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Cosmology and Creation: Contrasting Notions

Universe 2

NOTE: Yesterday we shared a guest post on cosmology from one of our top non-theistic commenters, Paul Rimmer. Today, we're posting a response from Fr. Andrew Pinsent, Research Director at Oxford University's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.

As a Catholic priest, and former particle physicist at CERN, I thank Strange Notions for the opportunity to respond to Paul Rimmer’s article on the Big Bang. For those hoping for instant controversy, I am sorry to have to say that I agree with much of what he says and would even like to bolster his arguments a little in regard to the Kalām cosmological argument.

If we think of time like a line in space—a popular, though probably fallacious, modern assumption—the Big Bang offers alternatives to inferring that the line comes to an end: perhaps the cosmos does not shrink to zero (after all, we cannot see directly beyond the ‘optical horizon’ of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background); or perhaps the observable cosmos is part of a larger, invisible, and eternal physical reality (a multiverse?); or, more exotically, as various physicists have suggested, space and time might form an integrated whole that is bounded without an edge, like the surface of the earth that one can walk on forever without finding an edge.

Alternatively, if we think of time in more philosophical manner, it seems clear that we measure the passing of time in terms of motion from place to place in respect of some magnitude, such as the hands of a clock against a background. In the case of the Big Bang, however, all conceivable clocks go with us into the singularity, and there is no clock ‘outside’ the cosmos. Hence we cannot say that the cosmos ‘begins’ with respect to some extra-cosmic temporal reference, a point essentially made by St. Augustine over fifteen centuries ago in his Confessions, 11.13: “For you [God] made time itself, and periods could not pass by before you made the whole temporal procession.”

Finally, the notion of absolute time is not even meaningful within the cosmos. The speed of light is constant, but according to relativity, distances and durations vary between reference frames. If you could ride the cosmic background radiation of the Big Bang to our instruments on earth today, you would experience no passage of time, and, since light is also part of the cosmos (and arguably more fundamental than space and time), in what sense can we say the cosmos begins?

Nevertheless, what is curious about the historical reception of this theory, later called the ‘Big Bang’ by one of its fiercest critics, is that many contemporaries perceived that it did have theological significance. Rimmer cites the case of Pope Pius XII being a little too enthusiastic in 1951, and being corrected by Fr. Lemaître (an interesting dynamic for those who imagine that the Church is a place deficient in freedom of thought). What most people do not know today, however, is that the theory was frequently attacked as repulsive and effectively banned from official consideration in the Soviet Union for over three decades. In Helge Kragh's book, Cosmology and Controversy (Princeton University Press, 1996, p.262), he cites the case of Soviet astronomers, at a meeting in Leningrad in December 1948, affirming the need to fight against this “reactionary-idealistic ‘theory’” which, they claimed, helps clericalism.

So why did the representatives of societies holding diametrically opposed views about the existence of God react in such diametrically opposed (but inverted) ways to the Big Bang, at least for the first few decades? The reason, I suggest, is not to be found in any kind of ‘God of the gaps’ argument that makes God a cause among causes, whether the ‘gap’ in question is a temporal beginning or, more recently, the divine composer of the incredibly fine-tuned settings of the physical parameters of modern Big Bang cosmology. As it happens, fine-tuning is an ongoing issue, as theoretical physicist Lee Smolin explains in The Trouble with Physics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006). Moreover, at least some proposals for a multiverse of largely lifeless cosmoi, as ways of absorbing the failures of random trials, make certain fine-tuning problems worse (cf. R.D. Holder, God, the Multiverse, and Everything: Modern Cosmology and the Argument from Design (Ashgate, 2004, esp. ch. 3 and 4). In the early years, however, the fine-tuning problem was not prominent and there was already some appreciation of the subtlety of the notion of time in this new cosmology.

A more likely explanation for the diverging reception of the Big Bang is be found, I think, in its challenge to the established cosmic parable, or grand narrative, or “interpretative framework by which nature may be ‘seen’" (cf. Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology; the 2009 Gifford lectures (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, x).

Since we have become accustomed to the Big Bang, it is easy to forget the initial shock of this proposal to the seeming permanence of the heavens. With the Big Bang, the observable cosmos is not an eternal given, but exploded as if out of a point in a flash of light, a narrative consistent with theistic drama on the grandest scale.

In addition, the narrative of an ever-decreasing number of ever-more powerful causes (a kind of ‘cause funnel’), a way of thinking about the world inherited from the ancient Greeks (cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.1) and mutually reinforced by theism for two thousand years, has been powerfully reinforced again by the Big Bang on a cosmic scale and time (incidentally and quietly undermining a Humean skeptical stance towards knowledge of remote causation).

Finally, since we now think of the time, space, and matter of the observable cosmos as a dependent reality, interest has focused on the inference of primordial causes or of a first cause beyond the observable cosmos. Hence it is not surprising that avowedly atheist interpreters of cosmology have tended to become comfortable with the Big Bang only since starting to offer stories about alternative, invisible, all-powerful, and eternal first causes to the God of theism. Although such stories use scientific language and impressive mathematics, they often take a lamentably cavalier and unreflective attitude to long-standing philosophical questions, such as how a law can create anything, where matter comes from, and whether we are really justified in turning time into a dimension of space. What such stories seem to accept implicitly, however, is the need for some kind of first cause. Hence in regard to interpretations of the Big Bang, as in many other debates about the philosophy of the world, the real issue may not be the existence of ‘God’ but what ‘God’ is.
(Image credit: Wallpaper Tube)

Fr. Andrew Pinsent

Written by

Fr. Andrew Pinsent is Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University, a Research Fellow of Harris Manchester College and a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford. He is also a priest of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton in England. Follow Fr. Andrew at AndrewPinsent.info.

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  • Can we all agree then that Kalam is a bad argument for the existence of God?

    • Brandon might consider removing it from the 20 arguments for the existence of God.

      • Tim Dacey

        I don't think that would be necessary. I think it is still worthy of consideration.

        • I think the point of both these posts has been to say it is not worthy of consideration and no theist poster has disagreed.

          • Tim Dacey

            Well I guess I'm not in communion with the other Theists regarding this issue. If everyone here is of the opinion that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is not worthy of consideration anymore, then they may find this a interesting read.


            This particular individual is a notable critic of the argument but he considers whether it can be successful in this blog entry.

          • Tim Dacey

            Then I guess I wouldn't be in communion with the other Theists on this blog. Anyone of the opinion that it is not worthy of consideration should consider reading this article from a critic of the Kalam Cosmological argument who wonders how the argument might be successful.


        • Peter

          Aquinas certainly thought it was a bad argument. On the other hand the Kalam argument at least makes for good "food for thought."

          • Peter

            I don't recall making the above comment.

    • Tim Dacey

      I'd certainly sympathize with anyone critical of the Kalam Cosmological (and probably any Cosmological) argument for the existence of God. Hume effectively convinces me when he states:

      first in Enquiry...

      ""the general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence, is false."

      then in Treatise...

      "It [the mind] must invent or imagine some event, which is ascribes to the object as its effect; and it is plain that his invention must be entirely arbitrary. the mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and imagination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it...In vain, therefore should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience"

      • Adam C

        I'm a Catholic and I disagree that Kalam is a bad argument. However, that said, Hume's criticism, and I am familiar with his criticism of Metaphysics and his epistemology having studied them, is a poor one, and totally contrary to science and the scientific method. Hume himself actually agrees with this when, in the Enquiry (I don't remember the exact quote), he says that his thought shouldn't be applied to practical life, ergo he doesn't believe it

    • Raphael

      Why is Kalam a bad argument for the existence of God? Paul's article mentions it twice and Fr. Andrew's once. Neither article offers an explanation.

      • David Nickol

        Why is Kalam a bad argument for the existence of God?

        It strikes me as rigged because it says "everything that begins to exist has a cause," and then it posits only one thing that did not "begin" to exist. And then its defenders argue that physicists are wrong to say that some physical things exist that did not begin to exist. Time is not well understood either by philosophers or physicists, and quantum mechanics seems to indicate that causality is by no means a simple matter. But the Kalam argument depends on notions of time and causality, so it gets off to a wobbly start by relying so heavily on things that are not well understood.

      • They both mention it as a bad argument. It is bad for the reasons David Nickol describes. Very briefly, if we accept that everything that begins to exist has a cause, Kalam says it can only have an efficient cause as opposed to a solely material cause or both. There is no reason to make this inference, if anything there is more support for a material cause. Not to mention there is no reason to infer anything beyond an efficient cause, which need not be supernatural, much less a god.

        This video series is an excellent explanation of its scientific faults, at least as the argument is advanced by William Lane Craig.


      • Because, even though it is a valid argument, and possibly a sound argument, it does not actually conclude that God exists, making it a poor argument for God's existence.

        Maybe it used to be a good argument, but recent understanding about the way space and time works puts into doubt whether the universe "had a (unique) beginning". Even if it did, and therefore has a cause, that cause may be another pre-existing universe, a universe-generator, or maybe the universe caused itself. With what quantum cosmology and general relativity overall have done to change our understanding of time and efficient causality, the Kalam argument should be shelved.

        The best reason it should be avoided in religious discussion with physicists or astronomers is that very few of us will find it the least bit convincing. Why waste your time with a bad argument for God that your audience won't listen to? Especially when there are several better alternatives available.

      • Raphael

        Thank you for all your responses. Although the Kalam does not name a specific cause of the universe, it says that the universe had a beginning. What are your thoughts on that?

        • I think that the Kalam argument is probably right.

          If the universe had a beginning then it had a cause. The universe probably had a beginning, so it probably had a cause. There's no good evidence about what that cause is, so all that's left is speculation. I speculate that the universe is the cause of the universe. It started itself. Nothing else was necessary.

          • Raphael

            What good evidence is there that the universe started itself?

          • There's good evidence that the universe could have started itself. There's no good evidence that the universe did start itself.

            What good evidence is there that someone or something else started it?

          • "There's good evidence that the universe could have started itself."

            What evidence is this? I'm not aware of any evidence that something can bring itself into existence. That seems to be a self-contradiction for to "start itself" (i.e. cause its existence), the universe would already have had to exist!

          • Brandon,


            And the universe already does exist. Requiring something to exist before the beginning of the universe would require there to be a before the beginning of the universe, which there doesn't need to be.

          • Peter

            1600 years ago St Augustine said precisely the same thing, that there was no "before" the beginning of creation. How did he know? How would you explain that?

          • I would say he was a logical thinker. It stands to reason that, if there is a beginning to time, there would be no "before the beginning", because then there would be time before time.

            It is an impressive mind that would first draw such deep logical connections.

          • Peter

            The point I don't understand is how he could have concluded logically that there was a beginning to time in the first place.

            What do you think led him to conclude that time was finite instead of time being infinite as many other philosophers had believed?

          • I suspect Augustine's belief in a beginning to time came from his religious adherance to a creation ex nihilo. I also suspect he got that belief from the Bible.

          • Peter

            1600 years ago from a contemplation of his religious convictions St Augustine was able to predict a beginning to time, which we now have strong reasons to suspect as being true.

            It strikes me that his religious convictions must have had a supernatural source to lead him to a truth which one and a half millennia later were are only just beginning to discover.

          • Philo also thought that there was a beggining to time, because of the Bible.

            Either the universe had a beginning or it didn't. No one knows what the answer is, although currently there's good evidence that the universe did have a beginning. Regardless, there's a 50/50 chance you'll get the answer right.

            I'm impressed with Augustine, but see nothing supernatural. Maybe if he had guessed a 13 billion year age?

          • Peter

            Against a background of philosophers and scientists, from Epicurus in the fourth century BC right up to Svante Arrhenius in the 20th century, constantly maintaining that the universe was eternal, I think that Augustine's achievements 1500 years before Arrhenius are more than a fluke, a lot more in fact.

            Arrhenius had one and a half millennia of discovery compared to Augustine, yet he still managed to get it wrong while Augustine got it right. I don't call that 50/50 chance.

          • There are so many different creation myths, from those of Sumer to Babylon to Egypt.

            The idea that there's a beginning to the universe is not original with Augustine. It's part of many ancient mythologies and, in my opinion, is not all that impressive.

            Augustine's application of logic to the idea of the beginning of the universe and his conclusions about time are brilliant. Augustine's intellect must have been exceptional, but I don't think it was superhuman.

          • Peter

            Of course many myths have a beginning to creation but almost all of them assume creation out of pre-existing matter. Consequently they do not contradict Arrhenius' 1911 claim that matter is immutable and that nothing can come from nothing.

            The only creation account which contradicts Arrhenius' claim, and that of philosophers and scientists for centuries before him, and which is turning out to be the correct account in the light of scientific discovery, is the account of St Augustine and the Church.

          • I'm not a historian, but I know Augustine wasn't the first person to think that creation came from nothing. I know it didn't come from him or the Church. Philo said it hundreds of years earlier. Judaism had the idea before Christianity.

            Now, did the idea come from Philo or from Judaism first? I don't know. I'd be interested to find out. My impression was that some other creation myths had everything coming from absolutely nothing, and not from some pre-existing matter, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

          • Peter

            I think a closer look at Philo will reveal that he believed that God created the world out of eternally pre-existing matter because, although a Jew, he was strongly influenced by Greek thought. However, even Judaism itself is not dogmatic about creatio ex nihilo. Only Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular have been unshakeably dogmatic in this respect.

          • I think only Catholicism (and maybe Islam? I'm not sure) is absolutely dogmatic about creation ex nihilo. It seems like a bad idea. Maybe the Catholic Church is wrong. Maybe there is no creation ex nihilo.

            I think there was a definite beginning to the universe, but I'm not going to be "dogmatically certain" about that, or about hardly anything else.

          • Peter

            It's not a scientist's job to be dogmatic, nor even a philosopher's for that matter, whose ideas develop in response to scientific discovery. It is the role of the Church to be dogmatic and yet no scientific development up to the present has proved the dogma to be wrong. On the contrary, the signs are that the dogma will be continue to be vindicated as scientific discovery progresses.

          • This is a vague hypothetical, so there's no need to answer. But think about it. If a Church dogma came to be falsified by a new scientific discovery, would you leave the Church? Or would you abandon or reinterpret that dogma? Or would you always reject the new discovery, no matter how well supported it was?

          • Peter

            If Church dogma is falsified beyond all doubt by scientific discovery then the Church has no basis in reality and is not worth following. It just becomes a fidiestic institution which gradually loses relevance as scientific discovery proceeds.

            The Church however, is not like that. It is the opposite of that, since to date all discoveries have served to strengthen doctrine, not undermine it.

          • Thanks for that answer. A lot of people dodge the question. I'm impressed by your intellectual honesty and self-reflection.

            Also, I do think that it is highly unlikely that Catholic dogma will ever be falsified. Definitely not "beyond all doubt" (science is not capable of such certainty!)

          • inqwizit0r

            if science proves Catholic dogma wrong then we are of all people "most to be pitied" as St. Paul wrote somewhere in Scripture. It's an exciting story! To see whether the Church is wrong or not. I'm certain she isn't, but that certainty is from my faith and is not absolute knowledge either.
            You're an ex-Catholic, so you must know that Catholics, at least the orthodox ones, are not fideists, right? But I detect a hint of skepticism that we treat dogma as anything less than what it claims to be. If it's proven wrong, then the Church is wrong and will crumble under the weight of her own convictions. Implode. And fragment into factions ad nauseam. In the meantime, the story continues.

          • inqwizit0r

            and an orthodox Catholic is easily identifiable as someone who accepts all the teachings of the catechism. It's not a shadowy label liable to the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.

          • I agree that Catholics ought not be fideists, but that doesn't mean all Catholic dogma must be scientifically testable. You can deny fideism, believe in transubstantiation, and also recognize that any chemical test of the host will only detect bread. I think you can do all three of these at the same time and be a good Catholic.

            Besides maybe creation ex nihilo, what Catholic dogmas do you think could be falsified, even in theory? I can't think of one. You can't test morality in a lab, and you can't detect transubstantiation in a test-tube or separate out the two natures of Christ in a centrifuge. I suppose maybe someone could discover the body of Jesus, and that would falsify Catholicism. But I can't imagine how this discovery could be made with much confidence. What do you think?

          • David Nickol

            It is the role of the Church to be dogmatic and yet no scientific development up to the present has proved the dogma to be wrong.

            Can you think of a dogma that is so scientifically based that it could actually be proven wrong? Remember that Aquinas was able to accommodate the idea that the universe had existed from all eternity. I can think of no potential scientific discovery that would disprove any dogma to a person of faith. It seems to me it is the nature of dogma to be impossible to prove and also impossible to falsify. If science calls into question a particular interpretation of a dogma, believers in that dogma can simply come up with a supernatural reason why the dogma is still true. That is what is going on right now in the thread about Adam and Eve.

          • Peter

            I think there are three elements of Catholic doctrine with cosmological ramifications:

            That creation had a beginning; it is not an eternal brute fact.
            That creation began from nothing; nothing material preceded it, not even time.
            That creation is not infinite in any sense; it is not an infinite brute fact in which everything that can happen does so an infinite number of times.

            The first two we've discussed at length, but the third deserves a mention. There is a belief that the universe is spatially infinite because it is measured to be flat by the latest equipment (Planck, WMAP). Since there are no boundaries to an expanding universe, in theory one could go in a straight line forever. This discovery of an infinite universe, then, would appear to be in contradiction of Catholic doctrine.

            However, I doubt that the universe is infinite because the measurements are not perfectly flat, although this could be because the equipment is not sensitive enough. Slightly less than flatness, ever so slightly in fact, could mean a spherical universe of truly vast proportions, immeasurable greater than our observable limit.

            In ancient times they thought the earth was flat because that is all they could measure within their observable limits. The same applies today. We only have the observable universe to measure which may appear flat to us just as a landscape on earth appeared flat to the ancients. Consequently, far from being flat, the universe may be spherical and therefore finite in line with doctrine.

          • David Nickol

            That creation had a beginning; it is not an eternal brute fact.
            That creation began from nothing; nothing material preceded it, not even time.
            That creation is not infinite in any sense; it is not an infinite brute fact in which everything that can happen does so an infinite number of times.

            Although I think it would take more effort than I am willing to give it, I don't any of these three propositions is present in a dogmatic statement in such a way that what science could prove would make the dogmatic statement(s) untenable. In other words, I think your interpretation of dogma assumes it is more science-based that it actually is. I think the core of Catholic dogma about God is that God created the "world" or the universe. Ultimately, I don't think Catholicism is concerned with how or when the universe was created.

            It seems to me that the theist answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" will have the answer "God" no matter what science discovers. It may seem that the question really means, "Why is there something when there used to be nothing?" but I don't think that formulation makes sense. If time itself came into existence (whether created or not), nothing could have happened "before" the beginning of time, since that concept is a logical contradiction.

            It seems to me that if the discovery that the creation account in Genesis was not literally true did not did not shake the foundations of the idea of God as creator, then the findings of science are very unlikely to, no matter what is discovered. I believe even Hawking acknowledged that although he believed it was not necessary to posit a God to explain the origin of the universe, that did not prove that God didn't exist. And even proof that the universe somehow created itself will not be proof to religious believers that God did not invent ultimately reality in such a way that it was his way of creating the universe to have it call itself into existence.

            Science is never going to "disprove" religion for those who believe or want to believe. What it may do is continue plugging in the gaps in such a way that people who believe in a "God of the gaps" will find the concept of God unnecessary.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Paul,
            I enjoyed your article, it was very insightful and thought provoking. it's kind of made me ponder the the universe a bit more. but i have to admit i am not a cosmologist as so i still have a little trouble getting my mind around it. I do understand the notion that time is relative and perhaps related to movement etc. but i also thought, if you think of it in a different sense, or if we factor entropy into the equation, it would seem to be that in general, although the rate of entropy may be varied in different parts of the universe it still has one general movement of increasing. If it is increasing it would seem that there will be a period when many stars and planets will cease to exist as stars and planets, perhaps they will be absorbed by black holes or be simply lose their gravitation pull, or something along those lines. i suppose you could say entropy could reveal a destination since it cannot go down except in a closed system and only for a brief period of time. if this is so then the universe would have an "end" because entropy would reach it's culmination. would that not indicate that something had to initiate the entropy process?

          • I may misunderstand your question, so correct me if I missed your point.

            You seem to think that the initial state of the universe is in some way special, a very low entropy state necessary to account for the great amount of order still present in a universe that's over 13 billion years old.

            The question of what or who set the initial state of the universe, and how it was set, is one of the biggest unanswered questions in cosmology today. Sean Caroll gives a much better explanation of the problem than I could http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMaTyg8wR4Y

            Along with Jennifer Chen, Sean Carroll proposed a cosmological model that claims to explain this low entropy initial state ( http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0410270 ). Hawking's model does not provide a satisfactory explanation for the initial state of the universe.

            This is not a problem I'm working on, so I don't know a lot of the details. I do work on questions of thermodynamic reversibility, so the question is of great philosophical interest to me.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Paul,
            This may be a bit overly simplistic or perhaps i need to educate myself a little more on the topic. but if i understand your article as well as Andrew's, time as we know it is relative, connected to motion and therefore indicates some other form of time or period where physics were in motion etc. but we are limited by our present sphere of time and thus we cannot accurately understand what may have happened prior to the big bang, if there was one, or what the nature of reality actually was. in other words, we're blind as to what occurred prior to the initial big bang (or what ever occurred) but that does not indicate something had to initiate it. so the beginning is forever going to remain a mystery. But if we were to use entropy as an observation, or even measure of a change in physics, it would certainly convey a point in "time" where it will have run it's course and come to some kind of an end.
            In other words, if, by observing the physics properties of our universe we cannot for certain be clear about what happened at the beginning, we can perhaps accurately hypothasize what would happen at the end (i've heard of an osculating or expanding and contracting universe, but that that theory also has an end). and if it does have an end, would it not then take something very powerful to initiate the whole sequence all over again?

          • If the universe keeps accelerating apart, the entropy can keep going down and down and down. It may get closer and closer to a minimum but never reach it. Even if the universe slowed down and stopped, and was like a box of gas, every once in a while thermodynamic fluctuations would cause things to pop into existence. Like universes, or maybe just floating brains. Sean Carroll talks about this in the video I linked.

          • Fr.Sean

            Thanks Paul,
            I think i've strayed from the original topic but i enjoyed your article. if you can recommend any more than might be helpful for a novice i would enjoy reading them.

          • Peter

            Sean Carroll's explanation for the apparent order of the early universe is no different from the explanation of why our universe has the finely tuned laws for life, namely a multiverse.

            Just as it would not be surprising for one universe such as ours with its unique laws for life to emerge from a multiverse of countless universes each with different sets of laws, so too would it not be surprising for a universe with low entropy to emerge from a mutliverse of countless universes each starting with different levels of entropy.

          • Carroll and Chen's theory is (to my limited understanding) an attempt to explain the low entropy initial state, in a way more involved than simply with a bunch of universes.

            The reason why I don't think a bunch of universes would be a good explanation for fine tuning is that our universe seems to have so much "unnecessary" order. A simple multiverse theory may predict that a universe like ours will exist, but it won't explain why we'd be in it. By all probability, we should be in a much less ordered universe. The "bunches of universes explanation for fine tuning" leads us to predict that every new place we look, we'd see disorder. Instead, we see order. So the simple multiverse explanation for fine tuning seems to be falsified by almost every physical observation.

          • Peter

            By unnecessary order do you mean it doesn't have an influence on the universe's actual evolution?

          • Peter

            Sean Carroll likens the multiverse to a universal chicken that lays many universal eggs including the egg of our own universe with its low entropy configuration.

            Is that not the same principle as I described above where universes with different entropy configurations emerge from a multiverse?

          • I think you're right. I'm not sure. What you say is my understanding, too. The distinguishing feature of the Carroll-Chen model is getting the average universe to have an entropy about as low as our universe. Otherwise, the Boltzmann Brain argument shows up again. It's best if we are the "average" fluctuation, or at least close to the average. Maybe we are a little bit luckly, like a Natural 20 Universe.

          • Peter

            According to Carroll-Chen, the multiverse is simply an eternally existing and expanding space, made up of dark energy and no matter, in which quantum fluctuations occur giving rise to inflating universes such as ours. Only the initially smooth low entropy universes expand while the disordered high entropy ones collapse back on themselves.

            This accounts for a multiverse of low entropy universes, out of which it would not be unreasonable for a universe as precisely configured in its entropy as ours to emerge.

            The immediate problem with this is that it comes up against the BVG theorem which says that you can't have eternal expansion. All in all it looks like a desperate attempt by an atheist scientist to account for the freakish low entropy conditions of our universe. As I suggested above, it is no different in principle from the traditional ploy of positing a multiverse to explain the finely tuned laws of our universe.

            A universe which genuinely and spontaneously creates itself from nothing would not require a pre-existing de Sitter quantum vacuum to emerge from, since there would be no time and no where in which such a vacuum could occur.

            But what is more remarkable is that such a universe should also spontaneously possess low entropy to such a precise degree as to allow order to persist right up to the present as manifested in the form of intelligent life such as ourselves.

            For this reason, I am more than ever convinced that the doctrine that creation was called into being out of nothing by God so that man (and no-doubt other sentient species) could be created is true.

          • I think it would be mistake to say that Carroll and Chen's model conflicts with BGV (you didn't quite claim this, but if you did, I think it would be a mistake).

            Vilenkin argues that the timeless vacuum in Carroll and Chen's model from which universes pop into existence both forward and backward in time satisfied BGV ( http://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.88.043516 ). In such a case, the universes have to be compact, or there need to exist singularities in their past or future. Carroll seems to favor singularities.

            Finally, I agree with you that Hartle and Hawking's model does not adequately explain the initial conditions of the universe, whereas Carroll and Chen's does. Carroll and Chen's model doesn't have an absolute beginning to space and time, matter and energy. The Cauchy surface is timeless.

            I favor Hartle and Hawking's model, and I don't know how it got its initial conditions. It's an unsolved problem. And I'm content enough with not knowing. I prefer staying with agnosticism about the origins of the universe to adopting mystic answers.

            EDITED TO ADD: Even if God started the universe, that still doesn't satisfactorily explain the low entropy initial conditions. Because then I want to know: How did God set it up? How did He do it?

          • Peter

            The short answer probably is God didn't do it. He didn't set it up. The universe set itself up in that manner because that's what God called it to do. So the question is how could the universe have spontaneously brought itself into existence with that unique configuration?

            Hawking says that the universe had 10>500 different possible configurations to choose from, and the fact that we are here to observe it means that it chose the configuration necessary for us to be here.

            This of course makes the origin of our universe even more remarkable in that it could have gone in any of 10>500 ways but instead followed the precise route leading to consciousness and self-awareness.

          • I think it's worse than that. If M Theory is true, then the universe can have one of 10^500 different sets of laws. The chance of choosing at random the initial conditions that would produce a similar macroscopic state of a universe with our set of laws is 1 in 10^10^123. Hartle-Hawking cosmologies coupled to M Theory (so I've been told) will settle from the high-energy solution of M Theory (of which there is only one) to every low-energy solution (all 10^500 of them). Our observable universe presumably is one of those. But even if that's true, that doesn't explain how we got our initial conditions. It would seem far more probable that a universe our age and with our laws would be full of a bunch of slowly-evaporating black holes and pretty-much nothing else.

          • Peter

            Like you I favour the Hartle-Hawking universe, but for different reasons. Not only does it suggest that the universe began itself from nothing in line with doctrine, but it also predicts a closed universe which is finite and therefore also in line with doctrine.

            Even though space appears flat within the horizon of the observable universe, the fact that measurements are not perfectly flat could mean that beyond the horizon on a truly vast scale the universe is spherical, being prevented from recollapsing by its dark matter expansion.

          • Peter

            Apologies for the late post, but in the case of universes expanding backward in time, why can't the BGV theorem apply in reverse? Irrespective of time, each expansion takes place from a specific point beyond which it is impossible to go.

            Universes where time is reversed must have had a beginning in the future, and the parent universe in thermal equilibrium from whose vacuum fluctuations they time-reversally popped into existence must also have had a beginning in the future, and so on.

            Just as a family tree of universes, each expanding forward in time, need a beginning in line with the BGV theorem, so too would a family tree of universes where each expand backward in time. Is it not the same time symmetric principle?

          • Augustine says that photons exist in the eternal. Interesting.

            If you are comfortable calling the Cauchy surface a beginning, great. But there's a whole bunch of universes before and after that beginning. When I think of time having a beginning, I would think that there would be a unique instant with a next instant and without a previous instant. Special relativity doesn't seem to allow for this (as Andrew Pinsent pointed out). Some models, like Carroll and Chen's, don't seem to have anything like a beginning. Although, again, if you want to call the Cauchy surface a beginning, you are free to do so. Vilenkin does. But it's a beginning that has whole universes expanding before and after it ("before" and "after" may be switched, depending on which way you face). What kind of beginning is that, really?

          • Peter

            If the Cauchy surface has universes expanding after it, forward in time, then it's still a beginning for the arrow of time. If it has universes expanding before it, backward in time, then the Cauchy surface must also be the beginning for the reverse arrow of time.

            Of course in this scenario time itself does not have a beginning, because it flows infinitely from past to future in a direction determined by which side of the Cauchy surface you're observing it from. People in a backward going universe will still experience time going forward as we do.

            What if the Creator is not content with creating our universe and chooses to simultaneously create other universes, including those which appear to us to be in time reversal, but whose inhabitants experience as being in normal time?

            In that case, the creation event would be marked not by the beginning of time, because we perceive it stretching infinitely from past to future, but by the beginning of the arrow of time.
            At this point there is no past versus future; everything is equal in a simultaneous present, the Eternal as St Augustine calls it.

            Consequently such an understanding of creation is perfectly consistent with Catholic doctrine.

          • Unsurprisingly, it's only "theism all along" if you include God. To borrow from Laplace, Carroll has no need for that hypothesis.

            In Carroll and Chen's model, there's no real beginning to time, but just different entropy gradients. Such a model would be a counter-example for the Kalam argument, specifically the minor premise: that the universe began. Becuase in their model it doesn't begin.

            What if the Creator is not content with creating our universe and chooses to simultaneously create other universes...

            Why bring a creator into the picture at all?

          • Peter

            Who is to say that the universe comprises creation ? And who is to say what the beginning is? What if creation is comprised of multiple universes with the arrow of time stretching into the future and into the past? And what if the beginning is the beginning of the arrow of time which takes place from the same simultaneous present for each of those universes irrespective of their time coordinates?

            The Kalam argument is a crude tool associated with big bang creationism which seeks an efficient cause of our universe. Sean Carroll may have effectively disproved that, but he hasn't disproved God. God simply called creation into being, so couldn't the coming of creation into existence be represented by the simultaneous beginning of the arrow of time for every universe?

          • The Kalam argument is a crude tool associated with big bang creationism which seeks an efficient cause of our universe. Sean Carroll may have effectively disproved that, but he hasn't disproved God.

            I agree. That's why in the article I said:

            Now, here's some advice for the apologists and evangelists here who want to engage the scientific community: I think it in your best interest to avoid using the Kalam argument. Stick with arguments that don't rely on scientific misunderstandings. The Leibniz's cosmological argument is a good example.

            Leibniz's cosmological argument keeps its strength no matter the cosmology. Even if Carroll and Chen's multiverse doesn't have a beginning, it appears contingent (why does it have to be there, and why does it have to be that way?). From Leibniz's argument, it seems as though the Carroll-Chen cosmology still needs someone or something to ground it.

          • Peter

            You are not wrong, but for different reasons I suspect.

            As I have described, the Carroll-Chen multiverse does have a beginning which is the beginning of the arrow of time, both forward and backward, from the same simultaneous present for each universe. The Kalam argument could then be invoked to explain such a beginning through a transcendent cause, as though God supernaturally set the arrow of time in motion.

            But this is where I depart from the Kalam argument. I do not hold that God set the arrow of time in motion in the Carroll-Chen model any more than he kick started the big bang in the classical model.

            If the Carroll-Chen model or something similar is true, if, due to time symmetry at the quantum level, the arrow of time does indeed point in two directions from the big bang, towards the infinite past and towards the infinite future, then it will be a matter of time before we discover the mechanism behind the beginning of the arrow of time instead of saying God did it.

            I believe that God simply willed creation into existence, and that it was the job of creation itself to bring itself naturalistically into being. The Kalam argument is doomed to failure because it keeps looking for a supernatural cause which is never there.

          • I don't agree about needing a mechanism to explain the arrow of time. The arrow of time comes from entropy gradients. It is merely a consequence of probability.

            Besides that, I think we are more-or-less on the same page here.

            I believe that God simply willed creation into existence, and that it was the job of creation itself to bring itself naturalistically into being.

            Great. Unless I misunderstand, this means you agree with Hawking that:

            Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

          • Peter

            As far as Hawking's statement is concerned, I certainly agree. If the Hartle-Hawking model is correct, then God simply willed the universe into existence and the universe spontaneously created itself in the manner described by the model.

            The Aguirre-Gratton model presupposes a low entropy configuration to start with, so it is not the outcome of probability. How do they explain it got there?

          • As far as Catholic doctrine is concerned, there is absolutely no reason why God could not have allowed the universe to create itself in this way, since it satisfies the condition of having a timeless boundary state from which it emerged.

            This is definitely one of the strangest Catholic dogmas, in my opinion.

          • Peter

            Why? What the naturalism of Carroll or Stenger seeks to undermine is the notion of a theistic cause of the universe as understood by Protestant tradition, namely that God supernaturally and inexplicably brought the universe into being.

            Catholic doctrine does not demand that, but is completely happy to leave the existence of the universe to completely naturalistic causes, so much so that the mor

          • I just find it odd that there's a positive doctrine about the initial physical conditions of the universe. If the doctrine were something like "creation of the universe ex nihilo" or out of nothing, that would seem more sensible (although Carroll and Chen's cosmology, if true, would falsify such a dogma). That God made the heavens and the earth seems more like religion. It has the virtue of being unfalsifiable. A doctrine conditional on a "timeless boundary state" seems strange (and not how I would interpret Carroll and Chen's cosmology; there's always time, although there's not always a non-zero entropy gradient).

            Why it's strange is that it seems disconnected from anything that would matter in Christianity. Sort of like if there were a dogma that the rest-mass of an electron has to be less than 1/500 the rest-mass of the proton. It would be true, but why would it be part of the religion in the first place?

          • "I just find it odd that there's a positive doctrine about the initial physical conditions of the universe. "

            I would too, if there was such a doctrine. But the Church doesn't pronounce on any such physical characteristics. She teaches about the *origin* of the universe, which is a metaphysical claim, not about its initial physical conditions.

          • David Nickol

            It has sometimes seemed that the Catholic position (at least as argued here on Strange Notions) is that the big bang was the beginning of the universe, and that proved the universe came from nothing, and that in turn confirmed that God created the universe from nothing. However, I don't believe it is the position of the Catholic Church that the big bang was the beginning of the universe. That would be a position taken by the Church on physics and cosmology, and the Church only claims to speak authoritatively on faith and morals.

          • Sorry it's seemed that way, David, but it's not true. You're absolutely right when you say:

            "I don't believe it is the position of the Catholic Church that the big bang was the beginning of the universe. That would be a position taken by the Church on physics and cosmology, and the Church only claims to speak authoritatively on faith and morals."

            That said, many individual Catholics see the Big Bang as scientific evidence for a philosophical premise in a theological argument, namely one of the cosmological arguments.

          • Peter

            On the contrary. It is Church doctrine that the existence of the Creator can be known with certainty through his works by the light of human reason. The conditions are that the universe is created from nothing and time has a beginning. Any naturalistic model which incorporates these is consistent with doctrine.

          • Good. I was getting worried.

            In that case, it is trivial to say that the Carroll-Chen model is consistent with the Catholic Church's metaphysical claims, since any physical cosmology would be consistent with the Church's metaphysical claims.

          • Peter

            Since God called the universe into being, any serious physical cosmology describing that process would be consistent with Church doctrine. The Carroll-Chen model no longer has confidence of its author, so we can hardly use it as an example of serious physical cosmology.

          • It tries to address the low entropy initial state of our universe. I think it's an important next step for that reason. And it also shows that it's possible that the cosmos is past-infinite.

            I personally think that there's only one universe and that it started itself. I have no idea how it came to have such a low entropy at the beginning.

          • Peter

            That is why I prefer the elegant Aguirre-Gratton model which also assumes one universe. On the one hand it has a beginning of the arrow of time, forward and reverse, from a low entropy point where time equals zero, while, on the other, the resulting contraction of the universe culminates in a low entropy point where time equals zero.

            This naturalistic and simultaneously reciprocative self-creation is more satisfying than the spontaneous beginning of a universe with mysteriously inbuilt low entropy which demands an explanation and encourages Kalam supporters to suggest that it was supernaturally configured that way. This is big bang creationism, no different in principle from ID or young earth creationism.

            It is a firm doctrine of the Church that time had a beginning, but no-one stipulated in which direction. The Aguirre-Gratton model is a naturalistic approach which satisfies that requirement.

          • Doesn't Aguirre-Gratton (AG) basically have a multiverse? To my understanding, the eternally inflating space-time cannot be our own universe, because it cannot explain the evidence of the big bang (cosmic microwave background, Hubble constant, etc.). For this reason, AG is not a model for our universe but rather a framework wherein (multiple) big bang cosmologies can live. It seems more like a multiverse generator. Am I mistaken?

            AG is an interesting idea, but how does it account for the very low entropy at our big bang? Wouldn't it be more likely for our big bang region to be filled with a bunch of black holes and no stars?

          • Peter

            "Doesn't Aguirre-Gratton (AG) basically have a multiverse?"

            Probably, but it also explains one universe, ours, and that's what I find intriguing.

            The only naturalistic solution for our universe - if it is to avoid Kalam supernaturalism - is to be eternal. And the only way it can be so without breaking physical laws is to be past eternal and future eternal, where there is a minimum entropy boundary from which the arrow of time begins in each direction.

            If the boundary conditions were any different there would not be a universe like ours which could be explained naturalistically. But there is and the only way it can be explained without invoking supernaturalism is with precisely the low entropy boundary conditions we observe.

          • I don't find the brute fact explanation satisfying. I'd like to find out what physical cause, if any, there could be for that timeless low-entropy state.

            But maybe I ask too much. Maybe I should be more easily satisfied. In that case, I would still stay with Hartle-Hawking, because the brute fact explanation works just as well. I just argue that the single Hartle-Hawking universe must have had a low entropy state because otherwise we wouldn't be here to complain about it. The initial conditions:

            [need] no explanation because it is a brute fact associated with the [finite] past ... of the universe.

          • Peter

            Even though the Hartle-Hawking universe creates itself, the question remains as to why it creates itself with a unique low entropy instead of any other entropy level.The fact that the model allows for conditions which could have been different means that according to the model the initial low entropy conditions are not an inevitable brute fact.

            In my example based on the Aguirre -Gratton model, the unique low entropy boundary cannot have been different because the universe contracting towards it is eternal. Therefore the inevitable outcome of a unique low entropy boundary has been eternally decreed or, if you like, established from eternity, rendering it a brute fact.

          • Is it inevitable or is it a brute fact? If it's inevitable, I'd like to see how. If it's a brute fact, then it can be a brute fact for Hartle-Hawking as well.

            You claim that the timeless state has to have low entropy. How low? What is the value of the entropy of the steady-state for AG? How is that entropy calculated? Are there no free parameters in the calculation, and if not, how did they manage to avoid any free parameters?

          • Peter

            The way I try to understand it is to consider the paradox between a universe which from our perspective is eternally contracting but which from the perspective of its inhabitants is eternally expanding. For us the universe is contracting closer to the boundary from infinity, yet for them it is expanding away from the boundary towards infinity.

            The creation of an eternally expanding universe full of galaxies teeming with inhabitants necessitated a particular uniquely configured low entropy boundary, since any change in its parameters would have altered the nature of that universe. Yet a universe expanding to eternity from such a boundary is also a universe contracting from eternity towards that boundary.

            Just as the nature of the eternally expanding universe has been determined by the unique low entropy of its past, so too is the nature of the eternally contracting universe determined by the unique low entropy of its future. Just as its nature is fixed, so too is its future, making that precise future inevitable.

          • I'm no expert philosopher, but my initial impulse is to agree. Even if the Carroll-Chen model conclusively revealed a eternally-past universe, that wouldn't, by itself, conflict with Catholic teaching (though it would cause problems for some of the most famous versions of the cosmological argument.)

            However, we should note that no less or orthodox theologian than Thomas Aquinas proposed reasons for God that were agnostic on the question of the universe's past temporality. While he personally believed that the universe had a finite past, he famously held that you couldn't *prove* such a fact. Therefore, his versions of the cosmological argument are neutral on the question--they depend not on whether the universe *began* to exist, but on the very fact that it does.

            On a personal note, I believe that if Aquinas was aware of the advancements in modern cosmology, he would be inclined to think a past-finite universe is at least defensible today.

          • On a personal note, I believe that if Aquinas was aware of the advancements in modern cosmology, he would be inclined to think a past-finite universe is at least defensible today.

            Then he and I would agree! I'm sure he'd have a deeper insight into the philosophical and theological implications of relativity. Wouldn't it be grand to sit with him and talk about it?

          • You bet! Now to be clear, I'm not suggesting what many others have claimed: that modern scientific advancements would have changed Thomas's metaphysical proposals. The natural sciences are neutral with regards to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. What I am claiming is that modern cosmology would provide Thomas *another* line of evidence in his already impressive metaphysical case for God, one he conservatively eschewed but I think today would happily embrace.

          • Peter

            Catholic doctrine is consistent with scientific findings in that it is not contradicted by them; Catholic doctrine does not consist of those findings per se.

            As far as the Carroll-Chen model is concerned, Sean Carroll had so little confidence in it that he preferred to avoid it in his debate with William Lane Craig in favour of the Aguirre-Gratton model, so perhaps it's best to stick with that.

            However, in the Aguirre-Gratton model the low entropy boundary between contraction and expansion is the point where t = 0, from which the arrow of time begins to run in opposite directions. This marks a beginning to the flow of time both backwards and forwards and, inasmuch as it is a beginning of time, is perfectly consistent with Catholic doctrine.

            "The world [i.e. universe] began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history are rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun" (CCC 338)


          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Peter,
            But where would one of those universes spun off from ours get's it's energy from?

          • Peter

            On hypothesis is that black holes in our universe give birth top baby universes in other dimensions since the contraction of a black hole is just a big bang in reverse. In that event, the singularity in the centre of the black hole would also be the singularity at the start of the baby universe.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Peter,
            You know i thought i read Hawkings had developed that theory but after further reflection he came to the conclusion it wasn't a possibility.

          • Peter

            There is a study here which suggests that vanishing singularities in black holes and are replaced by a bridge to another universe.


          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Peter,
            I do want to check out that website, i'm just a little pressed for time. i suppose the question lies in energy, and entropy. If a universe could somehow be spawned by a black whole that would sort of solve the energy/entropy problem. the universe wouldn't have to have a beginning or end because new one's would be born somewhat frequently (relatively speaking). but then you would run into the energy problem, since it cannot be created nor destroyed where would the energy for the new universe come from. if a black hole offered a bridge to another universe that we're still back at square one. if this would would cease to exist than something had to initiate it. what was that that initiated it. or as Fr.Andrew said, it's not a matter of if God did it, but specifically what God is?

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you for this. I am, as challenged going to attempt to answer the question. As per my ironic labeling of myself as an a-theist (meaning possibility of deism and pantheism, and all the other answers that I believe warrant study)Catholic, or between naturalism and religion (Habermas) it helps me to at least attempt to follow cosmological arguments. I am particularly grateful when I can find some comparative analogy with biblical texts. I find Catholicism's embrace of the order of creation to be particularly fruitful. It alone of religions holds the universe to be 'good'. I could not help but reflect and speculate that perhaps that dark matter could even be congruent to the concept of angels, or that intelligence know as as 'intelligible being'. Also, the idea of a 'new' heaven and a new earth, (translated as new mind and matter) fits in well to my religious bent in the promise that transformation of both mind and matter is a priority of catholic thought. I can even think of a glorified matter within the context of which you spoke. Also, I am not particularly concerned with whether the big bang is or is not the beginning, or whether or not there are multi-verses, (if you look at a possible unity of multiverses, for instance, these many combinations could indeed be considered a 'bigger' universe, could they not?) Also beginning, can be interpreted as 'foundational' rather than a beginning of a physical ordering, (of both space and time), as often Cartesian thought is argued to be foundational. Thus your mention of 'something' (God?) as a possible account to the rational ordering of what 'is', I find to have a concordance with Catholic 'teachings'. To make matters brief, after this long discussion, I 'believe' that the order in the universe is a rational ordering, and thus look forward to learning more about cosmology as a buttress to the possible interpretations of the paradoxes of faith that accord with reasoned scientific thought. Thank you.

          • Raphael

            You'll have to ask somebody else; I didn't make that assertion.

            However, you speculate that the universe could have started itself. What evidence (good or not) is there to support that?

          • If you apply general relativity to a small dense region, you find that time can act just like a dimension of space. Cause cannot then be clearly distinguished from effect, and wouldn't need to precede effect. So you can have a situation like this: A causes B and C. C goes on to cause D, E, F, G.... the rest of the universe, and B causes A. General relativity applied to small dense regions allows for solutions like this.

            The evidence:

            (1) General relativity makes predictions that are well-established, so there is good reason to accept general relativity.

            (2) The velocity distribution of distant galaxies and the cosmic microwave background provide evidence that the universe used to be a very small dense region.

            Combining these two conditions sets up circumstances wherein the universe can start itself.

          • Raphael

            Is this the Hartle-Hawking model you mentioned in the previous article?

          • Yes.

            It's a bit of an over-simplification of the actual Hartle-Hawking model, but it gets the essentials.

          • Raphael

            Where did the "small dense region" of the universe come from?

  • I would love to hear what theists think God is. (Also what they mean by "exists" in this context).

    • Lamont

      Hi Brian,
      there are many different ways of describing God, but for monotheists working within the context of classical theism God is immaterial (ie. not composed of material parts). As such, God is something like a mind which is itself the power of intellect and will. By analogy it can also be
      said that God is Light, Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Love.

      Now other than our own minds, the closest thing we have to something immaterial in this world is a field of energy. Electromagnetic, gravitational, and nuclear fields all exist in close association with matter so you may
      call them material but fields are not composed of parts. They exist
      and act as simple unified entities. So God is more like a field of
      energy than anything else we know of. If the human mind is also like
      a multidimensional field of energy. Then its powers of intellect and
      will can be understood as acting in a way that is similar to the way
      in which other fields act. Hence one can say that love is like
      gravity, both are unitive and binding by their very nature.

      Intellect acts like a field in that similar forms engage each other
      harmoniously. Dissimilar forms create a certain dissonance. The
      conscious recognition of harmonious forms is the basis for knowledge
      and understanding. We can think logically and do mathematics because
      we can recognize when things fit together and when they do not.

      In the end one can think of God as an infinite self-organizing field of vacuum energy or as a mind that knows and wills. The difference between the two is more a matter of perspective than anything else. Stephen Hawking and Thomas Aquinas are both talking about the same thing.

      • I too have no trouble believing in things similar to what you reference, but I do not know why you would characterize them as immaterial much less a God, or, why gods need be immaterial. We know that matter and energy are different manifestations of the same thing, we even know the relationship between, them e=mc2. This is why I see no reason to call magnetic fields, gravity etc., immaterial. But if you like I can accept this distinction.

        At the end of the day I believe all of these things exist, as well as light, love and goodness. (Not sure about truth, very unsure about any of these as ultimate or perfect and independent of humanity) But certainly a god must be more than the aggregate of these things or similar but undetected things. Material or immaterial, all of the things you've referenced are part of the natural world, as opposed to being in some way supernatural.

    • Moussa Taouk

      I suggested that Strange Notions have an article attempting to describe what is meant by "God" a little while ago. But I'm still waiting. Either because it is a fair bit down in the que of articles waiting to be published here, or because it's too difficult a topic for someone to try and tackle.

      At the end of the day, I think that if we contain God in an accurate definition, then perhaps it's not God that has been defined. Because definitions give boundaries to things or concepts. But God seems to be boundless. So I think God is un-definable. The best we can do is to use analogies. For most people these analogies are helpful and align with their natural intuition that there must be someone behind it all. For some people those analogies aren't of much use.

      As for me, I understand God to be an infinite mind with unlimitted power, and an incomprehensible love.

      In terms of "exists" I understand it to mean "being". That is, "he is" or as he eloquently said to Moses "I Am". Certainly the exact manner in which he exists is in the realms of mystery that is impenetrable by my mind. Maybe a mystic might be able to experience something of that reality, but I don't think the tool of intellect (and especially words) can hope to contain, comprehend, or describe that reality.

      • Perhaps you should write a post and submit it.

        I would think that theists would need to be able to describe God, one needs to know what one believes in.

      • David Ondich

        Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, part 1a questions 3: 'We cannot know what God is, only what he is not', as quoted on p 50 of Keith Ward's book, 'God: A Guide for the Perplexed'; Ward goes on to say, 'God is not like anything you can think of', precisely because we think in analogies and God is entirely unique- Moussa Taouk has some valid insights...

        • David Nickol

          'God is not like anything you can think of', precisely because we think in analogies and God is entirely unique

          But we call God (the Father) "Our Heavenly Father." Jesus instructed us to do so (Matthew 6:9). I think the "Catholic God" is one thing, and the God of philosophy quite another. (I have said this a number of times before.) The God most Christians and Jews pray to and worship is a much more "humanized" figure than the God of philosophy.

          When we discuss proofs here, we are almost always discussing the God of philosophy. It does seem to me it is close to impossible to say anything about that God. But the God of the Bible is very much a "personality."

          • David Ondich

            ...yes a 'personality', but a Personality that is uniquely unlike any other. Having said that, it is, however, 'personality' that makes it possible to have a personal relationship with God. We are created in God's image and have personalities ourselves through which we can relate to each other as well as to God. Analogies with our human relationships point the way: God as a loving father, Christ as the bridegroom to his bride the church....This is of course quite distant from any proofs for God's existence.

          • David Nickol

            If we cannot know what God is, only what he is not, then how can we say God has a personality or is like a father?

            You say "'God is not like anything you can think of', precisely because we think in analogies and God is entirely unique." But then you say, "Analogies with our human relationships point the way: God as a loving
            father, Christ as the bridegroom to his bride the church...."

            I am confused, since I thought you were saying we could not make helpful analogies to understand God. And if we can only say what God is not, how can we say he is like a father?

            Incidentally, the metaphor of Jesus as a bridegroom seems to me totally useless in our culture. Bridegrooms are nothing special in 21st-century weddings. In the time of Jesus, a bridegroom was the very center of the wedding feast and the wedding. Nowadays, the bride and bridegroom are theoretically equals, but in reality (in my opinion at least) the bride is more the center of attention at most weddings.

            In the era when the Gospels were written, likening Jesus to a bridegroom was an effective metaphor. To readers today, the metaphor must be explained. It doesn't function any more. We are more likely to get the idea of the significance of the metaphor of "Jesus as bridegroom" from our attitude and understanding of Jesus than we are to get an idea of the significance of Jesus by understanding the significance of a bridegroom. To a certain extent, the same is true of the idea of Mary as Queen of Heaven or Jesus as King. We do not regard kings and queens as we used to, and so it does not mean much to us to think of Jesus as a king or Mary as a queen. If one's idea of a queen is Queen Elizabeth II, it is difficult to apply that idea to the Virgin Mary. In some ways, even fathers have diminished in stature greatly from the time of Jesus. For many people, God as a heavenly "father" is not going to be a terribly enlightening or appealing metaphor. Father metaphors were much more meaningful in strongly patriarchal societies.

          • David Ondich

            .. Well, we do say that God is Love (Agape) so you make a good point, but God's love is unlike any human love because of our limitations, so for example God's love is unlimited, just and merciful- as hard to fathom as the particle/wave duality/contradiction in science....It is confusing; the best we can do is have a relationship with God; in a funny way I'm reminded of Bertrand Russel's view of our knowledge of matter which we get from contemporary physics ( Russel's book: 'The Analysis Of Matter'- I believe that's the title, I had it in college maybe 30 yrs ago)- all we can do is understand matter in terms of mathematical equations, which is just an abstraction of matter, not a concrete knowledge of matter itself; the best we can do with God is understand him in terms of a loving relationship, God is beyond our intellectual capacities. But I think a loving relationship does trump knowledge for most of us. And again you make a good point: the metaphors may be outdated, but I still think the message is clear. Thanks for taking this seriously- I'm neither a theologian nor a philosopher, not even a scientist, and you're helping me think things out.

          • btpcmsag

            You said, "I am confused, since I thought you were saying we could not make helpful analogies to understand God. And if we can only say what God is not, how can we say he is like a father?" -- We cannot perfectly know God in this life, but we can know something of God in this life, because our purpose is to love God, and we cannot love someone we do not know. Therefore, our purpose is to first know God, so as to love God, so as to serve God in this life, and thereby be happy with Him forever in the next life. We are not required to know God perfectly in this life. We are only supposed to do the best we can.

            One thing that might help you in your struggle with the person-hood of God, would be that His aspect of personality is most important. We are separated from the brute animals by their lack of personality. You cannot make a contract with a goat or a fish or even your favorite and loyal dog. Brute animals do not have free will nor do they have intellect. But man is like God in that man has person-hood, and this is what makes man tied to God, even in eternity. When we sin, we offend the person of God, and when we seek forgiveness we seek it from His person. We are given our family, government and society to witness this relationship with other persons so we can better fathom our relationship with God. Angels are persons, men and women and children are persons, and God is three persons in one substance. We cannot know that in its fullness, but we do know it is true because it has been revealed to us. Those of us who go to heaven will know it without limitation and in its perfection -- even those of us who are blind, for our imperfect vision here on earth will be perfect in eternity.

  • William A. Schmitt

    I am not a scientist and probably
    should not be commenting here, but I am a practicing Roman Catholic
    and believe in God, and therefore one of the “theists” that you
    asked to hear from and what I think God is.

    Although I don't understand, nor
    can I explain this mystery, I think God is three persons in one: God
    the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I think God is
    supernatural, eternal, all powerful, and present everywhere in all
    space and all time. I use the words 'space' and 'time', because I
    don't know any words to describe having existed before time and

    I think God is the author of
    everything and is pure love. God loves me (loves everyone) and
    forever seeks my love (everyone's love) in return.

    I know I sound naïve or
    'brain-washed' to some, but that is what I think.

    • Thanks!

    • David Ondich

      Well put, and what you say would seem to be outside the realm of scientific challenge.

  • David Nickol
    • And Catholics have the kooky metaphysics!

      • David Nickol

        And Catholics have the kooky metaphysics!

        I think one possible lesson to draw from the conjecture that we might be part of a computer simulation is that we are perhaps focusing too narrowly on two possibilities—the "Catholic" God created the universe "ex nihilo," and the universe popped into existence with no cause and (in some sense) from nothing as is the conjecture of many serious physicists and cosmologists. It has been noted several times that even if you "prove" the God of philosophy, you have left a tremendous amount of work to "prove" a Triune God, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection. Although it has been pointed out, it seems to me many nevertheless assume that the alleged proofs for the existence of God not only prove God exists, but that he is the "Catholic" God. But that is so far from true, it strikes me as arguably a waste of time to focus on cosmology and its impact on the logical proofs for the existence of God. If I were a Catholic missionary or apologist or a Catholic engaging in the "New Evangelism," I would spend the bulk of my time talking about Jesus.

        It seems to me that Jesus is the starting point (and ending point) for Catholicism, and Scholasticism (at least judging from the exposure I had to it) doesn't have much to say about Jesus that would draw people to him. Aquinas was brilliant, but I think the vast majority of people who feel a need for a spiritual side to their lives would be much more drawn to the Gospels than to the Summa Theologica.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think this is a great post. Thanks Fr. Andrew!

    One thing I've noticed about the internet, sometimes the best articles get the fewest comments.

  • Vincent Torley

    I have to respectfully disagree with Fr. Pinsent's suggestion that Paul Rimmer's article critiquing the kalam cosmological argument pretty much gets it right. Fr. Pinsent suggests that "perhaps the observable cosmos is part of a larger, invisible, and eternal physical reality (a multiverse?)" without mentioning the fact that Dr. Alexander Vilenkin recently demonstrated that the multiverse must have had a beginning too. See my post, "Vilenkin’s verdict: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning” at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/vilenkins-verdict-all-the-evidence-we-have-says-that-the-universe-had-a-beginning/ . Fr. Pinsent points out correctly that there is no clock outside the cosmos. Quite true; but that point in no way undermines the point that the universe began to exist (as St. Augustine wrote, it began with time, not in time), and that anything which begins to exist (whether with time or within time) requires a cause.

    The reason why anything which begins to exist requires a cause can be explained as follows. If the universe has a finite duration then at least one of its properties is arbitrary and hence non-essential. For any thing possessing a non-essential property, it is legitimate to ask why it has that property. For example, if I see a beach ball of a particular size and color, it makes sense to ask why it is of precisely that size, and why it has the color it does. Even if the duration of the universe is conceived of four-dimensionally, in a "block-time" sense, as just a property of the universe, it's still an arbitrary one: we may still ask why the universe is 13.8 billion years old instead of 13.9 billion. The same argument applies to the multiverse. So the kalam argument, understood in this way, is a special case of the modal cosmological argument - one which asks why the universe (multiverse) has the spatio-temporal properties it does, as opposed to simply asking why it exists, as Leibniz's version did.

    In any case, I think the "kalam skeptics" (like Intelligent Design skeptics) have turned too many Christians into a bunch of nervous Nellies, scared of being bucketed by know-it-all atheists. Come on, guys. Let's show some defiance. It's fair to ask: if we wouldn't accept the popping into existence of a rabbit as a brute fact, why should we accept the popping into existence of a universe as a brute fact? (And don't say: because the rabbit has a beginning within time. Time has nothing to do with causation. A cause need not precede its effect: if a person had been lying eternally on a pillow, it would still be true that the depression in the shape of the pillow was caused by that person's head lying on it.)

    Fr. Pinsent also attacks the Big Bang and fine-tuning arguments as "God of the gaps" arguments. May I ask: what's wrong with gaps? As mathematician John Lennox points out in his book, "Seven Days that Divide the World" (Zondervan, 2011, p. 171): "Some gaps are gaps of ignorance and are eventually closed by scientific knowledge - they are the bad gaps that figure in the expression 'God of the gaps.' But there are other gaps, gaps that are revealed by advancing science (good gaps)." The fine-tuning argument is, I would suggest, a good gap. I have explained why in detail, in my series of posts in reply to physicist Sean Carroll:

    1. "Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus" at

    (Here, I argue that the problem of induction is insoluble without God, and that the idea of a scientific law makes no sense without an Intelligence governing the cosmos.)

    2. "Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part One)" at

    (Here, I suggest that certainty comes in six different degrees, and that arguments for the existence of God are rationally certain, to at least the fourth degree.)

    3. "Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part Two)" at

    (Here, I defend the fine-tuning argument in detail against objections.)

    4. "Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part Three)" at

    (Here, I discuss the problem of evil, and why it fails to undermine theism.)

    Finally, I am at a loss to see why Fr. Pinsent objects to the notion of God as a "divine composer," as if that made Him merely "a cause among causes." Quite the contrary: since God is the Author of the cosmos, He makes the rules. Causes which operate within the cosmos are bound by those rules. The fine-tuning we observe is a subset of God's rules - and a particularly striking subset at that, as it shows us that the cosmos is balanced on a knife's edge. And as Dr. Robin Collins has argued in his essay "The Teleological Argument," the multiverse does not remove the need for fine-tuning: it merely pushes it up one level.

    The claim (made by a commenter on this site) that we can easily conceive of something coming into existence without a cause goes back to the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), although Hume himself seems to have backtracked on this question. In 1754, he wrote: “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause” (The Letters of David Hume, Two Volumes, J. Y. T. Greig, editor: (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), 1:187; quoted in Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, revised edition, 1994, p. 93). Be that as it may, the central fallacy of Hume’s argument is that he conflates intellect with imagination. Being able to picture something (e.g. a winged horse, such as Pegasus) isn’t the same as being able to conceive of it (i.e. fully understand the relation between all its properties – for example, how Pegasus actually flies, takes off and lands).

    In any case, as the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe has pointed out, it seems doubtful whether we can even imagine something coming into existence without a cause. Certainly, we can picture something springing into being in a location where there was nothing before. But that isn’t the same as imagining something springing into being without a cause. For suppose we actually saw what we imagine in our heads. What would we conclude? Our first question would probably be: “Where did that come from?” And if we failed to find an answer to our question, we’d probably say that something unknown caused the object to spring into being.

    My two cents.

    • Nicholas Hesed

      Well here is my two cents in response to the above:

      The Universe never began to exist since it resolves to a shapeless concept, conceived and labelled by some ancient. Universe or kosmos began when some ancient got sick of saying "and all the stars and all the trees and all the animals and all the peoples, etc.". Thus any claim or argument posited by an atheist or theist alike treating UNIVERSE as some entity that just appears is nonsense. The Universe is a binary conceptual system relating space and matter. This concept is about four thousand years old. There is your age of the Universe!!!

      Matter is the set of all objects. Space is that which lacks shape. If creation ex nihilo really happened then SOMETHING, a bloody 3D shape or a set of 3D shapes, had to suddenly appear. Matterless motion is an irrational, impossible and contradictory notion and I think that even God would be pissed at us (theist and atheist alike) if that is what we are sitting back supposing.

      And this creation ex nihilo event would defy the Law of Causality since the concept CAUSE presupposes a predefined mediator object and a predefined target object. God defied the artificial law of Causality at creation ex nihilo. He did not stimulate a predefined target. And he deified ontology and he deified pretty much everything we understand. Creation ex nihilo is inconceivable. So any sheer argument that tries to validate this miracle whether formal or informal is nonsense. And any sort of inference of a creation ex nihilo from a math equation or an extrapolation from a trillion dollar observation is pretty much beyond insane.

      Time resolves to a concept. Time is a binary conceptual system relating memory and motion. And you have all these temporal notions nested into the abstract concept labelled Time (past, present, future, beginning, end). None of them exist because only objects exist. Exist is object + location {a nature, a presence, something somewhere]. All objects have shape. 2D shapes are abstract and do not exist. 3D shapes can possibly exist. Location is the set of static distances relating a single object to all others in any given frame in the 'Universal Movie'. Time does not bloody exist and nothing could be said to be within Time. Same with space. So this is all nonsense.

      Cause refers to a concept. the term "cause" is a verb that necessitates 2 objects; one being the 'mediator' and the other being the 'target'. You know I've never seen or conceived causes running around imparting causal relations. Its circular. Only predefined objects impart causal relations to predefined targets. But pretty much all philosophers for the past 1500 years have irrationally converted cause to an object that performs causal relations. Plus pretty much no one in history has had the guts to define the concepts object (syn. entity, thing, etc.) and exist.

      So I say we all go to the bar and get wasted because all this stuff is a bunch of vanity. I mean all I see people doing here is discoursing about space and time and universe. Nobody bothers defining any of their key strategic terms. Nobody seems to be on the same page. And so many think that these concepts have something to do with physics.

      And btw I would read your blogs but they are way too wordy and not enough cool pictures. So peace out on that.

  • "...the real issue may not be the existence of ‘God’ but what ‘God’ is."
    Many Catholics & Atheists may gladly agree that the known universe began some 13.7 billion years ago, and that if there was a big-bang, there must also be a “big-banger”. They may agree that whatever caused the big bang must be something outside the known universe. Further still, they may consent to the metaphysical logic that demands a first cause.

    Seems to me that no matter how much consensus there is, the consensus seems to crumble at the point of “intelligence”. For some, the universe needs to be “dumbly” there.

    • Nicholas Hesed

      here is a little secret for you. All objects, not even God can be located 'outside' the Universe because UNIVERSE is just an idea. It is irrational, inconceivable and impossible to exist outside of an idea. Not even God can do that. Ontological contradiction!!!

      As far as what God is, that is described in Divine Revelation: what God has done, what he has said, and the Magisterial teachings definitively teach in regards to these matters. What God is, is inconceivable.

      On the other hand the atheists will have a problem with their claims and arguments because once they finally sober up to 'discover' and make a rational assumption of the fundamental entity weaving all matter (the set of objects that exist) and responsible for light, gravity, electricity, magnetism, atomic motion, etc. they will understand that all explanations, descriptions, and definitions break down. Once we get to the fundamental entity there are no reasons, causes, etc. All one can do is describe it but it has magical properties like superimposition.

      The way God decided to make matter at the most fundamental fine structure can only be enjoyed. The quantum mechanics and particle physicists are having nightmares trying to figure it all out. I look at book after book just decked with math equations when the answer is right in front of them. Very sad indeed, but all is vanity. Heck the fundamental entity of matter is just a ball of vanity.

      • Consider that by "universe" I mean to say "all physical reality". Given this, I cannot agree to your "little secret" that the universe is just an idea.

  • Peter

    I think a strict interpretation of Catholic doctrine would be that nothing caused the universe, making the Kalam argument effectively redundant. God simply called the universe into existence. He did not undertake any physical action to bring the universe into being, but simply called it out of nothingness with his word.

    In response to God's call, the universe itself undertook the physical action of bringing itself into existence. Our understanding of quantum cosmology and general relativity with its effects on time and causality have begun to cast light on how this event could have taken place.

    The quest for an original physical cause undertaken by God is found in the Protestant tradition of sola scriptura, which insists that at some point God materially intervened to bring about creation, whether it was 6000 years ago or 13.8 billion. Consequently, any success by authors such as Hawking, Krauss, Venger or Dawkins to disprove the likelihood of material intervention allows them to proclaim the non-existence of God.

    This argument that is raging between scientific atheism on the one hand and creationism on the other (by which I mean material intervention at any stage) is essentially an argument that doesn't involve Catholicism. Catholic doctrine is not damaged by scientific discoveries, nor by any of the scientific publications which seek disprove God. On the contrary, it is bolstered by them. The same cannot be said for Protestant tradition.

  • Loreen Lee

    Just ran across a reference to the attempt by scientists prior to the Copernican revolution to account for the rotation of the planets. As you recall the only way to explain the motion of the planets in the Ptolemaic system was to postulate more and more systems of epicycles. When the scientist tries to fit all the facts to a theory that only explains th causes inadequately, the philosopher say that it is an attempt to 'save the phenomena'. Just thinking that the situation is one of a reversal of the need to multiply phenomena, for possibly the universes have been multiplied in order to 'save the theory'. In either case, it leaves in question whether the answer conforms to Ockham's razor, does it not? A plurality of universes takes us, for instance, quite a way from such attempts to find a unified field theory, for instance. At least the explanation that God, as consciousness, and I agree that it is a personal rather than the cosmological God of Hindu orthodoxy, because it is in keeping with the person defined according to intelligence. I believe there is a unity, which is a much better ideal to direct myself towards than to a series of epicycles or multi-verses. Keep the speech and the poetry, simple, I believe.

    • Agni Ashwin

      What "Hindu orthodoxy" are you referring to?

      • Loreen Lee

        Edit: I have referred to a Hindu orthodoxy, which I intended to be a
        reference to the trinity of Hindu gods: creation, destruction and
        sustenance.. I would like to give a link to the articles on this
        subject which I have read that discuss the many forms of worship that
        are taken within the community, and I just wished to contrast the term
        'orthodox' with such practices as would conform even to Buddhist
        tradition.which do not recognize the Hindu gods, per se.