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Who created God? January 11, 2008

Posted by Joe in atheism, belief, Christianity, faith, freethought, god, logic, science, skepticism, theism.
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This link was posted as a comment regarding a different topic. It is a common argument flung at atheists when a theist seems to realize there is no evidence for the existence of god. It is neatly summarized on the linked page thusly:

1. Everything which has a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe has a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

My response:

1. Unsupported premise. We do not know this to be true. In fact, it may be that quantum mechanics demonstrates that there are subatomic particles “beginning” in all empty space all the time with no apparent cause. There may or may not be a cause, but we cannot say with certainty that there must be.

2. Unsupported premise. This depends highly on your definition of “universe”, but we cannot see any evidence for anything before the big bang so we have no idea whether or not that was the beginning of the universe or not.

3. Logically follows from the premises, so that’s at least correct. 🙂 But the flaw is assuming that any cause must be intelligent, must be conscious, or must be anything that someone would call god.

There simply is no evidence to support the idea that anything known to exist is the result of anything other than natural processes.

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Comments»

1. robert - January 12, 2008

There was no “empty space” for those sub-atomic particles to appear in, according to what most cosmologists/physicists believe. There was NOTHING. Even if there was in fact space, where did the space come from?

As for evidence to support the idea of a creator, there is, of course, loads. The whole universe, in fact, with all the (presently and for the foreseeable future) inexplicable things about it. I think, Joe, that you don´t realise on what shaky foundations a lot of modern cosmology rests. There are all kinds of weird things in the universe that are totally irrational. Scientists can´t explain them – they just say we have to accept them even if they do appear impossible.

Please don´t come back with “OK then – where did the creator come from?”

2. Joe - January 12, 2008

“There was no “empty space” for those sub-atomic particles to appear in, according to what most cosmologists/physicists believe. There was NOTHING.”
There are many competing theories, we do not know what was or was not in existence before the big bang.

“Even if there was in fact space, where did the space come from?”
It may have always existed, or it may be the result of some process or event.

“As for evidence to support the idea of a creator, there is, of course, loads.”
The only evidence I have ever heard is circular logic like the evidence you describe. What exists is only evidence for a creator if you begin with the assumption that it must have been created.

“The whole universe, in fact, with all the (presently and for the foreseeable future) inexplicable things about it. ”
I’m not sure what “inexplicable” things you are talking about. The whole universe is only evidence for the existence of a universe.

“I think, Joe, that you don´t realise on what shaky foundations a lot of modern cosmology rests.”
On the contrary your are the one claiming that what we know about before the big bang is evidence for a creator. I am the one trying to help you understand that we do not know what did or did not exist before the big bang.

“There are all kinds of weird things in the universe that are totally irrational.”
I’m sure you’ll bother naming one thing in your next sentence and explaining why the existence of irrational things implies that their is a creator.

“Scientists can´t explain them – they just say we have to accept them even if they do appear impossible.”
many things have appeared impossible only later to be understood. Something appearing impossible is not a good reason to supposed some magic being must be behind it.

“Please don´t come back with “OK then – where did the creator come from?””
You mean I’m not allowed to ask you to actually address the topic of this blog post? Why is that question of limits?

If god can exist forever and require no cause and then create the universe, why couldn’t a natural process exist forever, require no cause and cause the big bang? (That called special pleading.)

3. robert - January 13, 2008

Weird things that are totally irrational:

1. Clocks that keep different time if they are moving. We are both standing on a street corner with our two synchronised perfect clocks. I get bored and walk round the block and come back to you. Whoops! Your perfect clock is now fast – or is my perfect clock slow?

2. We are travelling in outer space at 60mph., relative to a space station we are just passing and a washing-machine overtakes us, doing 90mph relative to the space station. We measure its speed relative to us at 30mph.. Naturally. Why then doesn´t this work with a photon that overtakes us. We will always measure its speed relative to us at the full speed of light, no matter how fast we are going. In fact, 1. also stems from that photon´s irrational behaviour.

3. Particles change their behaviour when we observe them, for example, in the two-slit experiment. Just because we look at them!

4. At the moment of BBang, everything in the universe concentrated at a point at infinite density. I don´t see how everything in my house can be concentrated at a point, never mind the whole universe. What, anyway, is “infinite density”? Quite dense, very dense, extremely….but “infinitely”?

5. Big Bang coming from absolutely nothing without any cause. Contentious, I know, but it is what a lot of/most cosmologists believe.
I find the lack of a cause as hard to believe as the coming from nothing. Of course, something, somehow, originally did come from absolutely nothing, whether it´s the universe or whatever was there pre-BB, and how that could possibly happen is the argument.

I have asked two physicists/cosmologists if they understand how these things can be. One answered only relative to no. 5, by saying, mysteriously I thought, that you can´t go south from the south pole and that I expect too much from the universe in looking for a cause for BB. (Wouldn´t you think a change in the status-quo, any status-quo, requires a cause?)The other answered all four by saying that no-one understands these things and we just have to accept that they are so.

(There are other apparently impossible things, but five seems enough for now.)

I don´t believe in “God” either, which under that name is a religious concept and, I think, a lot of nonsense – but it is irrational to discard the idea of a creator or “creative force”. (I know – what does that mean?) I find it hard to see how a universe, dating either from BB or pre-BB., can create itself from absolutely nothing. It seems like a form of magic, which, of course, takes us straight to the super-natural. (“Super-natural” to us, that is. Were a super-natural entity to exist, it probably creates half a dozen universes a week and more in a slow week and is pretty bored with the whole business.) Clearly a super-natural entity would be capable of more incredible things than boring old matter and energy can reasonably be expected to accomplish on their own. Maybe such an entity is in a realm where time does not exist, so we do not have to explain how it has come to exist eternally.

4. Joe - January 13, 2008

None of things are impossible, of course, because if they were they wouldn’t happen. 🙂

However I also do not believe any of them to be irrational. I think our definitions of irrational differ. They are counter intuitive and very difficult to understand, but they are perfectly predictable and able to be modeled accurately with relatively simple equations. (Simple for the mathematicians anyways.)

They are difficult to understand and accept mostly because they are entirely outside of the domain that our brains evolved to understand. If we were a species that commonly traveled at speeds near the speed of light, or could naturally interact with the subatomic world then these things would seem as straight forward as Newtonian mechanics to us.

To go to your main point though regarding the existence of a creator, certainly a possibility exists. I have never said there is no way there could be a god, or claimed that I could prove one does not exist. My claim is merely that one has no need of the god hypothesis to explain anything. As the history of science has shown we now have a very good understanding of subjects where god once ruled and we see his domain shrinking all the time. I think the idea to give him refuge in everything we don’t yet understand to be useless.

5. robert - January 13, 2008

The clock anomaly follows from the unvariability of the speed of light and both have checked out experimentally, which does not remove their “counter-intuitive” nature. Any relative difference in speeds between two clocks lead to them showing different times, so it is not necessary to go anywhere near the speed of light for this to check out.

(Definition of counterintuitive: contrary to what common sense would suggest).

Regarding the other three things I mentioned, there is no related modelling that I have heard of nor any equations. All five things are (presently) inexplicable and, no-one understands them, as that physicist said. Maybe at some point in the future all will become clear. Or not.

If you say that there is no need of a God hypothesis to explain anything, then that must mean that you know the explanation for everything, because if that is not the case then you cannot know whether there is need of a Creator hypothesis or not. Maybe further down the road we will know whether everything could have happened by natural processes, but meanwhile the old watch lying on the ground argument looks quite strong. (On the “God” subject you might find it quite interesting to look up someone called John Polkinghorne. He was a particle physicist who late in life became a priest – potty, I think, – but he´s clearly not potty. I think our brains must all be wired very differently. Does the Pope believe absolutely and unequivocally in all the rigmarole of organised religion?)

6. Joe - January 14, 2008

“The clock anomaly follows from the unvariability of the speed of light and both have checked out experimentally, which does not remove their “counter-intuitive” nature. Any relative difference in speeds between two clocks lead to them showing different times, so it is not necessary to go anywhere near the speed of light for this to check out.”
Yes it is. At speeds we are used to traveling the time difference is unnoticeable and often beyond the measurable precision of our clocks. You do understand that until recently most people never exceeded 20 miles per hour?

“Definition of counterintuitive: contrary to what common sense would suggest”
Exactly. This is not what irrational or impossible mean. So you retract those labels?

“Regarding the other three things I mentioned, there is no related modelling that I have heard of nor any equations. All five things are (presently) inexplicable and, no-one understands them, as that physicist said. Maybe at some point in the future all will become clear. Or not.”
You do understand that all of those theories were proposed because they fit the math? They are not inexplicable, any more than gravity is inexplicable. Unless you unfairly demand a “why” answer we thoroughly understand how these things work. The very ability for us to discuss them shows our understanding.

The two slit experiment is the most mind bending of the lot. We have studied to the point where we can predict the behavior of light and electrons (to the limits of uncertainty) in novel situations. Thus it is neither inexplicable, nor irrational, and certainly not impossible. We are however not clear on what it implies at to the fundamental nature of our universe. There are multiple competing theories. Multiple competing theories are a sign of lacking information, not lacking rationality or explicability.

“If you say that there is no need of a God hypothesis to explain anything, then that must mean that you know the explanation for everything, because if that is not the case then you cannot know whether there is need of a Creator hypothesis or not.”
No it does not. It means that everything we have an explanation for has no need for a creator. There is no need to posit one until such time as one is necessary to explain something. You may as well posit the existence of obese invisible elves to explain gravity. A gravitational force (even though we don’t completely understand how it operate) is much more useful.

“Maybe further down the road we will know whether everything could have happened by natural processes, but meanwhile the old watch lying on the ground argument looks quite strong.”
There is no watch on the ground that we have been unable to explain by natural processes. All of the things you listed may be very bizarre, but why do you think that implies that an intelligence came up with them? In my experience the products of intelligence are much simpler than the products of nature, not more complex.

“(On the “God” subject you might find it quite interesting to look up someone called John Polkinghorne. He was a particle physicist who late in life became a priest – potty, I think, – but he´s clearly not potty. I think our brains must all be wired very differently. Does the Pope believe absolutely and unequivocally in all the rigmarole of organised religion?)”
Many people become more religious later in life and I have little interest in speculating on the views of the pope.

Thanks for the comments.

7. robert - January 14, 2008

We are really going round in circles on both topics.

The varying time on moving clocks has been shown with two atomic clocks – one on the ground and the other in a plane. I don´t know how fast the planes were going (it´s been done more than once), but certainly the planes were going nowhere near the speed of light.

All 5 points remain unexplained.

8. Joe - January 14, 2008

As does gravitation then, because they are explained to the same level. Why isn’t gravity one of your examples?

9. robert - January 15, 2008

It is. No. 8. Do you fully comprehend how mass “bends” space to create gravity? What´s bending exactly? And then it also stretches, because the galaxies are not really speeding away from each other – space is stretching. Versatile stuff and you can´t even see it. A free bonus one – the universe being finite but without boundaries – like the surface of the earth, Hawking says. With the earth we know what´s on all sides, but there is no other side in the case of the universe, because there´s no boundary. And then we have the dimensions, the three normal ones plus the fourth, time, that cosmologists like to throw in. (I´m not really all that clear on exactly what space-time is). However, string theory, which has gone up the charts in the lasr few weeks, talks of 9 or 10 dimensions, the extra ones being rolled up tight so we are not aware of them. The three “normal” ones are quite easy to understand – up there, over here etc. – but what could these extra ones be? Even Hawking says he doesn´t really understand it. So, my original five have doubled and there, are of course, many more puzzles about the universe that no-one understands. I´m switching now to another of my obsessions – Jane Austen on another couple of sites, and resuming an argument I was having with someone. You would be amazed at how many people worldwide are obssesed with her – her books, she herself, her family etc.. So, I´ll leave you to pursue the noble arguments with others.

I think it´s only fair before I do to show you the two email responses from the cosmologists to whom I put some of the same queries. After all, I kept referring to them as tho´ I had been talking to God.

Ned:>
Thank you very much for your reply to my email.
In common with most people, I expect, I find it very hard to see how
there was once nothing, in its most absolute sense – no space, no time, no matter and no energy – then suddenly there was something. I would find it even harder to imagine how this could happen without a reason or cause, as a sort of random effect in nothing. Of course, I find it equally hard to imagine that the Universe came from something else and that something else had existed eternally before. You can´t win! All theories appear equally implausible.I have (and have read!) Brian Greene´s The Elegant Universe. I also enjoyed Lee Smolin´s The Life of the Cosmos, where he makes a pretty good
case for something that seems unlikely. (Joe: this wasn´t boasting – he had recommended both these books in an earlier email).

ANSWER

What is South of the South Pole? Asking about what there was before the Big Bang is similar.
Ned:

Joe: I don´t see an overwhelming similarity, but were we continuing our argument I´m sure you would tell me the two cases are almost identical.

Dear Jim,

I have been reading about Relativity on your website and found it very interesting.

While I know that most of it has been “proved” umpteen times by experiment, does anyone actually understand it? I don´t mean the maths involved, but rather the aspects that books always “explain” as counter intuitive or, alternatively, could be considered as magic.

How can anyone really understand that you will always measure the speed of a beam of light as the same, irrespective of your relative speed? It defies logic. Why should the same priciple not apply as to your speed relative to a taxi that is overtaking you? Why would time as measured by almost infinitely accurate clocks pass at a different rate in a moving bus as compared with someone sitting on a nearby bench? I know, it comes back to the constant speed of light again – but does anyone really understand it?

I find the same difficulty in trying to understand the singularity at the time of Big Bang. Everything in the Universe at one point of infinite density? I find it impossible to understand how it could all be in a cubic mile, never mind a “point”. What is “infinite” density – what is infinite anything?
There is an awful lot in modern science that is counter intuitive! Generally there is no further explanation than “counter intuitive”, which seems a little unsatisfactory.

Do you understand the tenets of Relativity, other than in a mathematical sense?

ANSWER

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately I don’t think I can be of much help. The truth of the matter is that, as yet at least, no one knows why relativity should be as it is, why the speed of light is the speed that it is, and so on.

Science works using models, and a model is defined as a simplification of a reality. For example, Newton formulated the “law” of gravity, but had no idea what it was that caused objects to fall to Earth or held the Moon in orbit. All he had was the equations. He was frustrated by this, as one can imagine, but had nevertheless made a huge leap forward. Einstein, with his general relativity, put forward the now accepted reason that gravity should work the way it does. In other words he found the next bit that Newton would dearly liked to have known. However, in the process Einstein demonstrated (via special relativity) that Newton’s “law” breaks down at high speeds, hence today the highest attainment of a scientific idea is a so-called theory and not a law. Because we can never know if there is “another layer of the onion” to be peeled away we can never be sure the model matches reality.

The point of this is that we simply don’t know all of the answers, and perhaps we never will (but scientists will no doubt keep trying). Perhaps in time someone will discover why the speed of light is the speed that it is and then, as is often the case, it will seem obvious (just like gravity).

A further point to consider is that, as you said, sometimes these things just seem to defy logic. Humans evolved to survive in the world around us, and we simply aren’t well equipped to see or understand many phenomena in the Universe. For example, bees can see ultraviolet light, but it took us many thousands of years before we even knew of its existence. We evolved one way, and bees another. There is no reason at all that we as humans should be equipped to understand or even see the Universe as it is. This is one of, and possibly the main reason for, the use of mathematics in science. It allows us to at least work with ideas that we can’t necessarily visualise. There is an old adage in physics that sounds a bit impolite but sums this up nicely, it is “shut up and calculate”. Unfortunately in the absence of real understanding it’s the best we have for some things, and for others we don’t even have that. At the moment, no one even knows why gravity should attract, and not repel, let alone why relativity has the properties it has.

Of course, even if we could answer such questions, which would require a full picture of precisely how the Universe came about it would no doubt lead onto further questions. My physics professor many years ago summed it up by saying that the question is “why is there something rather than nothing?” It’s bugged me ever since, but it at least put it into perspective.

As I said, I can’t really help (I wish I could!). Still, they are interesting, if frustrating, questions.

Joe: Think about the implications of the “shut up and calculate”. At least there is some good stuff here for you to use in future debates, specially about the bees seeing in ultra violet. You will note, though, that he also says: “in the absence of real understanding”. There was a third physicist with whom I exchanged various emails. (I can be a real pest!). I seem to have wiped these emails, but I remember he said in reference to the same queries: “No-one understands these things.” Until we get all or most of these things tied up, I think it´s going to be very difficult to say a creator was not necessary – everything happened by natural processes.

10. Joe - January 15, 2008

Thanks for sharing, Robert.

“Until we get all or most of these things tied up, I think it´s going to be very difficult to say a creator was not necessary – everything happened by natural processes.”
Except that you have not provided a single reason to believe that the existence of a creator makes any of these things more understandable. If positing a creator gives us a better explanation for any of the things you listed please write up the theory and get it published. As far as I can see the creator just adds another confusing bit to the pile.

Also I think our definitions of “understand” are very different. I see what with you asking “why” questions. If you are looking for why the speed of light is what it is I’m afraid there will never be an answer to that. We can possibly discern a better answer to how, but there may not even be a why.

Science can never tell us why, only lead to better explorations of what and how.

11. robert - January 16, 2008

I had intended to stick to Jane Austen for the next few months. There are a few mysteries there as well, which would require time travel to solve. Meanwhile, it´s entertaining to speculate. I couldn´t resist tuning in to see what you had to say on the physicists, though I don´t think that any of the three bring a lot of enlightenment.

If eventually the cosmologists/physicists say “We see no way that the Universe could have spontaneously started from absolutely nothing or evolved the way it has, with the laws it has, by any natural process”, which some are very close to saying already, then we would have a major push to look at “unnatural processes” – otherwise known as “supernatural”. In so far as such an entity(ties) would be part of all there is, in or out of the universe, it would be perfectly “natural”, even if hard for us to understand. Such an entity could certainly do things that appear miraculous to mere human beings, who can´t even see in infrared. It may well be that ants, say, regard human beings as “supernatural”.

I am not asking “why does light travel at 186.300 m.p.s.?”. I think Maxwell, in fact established that with his equations, though don´t ask me for a quick summary. I am asking why does light have the property of travelling at a constant speed irrespective of your relative speed – an apparent impossibility, even though it can´t be impossible, as it does – leading on to other peculiar things, such as the clocks that keep different times when they move. I am asking how the universe could have appeared from absolutely nothing of any kind. Why do particles alter their behaviour just because we look at them? And a whole lot of other things. The scientists seem to be fairly unanimous in saying that no-one presently understands how these things can be. “Shut up and calculate”. If these basic conundrums are one day solved, then maybe we will be able to say “no need for a creator” – but right now, we don´t know.

12. Travis - January 22, 2008

Good to see you back Joe. I thought that we had lost you there for alittle while!

13. Joe - January 22, 2008

Just a lapse.

Thanks!


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