ever so slightly an optimist, a dreamer, and a thinker. My friend, you are already leaning.

    To me, proof comes from this, our rate at which we come to know things pales in comparison to the rate at which we don’t know things. That is patently counter-intuitive, because the number of things we don’t know should be decreasing. It isn’t. To me, that tells me that maybe someone is hard at work keeping the Universe full of new stuff to know.

    You know, the Hubble, I think, has given us a glimpse as to just how busy God must be. I am sure you have seen the Hubble Deep Field Survey. Are you fully aware of how this shot was taken? Scientist pointed the Hubble at an empty spot in the sky and left the shutter open for a very long time.

    If you have seen this photo, the density of “stars” is just about greater than any other Hubble photo. The density is even more mind boggling when you realize that nearly every point of light in that photo is a *galaxy*, not a star.

    I haven’t seen that anyone has fully understood the implications. If the density of stars is that much greater in the dark patches of our sky than the density of the stars we can see, then the Universe just got exponentially larger. It is already going to take many years to analyze that one photo. What if we start routinely taking these photos? What if we take 100 such photos? Centuries just to analyze them? What if we take 1000? Could we really have just opened up a Pandoras box (of cool stuff) that large? Millennia? Really? Random chance? Really?

    But, that is my belief — that God is filling the Universe up for us to find stuff and satisfying our curiosity and inquisitiveness. That makes the Universe a thoroughly cool place to live.

    You are smart, very smart. Eventually, your intellect will cause you to choose one viewpoint or the other.

    –Robert

    BTW, I noticed how your handle fits your viewpoint, as it is now. Cool.

  • Anthony K.

    Sean, your premis is wrongand mistated. “Does the Universe need God” is rediculous. Your think ‘god’ was invented by people. Preciselly the Opposite. Let me pose a Simple question: Where did the Laws of Calculus come from; Higher mathematics we recently discovered? What kinds of ‘accidents of Nature” Began Everything?

  • Anthony K.

    First, Definitions: God. Normal standard definition is The Omniscient Mastermind, Creator of Everything. All major beliefs think of the same qualities for God: Loving, Creator, Mastermind, to whom we need to show Respect, as we do tto our parents: It’s tough for an infant to survive, grow up without parents. And it is not many gods, but many Names for God: Yahjweh, God, Buddha, Allah, Nature, the Natural Force, etc., etc. The Best film About God is by Scientists, to refute Atheism, by questioning Where the Enormous complexities of Nature, and the INTELLIGENCE Obvious in the Universe came from; by accident? Obviously, there is The Supreme Intelligence, the Master mind, that created the Intelligence in the universe, including ours. Anyone who has studied Biology, a Leaf, a worm, Higher mathematics, Physics, is overwhelmed by the incredible Mastermind/Intelligence of everything. Just accidents? Where did Nature come from? The Laws of Gravity, electronic charges? Please give us Your opinion, Sean………………………..

  • Anthony K.

    The now Proven by measurements (Rate of expansion of everything In the Universe) is the Big Bang: Everything, from Nothing (Science does not recognize Nullity/Nothing) described ‘scientifically’ as a ‘subatomic particle’ by the now Very Famed Father/Doctor Belgian Scientist/Priest in the 1920’s Georges Lemaitre from all the Science/Math discoveries of his Science previous masterminds. Albert Einstein held Fr/Dr Lemaitre in highest trespect, once asking Fr/Dr Lemaitre to fill-in for him at one major Physics world Class Seminar. Documentation is available. Dr/Fr Lemaitre used Science only in his research and Presentations, never Religion; Professionally Highest Integrity/Professionalism. How do You refute “The Big Bang” origin of EVERY Thing, aka Everything, including the Natural Laws of Calculus, Sean? Everything From Nothing is not The Ultimate Proof of Not Physical, Spiritual only Creator God, Sean?

  • Anthony K.

    Why do 80-90% 0f All Humans believe in a Mastermind, a ‘God’ not included in your thinking, scientifically, Sean?? Let’s remember Albert Einstein did The Mega-Wisdiom Thought: One can Not Understand Science without God; One can not understand God without Science, Sean. How do you refute Einstein’s Premise, Sean? Much more significally, Sean, is the fact that World belief in Atheism (No God, as you beleve) is Very single digits: 4-8%. Are over 90% of Humans wrong, Sean? I practise the Same Original Master Wisdoms/Discovering/Initiator of Western World Scientific Research Religion/Faith: The Ideal 1.3 Billion member Roman/Orthodox Catholic Church, Like Dr/Fr Lemaitre. Everything Is The Proof of God; God is Love, Never retribution or source of evil. The Greatest Wisdom of Catholic Intelligence points out that negatives/’evils’ are the Absence of Good” Blindness, etc., etc. Not aware, Sean, of the recent (few Decades) Observation by Intelligence: The More Scientists Discover things, the More they Become Deists?? Science and True religion ComplEment each other, Never Conflict, unless the Bible is Read in Modern LITERAL English: Fundamentalism: WRONG every way, Ignoring the Culture, Thinking of 2,000-3,000 years ago, Which we Catholic Experts Know, understand, remember.

  • Anthony K.

    First 2 Dictionary definitions of God each say the perfect being, universal ruler, creator of the Universe. What’s Your definition of God, and who/what created the Universe, meaning Everything, Sean?? Am Highly knowledgeable of Scince, Scientific method. What Proof, Evidence do you have for your postulation, Sean? Never realized that Science and God Validate/ Prove each other?

  • dave chamberlin

    Please don’t give us your opinion, Anthony………………

    but if you have any more gems like “normal standard deviation is the Omnisient Mastermind” we will make an exception. There is a very thin line between “The Mega-Wisdom Thought” and utter gibberish. I wish you luck with your continuing quest for deep meaning concentrated Anthony, you are going to need it.

  • Sphere Coupler

    Robert,
    There is a story by author Ray Bradbury, I believe it was in the Martian Chronicles. If I remember correctly the story depicted a telepathic martian who transformed into a person in which who’s mind she was reading, was thinking about, she was everyone to everybody.

    (If anyone recalls the name of the story, I would love to read it again, I read it long ago)

    Let me say that a bit clearer.
    Whomsoever mind she read, she would become the person who they were thinking about, whether that person was dead, lost or in the next room.

    Apparently it is much the same, from my point of view, those from both sides see my view as close to theirs (or grossly set apart), though much of what you say is true…from your viewpoint, an atheist would read it differently from their perspective, and that’s OK really, because they both are true for both camps.

    “For me (god) will remain a placeholder for that which humanity does not yet understand…period”.(comment 42)

    You read this differently than an atheist would, and that’s OK, I actually like your interpretation.It’s intellectually pleasing, if you will.(comment 103)

    Indeed the moniker does fit, you are correct, though it was not chosen for any one specific duty…it was chosen because it fits many facets of physics(particle, geo, and others)…and we are…all of us…on this one…tiny, blue…planet.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    @ Anthony K #107: “Are over 90% of Humans wrong, Sean?”

    I can’t speak for Sean, but there are plenty of matters upon which large percentages of the population are factually incorrect. For example, about half of Americans think that antibiotics kill viruses.

    Also, nobody denies that religious faiths exist, and it is entirely possible that religious faith imparts benefits even if God does not exist. Indeed, the secular view of religion is that this almost has to be true for religion to be so common.

    Further, since no one religious view commands majority support in the world, a majority of the people in the world disfavor every particular kind of belief about God.

  • Bivins

    @110. Sphere Coupler,

    I know you are not going to like this, but I think I can count you as a convert. Which, heretofore, I would have thought impossible. But, then again, maybe optimism is based on the notion of a higher being and a greater purpose because nothing is pointless, and by extension, no one is pointless.

    I’d much rather live in that Universe, than the alternative. I think you want to as well, but are looking for an intellectual excuse (euphemistically called a “nudge”). Maybe you aren’t ready for the immortal soul, and the Big Book of Deeds and the Pearly Gates and all that stuff. But, I think you would like to know that you aren’t a random collection of chemical coincidences.

    Plus, lets be honest, we Christians are pretty arrogant as a group, and we like the idea of the entire Universe existing for our purpose. If there is a God, then that last statement is undeniably true. I teach Calculus and Physics at a Christian High School. I am a supporter of Evolution, the Big Bang, and Adam and Eve. I speak only English, so I’m not delusional enough to think that if I can’t read it in the Bible, it must not have happened — if for no other reason than the fact that the Bible wasn’t written in English, and was translated by a King with a pretty severe political agenda.

    I find very few people who think as I do, and my boss tolerates my point of view mostly because I am the best teacher the school has ever had in its 25 years of existence. The parents make a strong case for keeping me for that mostly pragmatic reason. But, since I am talking to an intellectual, you are probably already aware of the fact that people are more tolerant of the eccentricities of the rich and the highly intelligent. Since I am not rich, I rely on the latter and get away with it.

    But, I have found that if you loosen your grip on the language of the Bible (which should be easy enough for the English or Spanish speaker, you would think), many of the ideas of the Bible are actually *almost* supported by Science. Examples: 1) there was an actual global flood at a time in Earth’s history that could align with the story of Noah, 2) Jesus was a real person (and almost scientifically proven), 3) the junction of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers makes a strong case for being the Garden of Eden, etc. Some have accused me of wishful thinking, but I don’t think so. I would expect Science, on occasion, to patently make at least some of the events in the Bible impossible, that weren’t obvious allegory, of course. Science has had a very hard time doing that, even after thousands of years of trying.

    Even the resurrection of Jesus is hard to refute because we routinely resurrect people as a matter of course, now.

    I find it comforting and interesting that Man had an opportunity to live a life of Bliss, and instead chose Knowledge, and then God went about filling the Universe with enough stuff to keep us occupied forever. We disobeyed our Father, and He — while angry — made sure we could be successful living the lives He did not choose for us. I only wish I could be that benevolent with my own children. Most of us disown children who choose lifestyles diametrically apposed to our own value system.

    Creation says the Earth and animals existed prior to man (true). The Universe existed before Earth (true). Man is in fact near the end of the creationary/evolutionary process (true). The Universe started from a very bright single event (true).

    My ideas fit so neatly I can’t imagine why hardly anyone else agrees. I just find it difficult to believe that ancient man can somehow be so close to the *truth* as modern science is defining it.

    Man was created from the Earth. Every molecule of Earth and Man come from the destruction of large, majestic, beautiful stars in very bright, violent Super Novas that happened long ago. God, in my mind, destroyed a rather gorgeous Universe just to make the stuff that makes us with one monumental act of destruction after another. An inexorable, improbable, monumental, purposeful (?) laundry list of changes had to happen for us to even be possible. And yet, here we are.

    I look at the Hubble Deep Field Survey, and I am shocked. I’m thinking that photo should have had cosmologists circling their wagons defending its impossibility, and Theists proclaiming, “see, I TOLD you so!” That didn’t happen. How is it that the Universe is bigger in the past than in the present?

    The number of stars represented by that photo…

    The infinitesimal angular view…

    You do the math…

    Here it is: http://www.cosmiclight.com/imagegalleries/deepfield.htm

    Gaze and think. I mean really think about what it represents.

    I think cosmologist are avoiding what it means. We should point Hubble in the opposite direction and see what happens. What if the far away Universe is as super-dense looking forward *and* backwards?

    You are not an atheist. You are not the fence. I believe you are the epitome of an agnostic, which is a point of view I can except because of the many abuses of every major religion on Earth.

    Christianity is singularly interesting because it is defined on faith, with is belief in the absence of proof. So, the fact that science can sometimes almost prove a tenet of Christianity sorta fits, because if there was ever any actual proof, their could be no Christians. Some can say self-serving, but I don’t think so, because I don’t believe the early humans who were writing the book had the wherewithal to have that particular ulterior motive.

    A constantly expanding Universe *needs* God because it needs someone to constantly fill it. This type of Universe is happy, and big, and comfortable, and interesting, and varied, and unique, and surprising, and dangerous, and scary, and daunting, and cruel, and safe, and loving, and good, and evil, and hot, and cold, and fuzzy, and warm, and sneezey, and venomous, and, and, and……..

    A Universe destined for the Big Crunch is finite, eventually boring, eventually dark, depressing, small, and very, very uninteresting.

    Well, I won’t be a teacher anymore after next week. The economy is such that I must move back into my primary field as a Computer Scientist and once again earn enough to properly support my family. That means my audience for my point of view will exponentially shrink. I spent 5 years putting kids from a small Black high school (pop. 78) into Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Julliard among others, but I must walk away.

    If you know computer scientists, that is the same as saying all-scientists, because it is a particularly grueling course of study.

    I walk away with the comfort of knowing that there is a God, and though He wont prove Himself to me, he will drop a few hints here or there. And, he will make sure there is always something for me to learn, and my sons and daughters, and my grandchildren, and so on and so on.

    You can be the wall, if you like (I still feel that you are non-committal), as long as you are facing my side. I’ll take “intellectually pleasing”, and complain no more.

    Well, I’m rambling. Nay. I’m in full diatribe mode, once again. So far, you’ve been a willing target. I hope I haven’t worn out my welcome.

    –Robert

  • Bivins

    @111. ohwilleke,

    “Further, since no one religious view commands majority support in the world, a majority of the people in the world disfavor every particular kind of belief about God.”

    You overstate. In fact, the top three religions of the world, which represent the overwhelming majority of people, believe in the same God. They differ on the role of Jesus. If you substitute Jesus for God in your statement, you would essentially be correct.

    –Robert

  • Sphere Coupler

    Robert, I’m sorry to hear about your change in venue, as it seems you are one of few who are not polarized and willing to seek middle ground (which is always good).

    “You are not an atheist. You are not the fence. I believe you are the epitome of an agnostic, which is a point of view I can except because of the many abuses of every major religion on Earth.”

    The major abuses of religion are done by government manipulation and willingly excepted by the major religions in a herd mentality, that and the fatalistic end view that relinquishes those from accountability. No religion should promote an unending excuse from sin or wrongdoing to their fellow man & the planet and I see so many religions of today promoting sin for six and be absolved on the seventh. Until that changes religion is a problem to the well being of mankind.
    Too many religions promote the destruction of my home on the basis that it was put here to use and abuse.
    Religion and god are different subjects and I digress.

    “but I think I can count you as a convert”

    On the contrary my friend, I am rock solid, my worldview has allowed me to see further than anyone would have thought possible and from this perspective allows me to deeply see the interplay between those who believe and those who don’t, a world of all believers or a world of all non-believers would be a drab world indeed.

    “A Universe destined for the Big Crunch is finite, eventually boring, eventually dark, depressing, small, and very, very uninteresting.”

    I disagree, I find the big freeze very uninteresting.
    Just as we see the space of the Universe expanding, we also see the coalescence of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and further down that road black hole coalescence, the Universe will expand forever, till the majority of matter is in black hole form, they will not radiate away, Hawking radiation is not a primary mover on such scales. You will be interested to know that I profess the Universe will end only to be recreated. When all matter is in the same state and space is meaningless, it is a form of harmony where gravity cannot exist in any meaningful way (you need opposing particles to recognize gravity) and therefore expansion/inflation will ensue yet again. These few common words can not do this explanation justice.

    Needless to say all matter in one state (harmony if you will)is not uninteresting.

    ” How is it that the Universe is bigger in the past than in the present.”

    It isn’t, The Universe has been expanding all along, we did not have the capability to see…now we do see this, though what we see, the light we see, has traveled a very long way and by the time it reaches us it is just a record of what once was, that does not mean the past was a bigger(space between galaxies) Universe, it means what we see is big and by all indications the space is getting bigger yet on a local scale we orbit the sun which orbits the galactic center, which orbits the barycenter of the local cluster, which orbits the barycenter of the super-cluster. To eventually coalesce to a black-hole. One amongst many.

    We all have a quest and only the individual can define that quest for ones self, some people never recognize this, to me that is a sad non-event, you seem to have found yours, good for you, what a boring world if we all held the same Weltanschauung.

    There is a difference between my mindset and that of an agnostic, an agnostic claims that the subject is unknowable.

    Peace to you.

    I remain the fence,
    (I like the view)
    Sphere Coupler.

  • Kevin

    First, I’m none of the other Kevins who have posted so far.

    I predicted (sadly, only to myself) that when Bivins asked the question “why is the sky blue” that two things would happen.

    1. Someone would answer the question.
    and
    2. Bivins would attempt to refute it by redefining the meaning of the word “why”.

    The how IS the why. Rephrase the question to “why is the sky blue and not some other color” and the answer is still the same. Rephrase the question to “why is the sky blue and not completely transparent” and the answer is still the same. Rephrase the question to “why is there sky at all” and the answer is somewhat different — without an atmosphere, life of our particular type that would look at a sky and perceive it blue would not be possible. In which case you’re merely asking why frogs don’t grow wings so they don’t bump their asses on the ground so much.

    You are engaging in a presuppositional bias — assuming that a choice was made with regard to sky color. Wasn’t. The why is the how. There was no choice made because there is no such thing as a “choosing” entity.

    If sophistry is all you bring to the table, then your arguments fall flat on their proverbial nose.

    Your argument in comment 112 is a very old fallacy called “argument from consequences”. Whether or not you wish something to be true, there is or is not a validity that must be dealt with. There is not a single shred of evidence that the truth claims of any religion, including the Abrahamic ones, are anything other than imaginative musings from people who did not understand enough about the world around them (or who had/have more-venal purposes in mind, such as control of the population via an unseen authority).

    And I would think very hard about your “wish” that there be some “purpose” to life. Because what you’re really saying is not that you want there to be purpose to this life, but that you hope to get a larger apartment (with a kitchen upgrade) in the eternal after-death. Why in the world would anyone wish for an eternal after-death? In 5 billion years, the sun will consume the Earth as it goes red giant. In a few trillion years, the odds are that the universe will have devolved down to undifferentiated photons. And that’s merely the knife’s edge of eternity. Are you SURE you want an eternal after-death? What a horrible thought.

    Happily, there is no evidence for such a state, so you’ll just have to be content with what you have — a finite existence, and then a redistribution of your constituent atoms back to the environment. Enjoy your life. There’s nothing after but that.

  • http://furiouspurpose.me Rorschach

    @ 93,

    Leave the world and its workings to science, and love and spirtuality to God.

    You must have missed it when the NOMA nonsense was debunked once and for all. Love is as much in the realm of science, as physics, or music, or gods.

    @48,

    Bertrand Russel’s definition of faith: A belief which cannot be shaken by evidence to the contrary.

    He should have added, “or lack of evidence for it”.

    As to the Universe, and whether it needs the made-up myths of ancient goatherders in a remote area of a remote planet in a remote area of a remote galaxy? The question is quite farsical, really.

  • Bivins

    @115 Kevin,

    Proclaiming that “how” = “why” is a very poor argument. Patently so; you are attempting to prove your point by assuming your point is true. You have to FIRST disprove God before you can say there was no “choosing” of one sky color over another (or that there is a color at all). You must do your homework first and actually do the work of dis-proving God exists before you can dismiss His choices.

    You have not even attempted to do the heavy lifting. In fact, you’ve done no lifting at all. The simple fact that they are two questions makes it perfectly reasonable for me to expect two different answers. Your supposition that one is necessarily the other is unreasonable, unusual, and illogical. “How” and “why” aren’t even synonyms.

    –Robert

  • Bivins

    Sphere Coupler,

    I appreciate you point of view, and your intelligence, and especially the fact that you don’t attack the messenger.

    You are a worthy foe. I enjoy our conversation.

    –Robert

  • Pingback: Debating William Lane Craig | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()

  • Absent

    Why is it being assumed that a deist god is any more possible than an involved one? If that’s being based on the existence of evil/unpleasantness, then that’s not a good argument if we’re assuming the Christian model of God. In the Christian/biblical model, God is not known as personal to everyone- hence, the “chosen few”. Maybe he’s a deist as far as the unchosen many are concerned, but very clearly revealed to others. We do after all, have personal accounts numbering almost certainly in the millions of people “hearing from God”. None of these are scientifically observable, but in many cases there have been impressive real-world results.

    There’s a form of anti-intellectualism in basic Christian theology. It’s not anti-intellectualism strictly speaking, but it’s anti-intellectualism-as-being-advantageous-spiritually. The African villager with no access to books or classical education is just as likely to discover the spiritual secrets of the universe, etc. as the brilliant physicist. It’s reprehensible to those of us who value education and intellect, but there’s a real fairness to it- if spiritual enlightenment is attained by education, then those who are poor (or even mentally disabled) are at an unfair disadvantage. There must be entirely different criteria than the meritocracy-of-brain-power favored by academia.

    This could even explain the inconclusiveness of the cosmos. The theists and atheists are all seizing evidence to support their cause from every new discovery. What if God made the universe deliberately intriguing, but ultimately evasive, for the reason outlined above?

    Sorry if I threw things off topic.

  • http://homepage.ntlworld.com/stone-catend Anthony P Stone

    To me, time is essentially the succession of events, irrespective of any measure. I have no hope of a purely physical explanation of why physical events happen in succession.

    I have shown the possibility of a universal objective present in space-time, and have postulated time in God. This time is transferred to physical time, but they are never identical.

    Details are in Analecta Husserliana 2011, vol.107, 289-295; and more accessibly at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/stone-catend/time.htm, with other articles. Sorry – but a difficult subject needs a detailed approach! (Alan Padgett knows my work, by the way.)

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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