23 July 2010

What's So Great About Christianity | Ch 11

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "What's So Great About Christianity" by Dinesh D'Souza

Chapter 11 | A Universe with a Beginning: God and the Astronomoers

D'Souza covers the big bang and, essentially, the Kalam Cosmological Argument here. This, like chapter nine, seems like an "I just don't know" kind of an issue. I submit to the best evidence which seems to indicate that all time, space, and matter had a beginning. To step further and assert that this beginning was a personal disembodied mind that is creative and all-powerful seems like a bit of a leap. There were a couple of quotes that really stood out to me as shaky:

In a stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a nonmaterial or spiritual cause. This spiritual cause brought the universe into existence using none of the laws of physics. The creation of the universe was, in the quite literal meaning of the term, a miracle. Its creator is known to be a spiritual, eternal being of creativity and power beyond all conceivable limits. Mind, not matter, came at the beginning. With the help of science and logic, all this can be rationally demonstrated (pg. 118).

It's interesting to see how D'Souza transitions from a 'nonmaterial or spiritual' cause to 'this spiritual cause' to this cause being 'known to be a spiritual, eternal being of creativity and power beyond all conceivable limits.' Perhaps the being is spiritual only because it might not be material. Where everything falls apart for me, however, is that we're speculating outside of any knowable realm of knowledge. As soon as we concede that time, space, and matter were not existent, it strikes me that we can't really say much of anything about what lies behind such a veil of inexperience. To illustrate further, we discuss all cause and effect with respect to time. An effect is such that at time A the effect was not and after a cause acted at time B the effect was in existence at time C or perhaps even simultaneously to the cause at B.

How might a creative act occur when there is no time line with which to judge when the universe was not and when it was? How can we determine that such a being is spiritual? What if a different sort of matter lies outside our matter? Imagine two dimensional comic characters meeting someone in a third dimension; would they comprehend depth when they had only known length and width? Can we truly assume that we have the concepts necessary in our realm which is in space and time to describe (even furthermore declare) the properties of that which is outside that realm? I'm not so sure that we do.

It's also interesting to note that D'Souza uses these discoveries as a "stunning confirmation of Genesis." Later he states that the Bible does not make itself out to be a scientific textbook but that it should be given credit for getting the basic idea light. How does this work with other areas, however? Did the Bible get the "basic idea right" when it discusses four legged insects, the earth being unmoving and sitting on pillars, a flood shown to have never happened, or demons being the cause of sickness and paralysis? If not, why not?

As the universe was produced by a creative act, it is reasonable to infer that it was produced by some sort of mind. Mind is the origin of matter, and is mind that produced matter, rather than the other way around (pg. 128).

This is another oddity. We have literally no experience whatsoever of a mind leading to matter and it is blatantly asserted that not only was a mind behind the creation of the universe but that mind, in fact, is the origin of matter. D'Souza seems to slide this statement in perhaps to say something about naturalists who think that the mind is the function of matter arranged in the form of a brain. Perhaps he insists on mind being the origin of matter to avoid issues on the origin of consciousness?

Lastly, it is unknown to me how we comprehend the idea of a changeless mind which creates or a changeless being who decides. Even more so, if God cannot change, how can we explain miracles and interventions as to avoid either predestination at best or contradicting God's own qualities at worst? Since we're in the business of extending usual concepts like cause and effect into realms of existence where those concept hold no meaning, I think it's only fair to extend the idea of creativity (inspiration, unexpected decisions, whimsical movements of the will) onto a being who's qualities cannot change by definition. I think a changeless being who was inspired and decided to cause the universe into existence is an irreconcilable contradiction of terms.

I will say that my mind was stirred about how the universe did actually come about. I'm not sure and am at a conundrum. I'm not sure how something comes from nothing. On one hand the idea of a personal deciding being with properties x, y, and z seems outside of our ability to know and yet positing nothing springing forth into something is, indeed, difficult to swallow. I am, however, rather comfortable with "I just don't know (and neither do you)." Picturing back to that first moment of cosmic explosion and trying to inch my way back in time to before there even was time leads me to think that almost anything is possible. The idea of advanced aliens pushing a button that created us and destroyed them is as realistic as a timeless spaceless cause. The idea of co-existent universes which do not interact or interfere with one another in some deity's playground seems plausible. I think we just have no idea.

Quantum physics may be making headway on this issue. The best explanation of how we know what we know about cosmology I've ever seen was a video of Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, speaking at the Atheist Alliance International in 2009 entitled "A Universe from Nothing." He spends most of his talk discussion how we developed Newtonian physics, general relativity, and now quantum mechanics. In the end, he states that quantum mechanics with its discovery of dark matter and energy tells us that we will always get something from nothing because nothing is unstable. I'm not sure if that will satisfy everyone, however this is an expert in his field who is presenting an evidential case for how we can know such things. I think that's at least got more going for it than blind speculation.

To Ch 12: A Designer Planet >>


Clemens said...

Let me add a thought:

If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause [...]

Well, I don't.

This is an unwarranted extrapolation on his part. First, "everything", "beginning" and "cause" are not properly defined here. The idea is to use our everyday language and coax us into accepting a flawed premise. Second, the statement itself is plain wrong. The radioactive decay of a given atomic nucleus occurs at a time that is completely random. What, then, is the cause? Or even more drastic: Electrons and Positrons are created and destroyed from nothing all the time. There is no cause.

This goes in the same direction of many of the arguments by William Lane Craig, who uses the everyday gut-feeling understanding of the world and extrapolates it to even before the big-bang.

Hendy said...

@Clemens: I'm mostly with you on what you said. I also agree that leveraging our current experience to make proclamations about what exists "outside" of time, space, etc. is futile. I never understood why our notions of causality (in time) allow us to make judgments about what "causality" would be like in a realm where there is no time (or space).

And, I agree that WLC appeals to what seems like it should be true or make sense to make some very grand speculations about realms of existence to which no human has access.

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