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Is God Too Complex To Be The Creator?

SunsetComplex

Richard Dawkins believes that if the universe began to exist—it was caused by nothing. In a debate with Cardinal George Pell in 2012 he asserted:

"Of course it's counterintuitive that you can get something from nothing! Of course common sense doesn't allow you get something from nothing! That's why it's interesting. It's got to be interesting in order to give rise to the universe at all!"

He was right about at least two things: to get something from nothing is both counterintuitive and in opposition to common sense. But in light of mounting evidence for an absolute beginning to the universe, such confidence in nothing is reflective of the radical measures taken by atheists—such as Dawkins, Steven Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins and others—to avoid postulating a divine Designer as the kick-starter of our finely-tuned, expanding universe.

Atheists know that anything which begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. This expectation drives scientific research. But in the case of the origin of the universe there seems to be an extreme aversion to the basic philosophical principle that "out of nothing, no thing comes". Thus atheists object to Lucretius' ancient maxim: "Nothing can be created from nothing". Science is founded on the principle that "things cause things". But wouldn't it seem equally true that "no thing causes no thing"? Yet, as we've seen atheists will make an exception, postulating nothing as a cause, in order to avoid the God conclusion (although it seems that often their description of "nothing" is a description of some thing leaving the question of the ultimate cause of things still open and unanswered).

Indeed such reasoning could make a first-year philosophy student cringe—not to mention professional philosophers such as Dawkins' fellow atheist, Michael Ruse, who once remarked, "I think Dawkins is ignorant of just about every aspect of philosophy and theology and it shows". Regardless, Dawkins and others continue to persist in this line of philosophically problematic thinking—what G.K. Chesterton might have called "uncommon nonsense"—while nonetheless enjoying strong influence on their atheist followers.

In an interview with PBS Dawkins was asked to comment on the hypothesis that God is the designer of whole evolutionary system. His negative answer reflects the same key principle he uses to deny God as the Big Banger of the universe:

"You start with essentially nothing—you start with something very, very simple—the origin of the Earth. And from that, by slow gradual degrees, as I put it "climbing mount improbable"—by slow gradual degree you build up from simple beginnings and simple needs easy to understand, up to complicated endings like ourselves and kangaroos."

Thus, such atheists postulate "nothing" as the cause of the universe because, on their view, nothing is "very, very simple" and God is not. And according to Dawkins and company the Big Bang (and the subsequent forward-moving evolutionary processes) must reflect a transition from the simple to the complex. From a simple molecule to a more complex molecule; from a single-celled organism to a multi-celled organism; from absolutely nothing to a universe. Therefore, on their view, simple nothing is preferable to a complex god as the Grand Cause of things; God is too complex to be the cause of the simple beginnings of the universe and the biological processes contained within.

But I want to point several important considerations in regard to this atheistic objection that God is too complex to be the cause of the universe (and the processes within):

First, the complex God they reject is not the God of Christianity. They might have ruled out a god of complexity, but not the God of simplicity proposed by Christian theists. This error is often committed by skeptics when they paint God with a suspicious similarity to themselves while failing to factor in His most essential supernatural characteristics; and a problematic creation of God in man's image and likeness results.

Dawkins' language betrays this tendency in his PBS interview:

"For one thing, if I were God wanting to make a human being, I would do it by a more direct way rather than by evolution."

Albert Einstein, a deist (and perhaps this sheds some light on why he remained so), says something similar:

"When I am judging a theory, I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way" (Einstein: His Life And Universe, Walter Isaacson, p. 551)

These men are placing themselves into the shoes of God, assuming they would know how an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe would act. Though they might be men of great intelligence, they are not all-knowing nor all-powerful; nor are they eternal or supernatural. God is in this sense wholly other than man; therefore God may very well have reasons for setting things up as he has; and such reasons may be beyond what our limited intellects can grasp.

Furthermore, they reject a complex God; but the God of Christianity is inconceivably simple. Therefore the god they reject on the basis of over-complexity is not the Christian God.

Second, God has no parts and is therefore more simple than anything in nature. God is pure spirit, by definition. He is completely non-physical. Eminent philosopher from the University of Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga, has pointed out that by Dawkins' own description of God as a spiritual Being he has, perhaps unknowingly, admitted the simplicity of God as a pure spirit devoid of parts.

The atheist case fails to make key distinctions between a mind and its ideas. As philosopher William Lane Craig has clarified:

"Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas—it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus—, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind's ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity."

Third, the basic Christian definition of God is simple enough to be accepted by non-Christian religions. Antony Flew, the influential 20th century atheist philosopher (who eventually became a deist) writes:

“This strikes me as a bizarre thing to say about the concept of an omnipotent spiritual Being. What is complex about the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient Spirit, an idea so simple that it is understood by all the adherents of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam?” (There Is A God, p. 111).

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas shows five ways we can know "the absolute simplicity of God" as understood from a Christian perspective. (see also Karlo Broussard's article here).

Fourth, the creation event is not a natural event. Therefore any rule observed in nature (such as the proposed "simple to complex" rule) does not necessarily apply to the origin of the universe.

All of nature (time, space, matter, energy) and its laws came into existence with the Big Bang. Any cause before the beginning of the universe would not be a natural cause; it would be a supernatural cause. The "simple to complex" principle may apply to natural events, but an event that involves a transcendent, supernatural cause—a divine intervener—cannot be analyzed (and restricted) in the same way as natural events. The boundaries of science limit it to the physical world of time, space, matter and energy; in other words, science is limited to the moment of and after the Big Bang, but not before it. We must, therefore, look to other methods of acquiring knowledge—such as philosophy or perhaps even theology—in order to find good answers to questions such as "Why did the universe begin to exist?"

Fifth, the "simple to complex" rule may have exceptions. Oxford mathematician, John Lennox, has offered this possibility in his debates with Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins. Lennox offers the example of a book and its author. The design of a book suggests a designer. But the designer of the book—the author—is much more complex than the book itself. Therefore it seems in some cases that a thing may have a cause more complex than itself.

Sixth, an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Boston College philosopher, Dr. Peter Kreeft, writes:

"But doesn't evolution explain everything without a divine Designer? Just the opposite; evolution is a beautiful example of design, a great clue to God. There is very good scientific evidence for the evolving, ordered appearance of species, from simple to complex." (from "Argument From Design")

The evolutionary process seems to know where it's going. Thus the order and intentional nature of such an evolutionary system appears to point towards a cause greater than itself—which would be congruent with the basic philosophical principle that an effect cannot have more in it than its cause. Kreeft admits that there is very good scientific evidence for the evolving, ordered appearance of species, from simple to complex; but if such a "simple to complex" process exists then what set it in motion? And furthermore, what mechanism keeps it on course?

If an ordered process like evolution exists, so must a more-ordered and intelligent—or in God's case perfectly ordered and omniscient—cause of the evolutionary system. Dawkins admits that:

"Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design." (from "Big Ideas: Evolution")

He writes that evolution's "guiding force is natural selection". But if this is true: what guides natural selection? If he says nothing—then the guiding force called Natural Selection begins to look rather similar to a transcendent, intentional and intelligent cause camouflaged in a scientific-sounding name.

Final Thoughts

Nobel Laureate in physics, Dr. Richard Feyman, has expressed that "you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity". On this, I think, theists and atheists can agree. I also think it is clear, based on the considerations proposed, that the Christian God is not the complex deity commonly rejected by atheist scientists. God, as he really is, is pure simplicity which is reflected in His name: I Am.

Indeed science must proceed for the sake of the Christian apologetic. For as we unfold the natural mysteries of the universe through scientific discovery, the reality and necessity of God for explaining the universe and all it contains will continue to be more clearly revealed. As the theoretical physicist Paul Davies, an agnostic, admitted in his Templeton address: "Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview".

The God of absolute simplicity we propose is not the "God of the gaps"; at least not the God of the scientific gaps. We might say, however, that God is the God of the limitless gap that lies beyond the confines of the universe (or universes if you prefer). He is the explanation that fills the void beyond the boundaries of time, space, matter and energy and thus provides a explanation for those things that cannot be explained by science. Truly, science and theology fit together exquisitely as the history of science forcefully testifies. But sadly for those who continue to reject the existence of God, nothing will remain the explanation of everything—and the supernatural gap beyond the universe will remain unfilled.

For more on the same topic read Cows, Quarks and Divine Simplicity by Brother Athanasius Murphy, O.P.

Matt Nelson

Written by

Matt holds a B.Ed from the University of Regina and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto, Canada. After several years of skepticism, he returned to the Catholic Church in 2010. Now alongside his chiropractic practice, Matt is a speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries and Religious Education Coordinator at Christ the King Parish. He currently resides in Shaunavon, SK, with his wife, Amanda, and their daughter, Anna. Follow Matt through his blog at ReasonableCatholic.com.

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  • Michael Murray

    All of nature (time, space, matter, energy) and its laws came into existence with the Big Bang.

    While the Big Bang as a creation event is popular amongst theists this is not what physics tells us. What is true is the observational fact that the universe is expanding. So it is reasonable to conclude that if you run time backwards you get to a point (the Planck Epoch) where the universe is so small and hot and dense that quantum effects dominate over gravity and our current mathematical and physical models of reality breakdown. To say more we really need a theory of quantum gravity. We don't have one yet although there are some candidates:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_epoch#Theoretical_ideas

    The God of absolute simplicity we propose is not the "God of the gaps"; at least not the God of the scientific gaps. We might say, however, that God is the God of the limitless gap that lies beyond the confines of the universe (or universes if you prefer). He is the explanation that fills the void beyond the boundaries of time, space, matter and energy

    I am sorry but this is meaningless. Beyond the confines of universe, beyond the boundaries of space and time. What does this mean ? Have you evidence of any void that needs filling ?

    thus provides a explanation for those things that cannot be explained by science.

    Right. God of the Gaps in other words. Except that science has filled so many gaps you have to invent new ones. God should have built the universe on reactive soil like our house. He could have been filling gaps for eternity.

    For more on the same topic read Cows, Quarks and Divine Simplicity by Brother Athanasius Murphy, O.P.

    I'll pass. Thanks.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Beyond the confines of universe, beyond the boundaries of space and time. What does this mean ?

      The universe is the set of all things that have material existence. Space and time came into existence with matter and per Einstein will vanish with matter. The boundaries of space and time are therefore the boundaries of matter. It is almost impossible for us to imagine such a condition, and so we must conceive it instead.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I have never understood why you couldn't have an empty space time. It is easy to write a metric for a space time without matter. What's the problem?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          As I understand it, DeSitter space is not a stable solution to the field equations. Also,"time" is not a thing, but a measure (a "metric"). It is the measure of change in changeable things. If there is no matter, nothing changes, and there is no time. Similar considerations hold for "space," which is a measure of extension of extendable things. If there is extendable matter, then it has parts and parts are here and there. Without matter, there is no "here."

          Einstein objected to space and time as "metaphysical intrusions" into what ought to be an empirical science. As he put it:

          Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.

          Or more officially:

          [T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.
          -- "Explanation of the Movement of Mercury's Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity," 1915

          As for writing a metric to describe DeSitter space, you can write equations that describe epicycles, too. But the existence of a term in an equation does not obligate the physical world to go along with the gag.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What about the Minkowski metric? I set the energy-momentum tensor equal to zero in the Einstein field equations and the Minkowski metric is a natural solution. It's not unstable as far as I know (unless you start doing things to it like introducing scalar fields).

            I'm not so much speculating on Einstein's philosophical perspective on the field equations (which did seem to change over his lifetime; later in his life, he said he accepted space-time as having an existence apart from matter, as a new kind of ether). I'm just wondering whether there's anything in General Relativity itself that does not allow space-time without matter.

    • Robert Macri

      While the Big Bang as a creation event is popular amongst theists this is not what physics tells us.

      ...
      To say more we really need a theory of quantum gravity. We don't have one yet although there are some candidates:

      I agree with your point concerning the physics. From a purely scientific point of view we do indeed trace the evolution of the universe back to a time beyond which current science can say no more.

      However, from the context of the article I don't believe that the author intended to provoke a discussion on the particulars of Big Bang cosmology. Here's what he said (just before invoking the "Big Bang"):

      Fourth, the creation event is not a natural event. Therefore
      any rule observed in nature (such as the proposed "simple to complex"
      rule) does not necessarily apply to the origin of the universe.

      That is, whatever the "initial conditions" of the universe were, they could not have been responsible for themselves... the universe could not have "bootstrapped" itself into existence. The only way around this would be to assume an eternal universe (steady state, rebounding, infinitely spawning multiverse, etc..)

      Now, that leaves us with two possibilities: 1) the universe (or multiverse if you like) is itself eternal (which, as I argue elsewhere, is neither logically nor physically sound), or 2) the universe (or multiverse) comes entirely from some set of initial conditions.

      If we hold (1) to be true, then we cannot argue a la Dawkins that the universe must always evolve from the simple to the complex, for then we would have to trace the universe back towards some infinite simplicity (or infinitesimal complexity). To do so would imply an infinite entropy, but unless we abandon the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy of a closed system may never decrease. (How exactly does the entropy increase if it is already infinite?)

      If we hold (2) to be the case, then the author's argument stands: if the universe had a beginning (a creation), then this beginning (the setting of initial conditions, etc) is beyond the scope of science. In this case also, we cannot argue a la Dawkins that the universe must always evolve from the simple to the complex, for the initial conditions (including the form of physical law) could have been arbitrarily complex.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        if the universe had a beginning (a creation),

        Creation is not a beginning in time. Aquinas assumed (because he had no philosophical grounds for saying otherwise) that the universe was eternal. That did not make it uncreated. These were the grounds on which Lemaitre criticized Pope Pius for his precipitous enthusiasm. The beginning of a space-time manifold was not the same thing as creation.

        • Robert Macri

          Yes, thank you for the correction. My language was sloppy from a philosophical perspective. I did not intend to imply that creation could not in principle be eternal and yet still be created by God (a third category I failed to mention).

          However, it is a de fide dogma of the Catholic church that the world had a beginning in time (declared in the 4th Lateran and Vatican councils). Thus, when discussing creation vs. naturalism I tend to forget that third philosophical possibility...

    • Robert Macri

      By the way, the existing "candidates" for a theory of quantum gravity
      are extremely interesting, but are also empirically untestable for the
      foreseeable future, as the energies necessary to probe down to the Planck
      length are on the order of 10^19 GeV (which is 1000 trillion times more energy than the the Large Hadron Collider can produce). We can hope that one of these theories could be supported by indirect evidence (rather than having to wait for a 15 order of magnitude increase in accelerator technology) but, lacking empirical evidence in the energy scale of interest, those theories are being constructed "in the blind", so to speak. Nevertheless, I am a fan of superstring theory and its various offspring.

      As another aside: the very fact that we can trace the universe back to the Planck epoch is at least compatable with Christian theology (ie- creation exnihilo). It leaves the question open, to be sure (because we don't currently have the scientific means of saying what could or could not have occurred before the Planck time), but it does not place science and theology at odds, as would, say, a steady state universe.

    • Mike

      "Right. God of the Gaps in other words."

      is there anything in your opinion that can't be explained by science?

  • ClayJames

    The claim that the universe came from nothing is not a scientific hypothesis and therefore, it is completly within the realm of philosophy and at this point, Dawkins and Krauss are way in over their head. I have yet to hear a good philosophical argument for the universe coming into being from nothing.

    • Michael Murray

      The claim that the universe came from nothing is not a scientific hypothesis

      Depends what you mean by nothing. Krauss' notion of nothing is not the same as the philosophical notion of nothing.

      • ClayJames

        nothing = not anything

        • Michael Murray

          In philosophy yes. But like I said not for Krauss. For him nothing = quantum vacuum state of the universe (I think).

          • ClayJames

            Then he is not talking about nothing, he is talking about something.

            Dawkins and Krauss can´t reject that the universe came from something, by saying it came from nothing but pointing to something. This is either a result of intellectual dishonesty or a complete misunderstanding of what the problem even entails. Based on their track record, I think it is probably just a way to sell a bigger headline.

          • Michael Murray

            Then he is not talking about nothing, he is talking about something.

            Sure. In fact a something which is allows a scientific hypothesis. Which is what I was trying to point out. I'll let you take your other concerns up with Dawkins and Krauss. There have been some articles here before about Krauss and his definition of nothing.

          • ClayJames

            Right, and he uses that definition of nothing in order to sell more books and completely ignore the problem.

            Somehow, I feel like the title ¨A Universe from Something Else¨ would not become a New York Times Bestseller.

            http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Nothing-There-Something-Rather/dp/1451624468/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442588760&sr=1-1&keywords=universe+from+nothing

      • I suggest a read of Massimo Pigliucci's Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex; here's the bit on "nothing":

        Finally, on the issue of whether Albert the “moronic” philosopher has a point in criticizing Krauss’ book, Andersen points out: “it sounds like you’re arguing that ‘nothing’ is really a quantum vacuum, and that a quantum vacuum is unstable in such a way as to make the production of matter and space inevitable. But a quantum vacuum has properties. For one, it is subject to the equations of quantum field theory. Why should we think of it as nothing?” Maybe it was just me, but at this point in my mind’s eye I saw Krauss engaging in a more and more frantic exercise of handwaving, retracting and qualifying: “I don’t think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing [so why the book’s title?]; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen. ... I don’t really give a damn about what ‘nothing’ means to philosophers; I care about the ‘nothing’ of reality. And if the ‘nothing’ of reality is full of stuff [a nothing full of stuff? Fascinating], then I’ll go with that.”

        But that's not all. Pigliucci continues:

        But, insists Andersen, “when I read the title of your book, I read it as ‘questions about origins are over.’” To which Krauss responds: “Well, if that hook gets you into the book that’s great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. ... If I’d just titled the book ‘A Marvelous Universe,’ not as many people would have been attracted to it.”

        In the interview with Albert, Krauss said this:

        If you're writing for the public, the one thing you can't do is overstate your claim, because people are going to believe you. They see I'm a physicist and so if I say that protons are little pink elephants, people might believe me.

        The one thing you can't do, is what Krauss did do, so that lots of people would read his book. Whether he also cared about the royalties, who knows.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Krauss' notion of nothing is not the same as the philosophical notion of nothing.

        Yes, by "nothing," Krauss meant "something."

        • Well, he'd be accused of plagiarizing if he said, "A Universe from something Totally Other".

        • George

          and you don't?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Don't what?

    • Rudy R

      You first have to establish that "nothing" is the default starting point. As I see it, there are two options for what came before the Big Bang, something existed or there was nothing. Philosophical arguments can't arbitrarily decide that there was nothing before the Big Bang, so it joins science in not knowing.

      • ClayJames

        The nothing applies to the lack of something, in this case matter and energy.

        The universe can come into being from nothing even if there was something before the Big Bang.

  • Michael Murray

    "Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas—it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus—, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity.

    What in this sentence is meant by the word "mind"? My mind when thinking about infinitesimal calculus (do people really call it that any more) is not simple.

    • Doug Shaver

      when thinking about infinitesimal calculus (do people really call it that any more)

      Not when they're doing ordinary calculus. The concept of infinitesimals was conjured up by Newton and Leibniz but abandoned after calculus was rigorized during the 19th century. It was recently resurrected for some new applications, though. Today's infinitesimal calculus is not your great-great-great grandfather's infinitesimal calculus.

      • Michael Murray

        Good point. Now I'm not sure if William Lane Craig is out of date or up to date. Perhaps he is a fan of non-standard analysis.

        • Doug Shaver

          There are some apologists whose thinking I can respect even if I don't agree with it. Craig is not one of them. Christianity's defenders could do themselves a favor by pretending he didn't exist.

  • Michael Murray

    Nobel Laureate in physics, Dr. Richard Feyman, has expressed that "you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity".

    He also said:

    It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”

    • Whence the "merely"? It also seems a bit odd to offer no replacement purpose; instead the question itself is dissolved.

      • Michael Murray

        Why should there be a purpose? You have to give a reason to expect a purpose before you can worry about why Feynman has offered up no replacement purpose.

        • Actually, Feynman himself seems to have a sense of "what a sensible purpose would be"; without that sense, he could not have claimed what he did. And so, I would ask him, "Whence this sense?" That's what I was getting at with my "Whence the "merely"?"

          Perhaps this is evidence of theological beliefs on Feynman's part. "If God had done things, he would have done them this way." I am perfectly within my rights to question the basis for such beliefs. You are always welcome to retract Feynman's "merely" and all that depends on it. For example, you could say that you don't really even know what purpose at the level Feynman speaks means.

          • Michael Murray

            I always assumed that Feynman was using sense in the way anyone does when they say "if God just wanted to send Jesus to earth why did he make 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars it isn't sensible".

            .

          • That again presupposes "what is sensible". To say what is sensible for God to do is to have theological beliefs. In the presence of such statements, it is unfair for only me to have to defend my theological beliefs.

          • Michael Murray

            Well you can remove the words "it isn't sensible" and just ask the question.

          • I don't see how removing those words removes the concept of sensibility from the question. The key difference is between accepting the category of thought and working within it, vs. questioning the category as a valid way to slice up reality. You asked me to justify the very category of thought, while presuming its existence via approving the Feynman quote.

    • Peter

      I agree completely agree with Feyman. Why would God create such a vast universe, most of which we can never see, just for humans. Indeed, the sheer wastefulness of it would put God into ridicule among those whom he is trying to convince of his existence.

      If you consider, however, that the universe is fertile for widespread intelligent life, so that instead of just one species - us - there are countless species out there both now and in the future, the sheer grandeur of the universe makes perfect sense. Far from being too big and complicated, it would be the perfect stage for all intelligent species to choose between good and evil.

      • Michael Murray

        Right. So fact A, for which we have no supporting evidence, might not be inconsistent with fairy story B. It doesn't work for me. But you knew that.

        • Peter

          It's only a question of time.

  • Michael Murray

    Atheists know that anything which begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. This expectation drives scientific research. But in the case of the origin of the universe there seems to be an extreme aversion to the basic philosophical principle that "out of nothing, no thing comes".

    Or perhaps just an extreme aversion to the fallacy of composition ?

    • The Galilean revolution included the crucial claim that the laws of nature worked the same "outside" (that is, in "the heavens") as "inside" (that is, on "the earth"). Previously, this was not thought to be the case. I wonder: could Galileo have been accused of committing the fallacy of composition?

      Note also that the claim of what "the whole" is, can be contentious.

      • Michael Murray

        That's not the fallacy of composition just stretching the domain to which the laws apply.

        • Who says that the universe is the 'whole'? Scientists are well into theorizing about the universe being but a part in a larger system. Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing would not make sense if he weren't looking for causes of what used to be well-agreed upon as being 'the whole'.

          • Michael Murray

            But when Catholic's say God is beyond space-time surely they don't mean He is in some other part of a larger space-time or multiverse?

          • No; they reject metaphysical univocity. God is not a member of any genus that we're a member of. I don't see how this bears on your original comment, though.

          • Michael Murray

            In my original post claimed that the argument (put very loosely) that "everything has a cause therefore the universe must have a cause" fails because it assumes that the universe, which is the collection of all things, has to share a property that the things have. The fallacy of composition. You said that this was a also a criticism of Galileo who extended the laws of nature from the earth to outside the earth. My reply was supposed to say that this was a different situation.

            Then we seemed to wander off in the time honoured fashion of internet discussions. Particularly those which use Disqus.

            Of course when I say "you said" I'm just saying what I think you said.

          • [...] the universe, which is the collection of all things [...]

            This point is contentious, as I initially claimed. An atheist who seems to contest it is Lawrence Krauss, as one can see in his A Universe from Nothing.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Composition is a material fallacy, not a formal fallacy. (Dang, there's that matter and form thingie again.) A composition need not be false. If we observe that each and every tile used on a floor is red, we can say that the floor is red.

      Since the universe is the set of everything that exists materially, it exists iff any one thing in the universe exists, where thing is defined as an ousia or substantia.

    • Robert Macri

      Ah, but if we attribute to the universe a property (either in part or in whole) which has no empirical support, then we are not doing science but are indeed guilty of philosophy, or even (dare I say?) "faith".

  • Michael Murray

    He writes that evolution's "guiding force is natural selection". But if this is true: what guides natural selection? If he says nothing—then the guiding force called Natural Selection begins to look rather similar to a transcendent, intentional and intelligent cause camouflaged in a scientific-sounding name.

    Evolution by natural selection is just a process. Genes that code for better survival and reproduction will increase in frequency. No need for anything transcendent, intentional or intelligent.

    If you want to engage with atheists can I suggest you get the science right ? I understand that mostly the theists here think the philosophy is more important but usually when you want to start a dialogue you start with the other person's position and try and bring them towards yours. Misstating the other persons position at the outset is always a bad idea. Any marriage guidance counsellor will tell you this!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Natural selection is seen as the efficient cause of evolution through exactly the process you describe. But when you say "Genes that code for better survival and reproduction will increase in frequency," you are simply stating a tautology. To "increase in frequency" is not a thing but a description of the effect of a thing; in this case, the survival of organisms that bear the genes in question. The only way we know if a gene "codes for survival" is if the organism bearing it survives; and if the organisms survive, the genes they bear ipso facto "code for survival."

      Of course, what natural selection means in practice is that defective genes are culled. Whether a gene "codes" (nice teleological term, that) for better survival depends largely on what the organism does with it. If we had to wait for genes that are "better" a priori, we would have to wait a prodigiously long time. Is a longer neck "better" than a shorter neck? But oxen, deer, and giraffes survive quite well with a variety of neck lengths derived from a common ancestor. We can't say that a longer neck is more beneficial to a giraffe, because the giraffe does not exist as such without the long neck. Instead, we see that ancestral types born fortuitously with a longer neck and engaged in the "struggle for existence" accomplish their struggle by learning how to get along despite the ungainly long neck. That is, natural selection may have the causal arrow backward.

      • Mike

        "natural selection may have the causal arrow backward."

        would you mind unpacking that alittle?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          That a species does not prosper because it has been naturally selected as "better fit," but that we say it has been naturally selected because it prospers. Observed instances of natural species change have taken place in as few as two generations, way too fast for the observed mechanism. We seem to be learning that epigenetic factors and even trans-species exchanges matter as much or maybe even more than the Olde Synthesis. IOW, the panda did not evolve a protruding wrist bone in order to better eat the tender leaves of bamboo shoots, but that it was stuck with the protruding wrist bone and started to use it to strip leaves from bamboo shoots. The flight of the genetic arrow did not happen to hit the survival bull's-eye. The bull's eye was painted after the arrow struck.

          • Mike

            fascinating but i wonder how much resistance there is to this view; i was watching a lecture by ard louis who is a bio physicist in which he mentioned something called the levinthal paradox which seems to show that if mutations were purely random there won't be enough time for certain proteins to evolve; he also mentions 'stochastic' randomness which is not quite exactly random in the pure sense.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's why more recent advances in genetics is so interesting. Evolutionary change may not even require genetic mutations, the mutations may not be random, and they may not be small/incremental changes. The Mediterranean wall lizard required less than 20 years to develop a new organ and shift from insectivore to herbivore. Death Valley Pupfishes switched between Devil’s Hole and the Amargosa River, two very different environments, changed in two generations to the new conditions. The DNA was the same, but it was expressed differently under the "epigenetic" conditions, so it was not even "differential survival" of genes. It was not even "natural selection," unless one stretches that term to the breaking point.

    • Robert Macri

      No need for anything transcendent, intentional or intelligent.

      I'm not so certain of that. Information theory is a lot like thermodynamics: you don't get information complexity from non-complexity in a closed system. Or to put it another way, you don't get information from noise.

      Yes, once you have genes you have a selection mechanism to account for local*** changes in complexity, but what is the "selection mechanism" responsible for the formation of genes in the first place, with all their information complexity? If they arise naturally from physical law, then they are derived from a complexity within the law itself (loosely analogous to the way kinetic energy comes from potential). Whence comes that complexity?

      ***Note that this is no longer a closed system (thus I use the word "local"). To accurately account for the information complexity we have to consider the entire system, which includes all the matter, energy, and physical law which comprise the "selection" mechanism.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas... but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind's ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.

    This seems to be a strange assertion to make. It seems to be saying that a mind and its ideas are two separate things... a notion I disagree with, but let's explore it a bit.

    The Christian god is said to have a mind which is a very simple thing. However, God is also said to have omniscience, meaning that he knows all ideas - a very complex thing. In order to maintain that God himself is simple, we must divorce God's ideas from God's mind. We say that there is one thing here: God, and there is another thing there: God's ideas. So when we say "God", we are not referring to his ideas and thus not to his omniscience. God alone is not omnicient.

    Aside from the strangeness of God's omnicience not being part of God, I don't think this solves the original objection. Ok.. so we have the simple God mind and the complex God ideas... but we are still starting off with a whole bunch of complexity. Instead of having to account for the complexity of God, we now have to account for the complexity of God's ideas. To me, it just seems like a semantic game at this point.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    This strikes me as a bizarre thing to say about the concept of an
    omnipotent spiritual Being. What is complex about the idea of an
    omnipotent and omniscient Spirit, an idea so simple that it is
    understood by all the adherents of the three great monotheistic
    religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam?

    This is confusing a general description of a thing with what that thing actually entails. For example, the concept of a rock is such a simple thing that any child can understand what a rock is. But any rock is filled with complex nooks and cranies, irregularities. Think of the precise position of every molecule in the rock. A rock is a simple concept that anyone can understand, yet very complex in all its detail.

    An omniscient god is similar. Understanding the concept of omniscience is easy: someone who knows everything. But actual omniscience is infinitely complex. Omniscience means knowing Fact #1, Fact #2, Fact #3,.....Fact #Infinity. Again, a simple concept, yet very complex in detail.

  • Peter

    "But in light of mounting evidence for an absolute beginning to the universe, such confidence in nothing is reflective of the radical measures taken by atheists.....to avoid postulating a divine Designer as the kick-starter of our finely-tuned, expanding universe"

    The universe beginning from nothing that atheists refer to is in fact a change and not a start. It is a change from one quantum state to another quantum state. It is not a coming into being from non-being.

    Quantum states can theoretically experience time reversal, which means that the universe can reversely create itself, giving the appearance of beginning from nothing. That's why atheists say the universe began from nothing, while at the same time not contradicting the maxim that from nothing nothing comes.

    As for the big bang representing an absolute beginning to the universe, I'm no longer sure. The big bang itself is a change, from a state of infinite density where space and time are zero to a state of less than infinite density where space and time are greater than zero.

    That's why I'm not sure that God kick-started the universe at the big bang. To kick-start something is to change something and God does not directly change things but leaves that to nature. It is quite plausible that the universe kick-started itself as described above.

    What God does, as I see it, is instantly and at every moment cause things to exist instead of not existing. The natural processes that created the big bang may indeed stretch back to infinity but that does not matter. It is God who instantly causes those processes to exist at every moment of their existence.

  • "Anything that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence" is a philosophical statement not a scientific one. This philosohical premise does not drive scientific enquiry. There is no observation of anything beginning to exist in a absolute sense in science and science makes no claims about things beginning to exist at all. Science makes claims about matter and energy re-arranging itself and has show, that matter, and arguably the universe itself ca come from a physicists understanding of "nothing". But this is not absolute "nothing" but rather a quantum vacuum which fluctuates with no cause, but these fluctuations are not actually "events". FYI, admittedly I am parroting scientific thoughts that i do not comprehend.

  • I've not seen atheists say anything was caused by nothing, but rather that a universe or virtual particles may emanate from a quantum vacuum, to which some reasonable call nothing and others properly criticise as being not absolute or philosophical nothing.

    • Robert Macri

      Virtual particles and quantum vacuums are not a "nothing". For one thing, quantum fluctuations depend of the existence of a field (not just in the abstract, but something which possesses energy and even linear and/or angular momentum). For another, the vacuum zero-point energy is non-zero in the standard model, in spite of the misleading name (this is a necessary result of quantum mechanics itself).

      Furthermore, the vacuum cannot reasonably called "nothing" simply by redefining "nothing" as the absence of matter (that is, to the exclusion of energy or even space-time) because one cannot separate these things in view of Einstein's famous equivalence of matter and energy.

      Thus, if your starting point is the vacuum and quantum mechanics, then you are certainly not starting with "nothing".

      • I didn't say virtual particles were nothing quite the opposite.

        • Robert Macri

          OK. Sorry if I misread you.

  • The main premise of this article is, I believe, a straw man. I don't think the quote from Dawkins even suggest that god is too complex to create the universe. Such a premise does not even make sense to me.

    Why would something complex be incapable of creating a universe versus something simple?

    Are we talking about entropy?

    • Surely you are aware of Dawkins' Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit?

      • I had forgotten it so I will retract the straw man criticism. I do agree with Dawkins that supernatural abiogenesis requires more explanation than does natural. And I at least think it is a good point to note that an entity with some conscious awareness of the position and movement of every particle, the thoughts and desires of every mind at least suggests that the mind of god would be complex. But of course when one is advancing a supernatural cause, literally any non-contradictory definition is possible. If god is defined as being conscious of all conscious thought every move possible and made in every chess game, knowing Pi to infinity, but being less complex than one human brain, any criticism I might suggest that this is implausible is easily met with "God just is that way"

        Ok.

        • I do agree with Dawkins that supernatural abiogenesis requires more explanation than does natural.

          The preference of simplicity is an epistemological and utilitarian matter, not an ontological matter. Learning seems to work via successive approximation. But we are in no way guaranteed that the simpler explanation (by whatever measure) is the more ultimately true explanation.

          But of course when one is advancing a supernatural cause, literally any non-contradictory definition is possible.

          I'm not sure what this means. Is this a metaphysical version of the Underdetermination of Scientific Theory? Perhaps the following, from concluding remarks in Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation, will help shed some light on the matter:

          8.1 A Silver Bullet?In chapters 1 to 4 of this study, I examined a number of the objections that might be raised against proposed theistic explanations. Those objections will by now be familiar. The first is that proposed theistic explanations exclude no possible state of affairs; the second is that the actions of an agent capable of miracles would be unpredictable; the third suggests that the very concept of God is incoherent; the fourth maintains that the will of God cannot be a cause. I have argued that while these objections raise some serious issues with which a theist philosophers ought to grapple, they do not, in themselves, rule out the possibility of a successful theistic explanation. (143)

          As to the complexity of God, Divine Simplicity is about God not being made of parts. The idea of Holism and Nonseparability in Physics may be related to this, in that when you try to describe part of a nonseparable system, you only imperfectly describe it. The more perfectly you describe that part, the more you end up describing the entire system.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The preference of simplicity is an epistemological and utilitarian matter, not an ontological matter. Learning seems to work via successive approximation. But we are in no way guaranteed that the simpler explanation (by whatever measure) is the more ultimately true explanation.

            This has been niggling me. The whole of Dawkin's thesis in the God Delusion was that the probabilities lie against God's existence and the consequent license Religion assumes this grants for its disproportionate action and influence in the civic space is probably not there. Relative complexity of entities relates to their probabilities and is a valuable and powerful heuristic....like induction.

            It is more probable that the room full of monkey's type, "To be or not to be, that is the gazorninplat" than Hamlet.

          • Relative complexity of entities relates to their probabilities and is a valuable and powerful heuristic....like induction.

            Unless you know something about the process which generates universes or generates gods, to talk about the probability that some particular universe or some particular god exists seems like an error. You have such a process with your monkey example. What is the process for generating YHWH?

            Furthermore, I don't know how you would talk about probabilities with necessary beings, which aren't generated by any process whatsoever.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I posted a ninety minute video of best current thinking of making universes

            If I throw in "all other things being equal" I think I have a point that stands.

            Peter would have gods made out of universes. Though I am flummoxed by the nature of the process, I find it more agreeable than a "proof" conjuring a necessary being. My universe, in every single aspect of my experience of it, is probabalistic. I have no experience of a proof of a being let alone a necessary one. More to the point such proofs, unlike Peter's theories, say nothing about their mode of fabrication. Necessity of existence, even if such was a coherent idea, does not contain a proof of eternal or pre-existence only the necessity of first cause, which need not in any sense require causation of a triple O, god at first pass.

            (I trust you are invoking a causal necessary being here?)

          • I posted a ninety minute video of best current thinking of making universes

            Okay, but the search is for something/​someone unconditioned which does the making, something which was not itself made. I hear you on the oddness of a necessary being, where logic tells you that the unconditioned, non-dependent "maker" had to be like this and not like that. I don't mean to focus on that part; I just mean to focus on the aspect of "not having been made". How does it make sense to talk about the probability that the maker is like this and not like that?

            I wonder if this is where frequentist vs. Bayesian reasoning really does matter. Frequentist reasoning seems to fail if the maker is unmade and one-of-a-kind. Frequentist reasoning is ontological and here invalid. What that leaves is Bayesian reasoning, which is epistemological.

          • Phil Rimmer

            At the start of time (say) "Bayesian" would be a meaningless idea. As scientists, however, when computing probabilities we can look retrospectively and take the varieties of outcomes as our modifying prior hypothesis (just as William Paley did!). This could not be applied to all aspects under consideration, so "something from nothing" has few to possibly none reliably known outcomes (Quantum Foam, perhaps) that can become a modifying prior. But, something like intelligence and information theory gives us a wealth of "prior" potential. Structureless intelligence, on the other hand, is the least coherent (sic) concept in the whole set under consideration. It is the one concept, that even looked at retrospectively, must be excluded from a Bayesian process. It is also the point at which I lose any motivation...There is, without a even a whiff of successful theoretical prior, consequentially, nothing there to discuss.

            Edit.

            Two moments of insight...ish. The prior hypothesis need not be constructed of the same stuff (same types of statistics) as the new (to be collected) statistics. We are (I mean I am) imagining the race run again in order to even consider the use of Bayesian statistics at all. I don't believe this is meaningful and I have talked mostly appalling gibberish in consequence. This can only be a discussion of bare probabilities, which I think stand as I suggest.

          • Structureless intelligence, on the other hand, is the least coherent (sic) concept in the whole set under consideration.

            How did you get "structureless intelligence"?

  • Though it is not the main point of this article, I'd like to return to the assumption that the universe or cosmos began to exist. This has not been demonstrated. The Big Bang is an explanation of how the universe arose, how time began and the particles and energy of the standard model developed thereafter. It does not say what if anything it arose out of.

    We are simply in no position to make assertions of what was prior to the Big Bang.

    The fallacy at play here is to reach conclusions about what existed prior to the Big Bang and what its nature is or was. This is an argument from ignorance. Theists say they have demonstrated it was some mysterious and completely not understood supernatural immaterial mind. But this conclusion does not come from an inference from science or from the natural world, but from their current interpretation of some religious writings and their theological traditions. Science can take us only to the very early material reality, not, so far, beyond it. Since on naturalism or theism we have no understanding of what it takes to create a universe, we cannot infer what kind of thing or entity or process can or did create a universe.

    We are simply not in a place to take a position on this one way or another. Theists are arguing from ignorance when they imply we have ruled out all natural origins of the universe, including perhaps an uncaused material reality that underwent a process that resulted in the Big Bang.

    • Robert Macri

      The fallacy at play here is to reach conclusions about what existed
      prior to the Big Bang and what its nature is or was. This is an argument
      from ignorance.

      Actually, the theist reaches no such conclusions, as the question "what was prior" to the beginning is meaningless. In Catholic theology, God is eternal, and from eternity he creates. There was nothing "prior" to that act. To ask what happened prior to the beginning of time is like asking "what is north of the north pole".

      We are simply not in a place to take a position on this one way or another.

      I disagree. We certainly are in a position to assess whether one theory of origin or another is consistent with reason or even our understanding of physical law.

      Now, the "big bang" indeed might not have been the beginning (one could imagine cycles of bang and crunch, or one universe spawning another, etc), but we can indeed make arguments about whether or not (1) a self-creating universe or (2) an uncreated eternal universe even make sense.

      (1) The possibility of a self-creating universe does not make logical sense. You would have to appeal to some principle from which a universe could bootstrap itself into existence... this is what Stephen Hawking tries to do when he writes, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will
      create itself from nothing" and "spontaneous creation is the
      reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists,
      why we exist." But this is self-defeating because he must assume the existence of something (namely, a law such as gravity) through which the universe is able to "create itself". But then, "create itself" is precisely what the universe did not do, for it was pre-existed by a law (and what or who created that?)

      (2) An uncreated eternal universe has an insurmountable problem with energy and entropy according to our modern understanding of physics. These kind of infinite multiverse models are popular among naturalists because they allow enough time for random processes to result in a universe that can support life, but they fail because as you trace the time back towards negative infinity you would approach a state of maximal entropy (going back to times when the evolving "laws" and composition of the universe are less-and-less complex). But unless we abandon the laws of thermodynamics, we cannot assume a closed system in which entropy gets smaller over time, thus the entropy state of the universe/multiverse in the remote past could not have been less than it is now, as is required by an eternal uncreated universe model.

      Now, one might get around that by positing that entropy states can somehow make discontinuous jumps, but that would either require external energy input (that is, there is something which exists apart from this multiverse), or would only work for a short time after which the multiverse would coast along at maximal entropy, but this would raise a plethora of questions in an attempt to explain the lack of temporal symmetry.

      Furthermore, what of the energy? An eternal universe would long ago have reached thermal equilibrium without some energy source external to itself, unless, of course, we again abandon the laws of thermodynamics and posit that the universe is like a massive "perpetual motion" machine.

      So yes, I think there are plenty of things we can say about the reasonableness of any given model, given our best current understanding.

      • George

        "In Catholic theology, God is eternal, and from eternity he creates."

        and does that make any logical sense? why should you be able to assert that and solve the problem so easily?

        what did any of you do to figure that out?

        • Robert Macri

          Well, there is a wealth of writing on this from the Church fathers and beyond, but as it is derived from scripture and tradition I would not expect it to be necessarily compelling to a general audience. If that is of interest to you I can try to provide some of it in a later post, though it will be necessarily abridged and developed only as much as my limited knowledge permits.

          As for whether or not it makes logical sense, that is a question of philosophy. To Aristotle it was eminently sensible to say that the mindless universe was eternal. To a theologian, then, it is no less "sensible" to say that God is eternal even if creation is not.

          Now, I admit that a statement such as "In Catholic theology, God is eternal, and from eternity he creates" may seem rather vague, but that is because we are not in a position to provide perfect examples from every day experience to illustrate such concepts.

          So let me instead try to get at it by way of a gedanken experiment which is somewhat commonly used.

          Imagine that all of space-time is like a great big artist's canvas, stretching across four dimensions (and maybe more). The artist, being beyond even those dimensions, can take it all in at once, manipulate it all at once, create it all at once. In a flash of imagination, the whole shebang comes into being (more like a photograph than a painting).

          Now, for some reason unknown to the rational entities within that "canvas", they experience one of those dimensions in a temporal way, with cause preceding effect, and with the resulting sense of "time" unfolding only in one "direction". To them, time flows; but to the artist, it is all there, complete.

          How would we speak of such a reality? It wouldn't be correct to say "when did the artist paint this" or "when did the artist sculpt that", because it was all done at once from his perspective. And what would be the sense of a question such as "what was the artist doing prior to the single 'moment' of creating?", for the flow of time which we perceive is indeed one of those things that was created.

          Thus, God is eternal, and from eternity He creates.

          If it seems to you that creation cannot have occurred in such a manner then let's try this:

          Imagine an apple.

          Did you start imagining it from one side and finish at the other, or did you imagine it all at once?

          If you were omniscient, do you think you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple, or would you have to watch it unfold one tiny step at a time?

          If you were omnipotent, would you be able to make that thought an instant reality (instant from your perspective), even though the ant moves and perceives one "moment" at a time?

          How would the ant, if it were rational, describe its experience of life and imaginings about you?

          OK, so it would seem to me that we have two classes of questions that we can ask. One is about things or events within creation, the science and history of it all. The other concerns the necessary conditions for any such thing as that first class to exist at all (and is thus a matter of philosophy and theology, even if it turns out to be not a matter of science).

          From a naturalist's perspective the two classes are one and the same; for the theologian they are quite distinct (but with one utterly dependent upon the other).

          Which is correct? Well, naturalistic methods can only describe the naturalist part of such a reality, if it exists. It can say nothing of eternal things should they exist (just as the ant you imagine can never "see" you with its tiny eyes). Of course, for the very same reasons, theology cannot prove that eternal things exists in the usual sense of the word, because proof is built on observation.

          But if you revealed something of yourself to that ant...?

          Thus the need for revelation, the need for faith. But if I am correct then the God who made all things also made reason, so if faith is not at least consistent with reason I would dismiss it. Fortunately, I have no need to do that.

          • George

            "(and is thus a matter of philosophy and theology, even if it turns out to be not a matter of science)

            theology is just textual analysis. what can it possibly offer in terms of real answers?

            "naturalistic methods can only describe the naturalist part of such a reality"

            it's your assertion that reality is split into natural and non-natural. why should I accept it?

            "Imagine that all of space-time is like a great big artist's canvas, stretching across four dimensions (and maybe more). The artist, being beyond even those dimensions, can take it all in at once, manipulate it all at once, create it all at once."

            you want me to imagine an artist that is not like an artist whatsoever, who doesn't start anywhere on his work, doesn't use brushstrokes, doesn't experience progress, can't reflect on the process and watch it grow because he's doing two things which are impossible for humans: creating something instantly and seeing a whole thing instantly.

            "Imagine an apple.
            Did you start imagining it from one side and finish at the other, or did you imagine it all at once?"

            First I observed apples. and over repeated observation from multiple angles and interaction over years, I have a model of apples in my mind. I most certainly do not imagine it all at once because I don't bother with the way photons react to pigments on the surface, the way cells function before and after it is picked off the tree, etc.

            "If you were omniscient, do you think you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple, or would you have to watch it unfold one tiny step at a time?"

            there's a tautology here: "If you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple, do you think you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple?"

            Same problem applies to your omnipotence example. the action is contained in the definition of the word. so it's pointless.

            omniscience and omnipotence are features being held in question.

            "theology cannot prove that eternal things exists in the usual sense of the word"

            fine, not in the usual sense, but how about prove at all? what can you give us? we're open to receive something.

            "But if you revealed something of yourself to that ant...?" "But if I am correct..."

            There's that word again. "If".

            If... if... if, that's the whole question. Are you correct or not? I'm not going to assume that is correct and thus do the job of apologetics myself.

            As for supposed revelation, how do we know there's revelation? All we have are claims by humans that revelation happened.

          • Robert Macri

            theology is just textual analysis. what can it possibly offer in terms of real answers?

            Theology is not textual analysis. Christianity, for instance, began not with a book, but with a real man (whose existence and manner of death was recorded by non-Christians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger, as well as a multitude of Christian sources). The writings to which textual analysis could be applied came later.

            Now, what do you mean by "real answers"? Answers imply questions, and the type of one dictates the type of the other. The physical sciences attempt to answer questions which yield to measurement, and in this they are very powerful. But there are entire classes of questions that can never be answered by the scientific method. Science cannot even answer a simple question such as, "What is your favorite color?", let alone the great questions of the reason for existence (Why is there something rather than nothing? What determines "good" or "evil"?)

            Theology, then, does indeed posit "real answers" to genuine questions, questions beyond the capability of science: questions of ethics, ontology, and epistemology... not to mention the question of man's relationship with the divine, if the claims of theology are true. These are not things that can be measured in a laboratory, but they are genuine concerns nonetheless.

            it's your assertion that reality is split into natural and non-natural. why should I accept it?

            No, that isn't precisely my assertion. My assertion is that there exist truths that cannot be determined by the "scientific method" alone. Such an assertion, by the way, is logically incontrovertible (although the identification of those particular truths is admittedly another matter). The mathematician Kurt Godel rocked the world of mathematics and logic when he proved that every consistent, axiomatic system will contain true propositions that cannot be proven to be true from within the system itself. And yet, they are indeed true.

            you want me to imagine an artist that is not like an artist whatsoever, who doesn't start anywhere on his work, doesn't use brushstrokes, doesn't experience progress, can't reflect on the process and watch it grow because he's doing two things which are impossible for humans: creating something instantly and seeing a whole thing instantly.

            No, I wanted you to imagine an extrapolation of things that you can already do (you can do two things simultaneously, can't you. Now just take the limit where you can do an arbitrary number of things simultaneously and imagine what that is like, and more importantly, how it would appear to a creature far more limited than yourself). By the way, these kinds of gedanken experiments are hardly as strange as you attempt to make them sound. In quantum mechanics, for instance, a system can be in an infinite superposition of states, only to collapse instantly and everywhere to a particular state. Simply because you or I cannot do that macroscopically does not mean that quantum physics should be abandoned as worthless.

            <blockquote?First I observed apples. and over repeated observation from multiple angles and interaction over years, I have a model of apples in my mind. I most certainly do not imagine it all at once because I don't bother with the way photons react to pigments on the surface, the way cells function before and after it is picked off the tree, etc.

            You are trying to obfuscate by heaping on unnecessary and irrelevant requirements. I imagine that most people would take as obvious that I meant "imagine a particular image of an apple", not "imagine every conceivable physical process involving the constituent particles of every apple you have ever encountered along with their surroundings".

            there's a tautology here: "If you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple, do you think you could imagine every instant of the journey of an ant crawling across that apple?"

            Yes, exactly! I was presenting an obvious proposition to (1) point out the kind of thing that an omniscient being could do, and (2) to illustrate some notion of what it means to be eternal, at least as far as my finite mind can comprehend such a thing.

            omniscience and omnipotence are features being held in question.

            No, they weren't. Your original question was: what did I mean by, "In Catholic theology, God is eternal, and from eternity he creates." If you want to hold those things in question, then that would be a new question.

            fine, not in the usual sense, but how about prove at all? what can you give us? we're open to receive something.

            If you are truly interested in the answer to that question then I could fill a book about the person and wisdom of Jesus, and you could decide for yourself whether he is trustworthy. As for quantifiable "proof", I can point to the lives of the saints, the immeasurable good done by the church (charity, moral teaching, institutions such as hospitals and schools which came from it) as well as the saints and the martyrs who were so strongly convinced of their faith that they would sooner die than renounce it, which would have been the more reasonable thing to do in the early days of the church, especially if this new faith was false. (As Tertullian said, "The blood of maryrs is the seed of the church.") I could go on and on and on.

            But if you insist on something that an instrument of science can detect, then I think we are talking about a very different kind of "god".

            As for supposed revelation, how do we know there's revelation?

            We're straying quite far from the original question (on the eternal), but that's ok. My response here is going to have to be far more brief than the topic deserves (it can and has filled libraries), but if it raises questions or objections I'm happy to try to tackle them later.

            OK, let me attempt to answer in this way: the Christian God is not just a concept, or some force of nature to be studied and measured; He is a person. (For my purposes here we need not get into the concept of the Trinity.) Philosophical proofs and reasoning can indeed lead one to accept the logical consistency of God and revelation (I say consistency here, not proof), but have little use when it comes to accepting or rejecting a person.

            So then, since the question for Christians boils down to "how can we believe in information revealed by Christ", perhaps we can use the same standard applied to information learned from any other person. As with all information learned from another, if the source is trustworthy and the information adheres to a logical internal consistency, then we have good grounds for accepting it.

            OK, so let's look at this person (Jesus) that I choose to trust...

            As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either who he said he was (the son of God), or a delusional man, or the worst kind of liar. By his own claims about himself he didn't leave any other options open to us... we can't say he was a bit nutty but a great "teacher". He is someone either to be completely accepted or utterly rejected.

            OK then. But we usually don't have the opportunity to meet him and size him up. We can, however, look at the response of those who did: those who went in vast numbers to their martyrdom rather than renounce their faith in Jesus and in his resurrection. Clearly, either they were all stark raving mad or they genuinely believed. That ought to at least pique our interest.

            Then we can look at the history of the organization he founded: the church. Discounting wicked individuals here and there, the institution as a whole has been a tremendous boon to mankind. It gave us hospitals and universities, richly endowed science and art, and has been the world's largest charitable organization for 2000 years. Not bad. And although the world changes, and morality shifts, the church remains constant, even when it seems that the whole world is against it. Isn't that the kind of response you would expect from God's true church, if there was one?

            Then we can look at the teachings of Jesus himself, as recorded in scriptures. If the wisdom found there speaks to you, then why would you not at least provisionally accept it? Should you place a more stringent standard on that information than you would on any other, just because this information is recorded in the bible?

            Then you can read the writings of the early church fathers, to see how they knew this Jesus, and what they thought of him.

            But ultimately, it will all boil down to the relationship that we accept or reject... the relationship we let him build with us. That is, after all, the only way to get to know a person.

            If you want a scientific proof, I can't help you. I can't give you scientific proof about what lies in the heart of any person. I could perhaps point to the limits of science which point to the possibility of something beyond, but you could profess faith that one day those limits could be overcome. I could point at many, many miraculous happenings and items (e.g. the miracle of the sun at Fatima or the shroud of Turin), but in the end even those kind of things cannot bring one to trust a person. That comes from within us, building upon our heart's desire, the alignment of our reason, and our response to relationship (prayer, etc). It is all deeply personal, in the end, and we each choose to accept or reject, not sterile information, but a person.

            I cannot even describe the kind of "proofs" and certainty that comes over time to the prayerful heart... but then, as I've tried to say, the "proof is in the person".

          • David

            As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either who he said he was (the son of God), or a delusional man, he worst kind of liar. By his own claims about himself he didn't leave any other options open to us... we can't say he was a bit nutty but a great "teacher". He is someone either to be completely accepted or utterly rejected.

            Lewis forgot about the 4th L - Legend. And, that's the right answer. Jesus didn't exist.

          • Alexandra

            Hi David, How certain are you that Jesus did not exist?

          • David

            Probably about 70% sure that he didn't exist at all and 100% that the character in the bible didn't exist.

          • Alexandra

            Ok. Thanks for the response.

          • David Nickol

            Jesus didn't exist.

            It is one thing to question or doubt the existence of Jesus. It is quite another thing to assert he didn't exist. As I understand it, there are hypotheses about how Jesus was at first a mythical figure who later came to be written about as real. But what is the proof of that? In what form would proof of such a thing exist? If manuscripts were to be found that described a non-human Jesus and they predated early Christian literature, that would be very provocative. But has anybody come up with such a thing? And how would the crucifixion have become part of the story. Death by crucifixion just wasn't what the Jews would have had in mind for any of their religious figures, let alone one so exalted as Jesus.

          • Robert Macri

            Lewis forgot about the 4th L - Legend. And, that's the right answer. Jesus didn't exist.

            That's a huge claim. How do you back it up?

            The history is actually pretty clear on this. Aside from the avalanche of Christian sources that give evidence of the historicity of Jesus, we also have non-Christian sources: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger, to name a few. Do you have a valid reason to dismiss those?

            We also have the rapid rise of Christianity and resulting persecutions that are well recorded, right back to the first century AD, in case you think that Christianity is a medieval invention. The persecutions of Nero began in about 64 A.D. Is it your argument that all those people were martyred for the sake of a two-to-three decade old legend? All they had to do was renounce their faith and they would have lived...

            Though I am usually loathe to quote wikipedia, I will make an exception here:

            There is "near universal consensus" among scholars that Jesus existed historically...

            Fox, Robin Lane (2005). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 978-0465024971.

            Carrier, Richard Lane (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus: Why we might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 9781909697355.

            Dickson, John. "Best of 2012: The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 17 June 2014.

            etc

            Now then. What evidence do you have for your claim?

          • George

            "Theology is not textual analysis."

            Sorry. Rhetorical analysis too.

            "Christianity, for instance, began not with a book, but with a real man"

            there are claims about a man and him supposedly doing things.

            "(whose existence and manner of death was recorded by non-Christians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger, as well as a multitude of Christian sources)"

            which of those is not second-hand hearsay?

            "The writings to which textual analysis could be applied came later."

            The point is that no one is studying a god. It's interpretation of assertions made by men.

            "let alone the great questions of the reason for existence (Why is there something rather than nothing? What determines "good" or "evil"?)"

            I might agree with that. But, I remind whoever it may concern, that does not necessarily mean theologians can provide accurate answers to those questions, or that those questions are the theologian's territory.

          • David Nickol

            There's an excellent little book that I recommend to anyone who scoffs at theology. It's by David Ford, and it's titled Theology: A Very Short Introduction, Second Edition. Books in the Very Short Introduction Series (from Oxford University Press) are generally very good, and this is one of the best I have read.

            This recommendation comes from someone who thinks it is possible that God does not exist.

          • George

            thanks for the recommendation David. I do remember quite a while ago when you said you were not an atheist, not just these most recent times, and I respect that. I try to read every post of yours that I see, because I just admire your thinking, your criticism, and the way you ask questions. I wish to be as effective with my posts.

          • Rob Abney

            One way to post as effectively as David is to have at least 12 years of Catholic schooling and also have excellent knowledge of the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and many Papal encyclicals.

          • David Nickol

            You guys are way too kind!

          • Robert Macri

            "Theology is not textual analysis."

            Sorry. Rhetorical analysis too.

            To label theology as nothing more than textual and rhetorical analysis is to assume that there are no such things as revelation, inspiration, and divinely established human authority (e.g.- the magisterium of the Church). One is perfectly free to make such assumptions, but one should be clear that they are assumptions, not established fact. Otherwise, blanket statements which limit theology to hermeneutics and rhetoric conceal a host of unproven assertions.

            If you maintain that theology is nothing more than those things, don't just assert it; give me reasons to believe it. Explain to me why the historical record (both Christian and non-Christian sources) cannot be trusted. Prove to me that Jesus could not have been a real person who established a church and endowed it with authority. Show me how the knowledge and teachings of the church are flawed.

            which of those is not second-hand hearsay?

            Your use of the word "hearsay" is inappropriate here. If I say "Josephus said that Jesus existed, so Jesus must have existed", that is hearsay (even if it is true). But if I say, "We have the writings of Josephus that confirm his belief in the existence of Jesus", that is testimony, not hearsay.

            Now, if you cannot accept the claims of Christianity solely because you have no direct evidence but only the testimony of others, then I ask, "What knowledge do you possess which was not derived from the testimony of others?"

            Nearly everything you ever learned in school was "second-hand hearsay", to use your phrase, until the moment you investigated more deeply on your own, and even then you had to consent to certain assumptions of content and method and hold certain "facts" as provisionally true. Your trust in your teachers certainly helped you to more readily accept what you found on the pages of your textbooks, but unless you became an expert in each and every field you have indeed accepted a vast array of "truths" based almost exclusively on the testimony of others (and even in that case, you will still have built your knowledge upon a bedrock of assumptions, however good they may be).

            Have you ever sat on a jury? If so, were you not expected to make an assessment of truth based on the testimony of others?

            Whether in the halls of academics or the courts of law, if you reject every piece of information which came from another, what would you be left with?

            Now, I sympathize with the desire to have first-hand evidence of things. I have that great desire myself. But when it comes to God I think that my occasional desire for absolute and personal "proof" amounts to little more than an arrogant demand that the Almighty subject himself to my scrutiny and approval, as if I am fit to decide whether he is worthy of belief.

            Besides, there are lots of ways to receive knowledge. If you wanted to impart information to me, you could visit in person, call me, email me, send a representative with a message, etc. It would not be wise of me to insist upon the first method only.

            If a lawyer came to your house to tell you that you had an unknown wealthy relative, and that from his deathbed he wanted to name you as the sole heir to his estate, would you send the lawyer away with the words, “Second-hand hearsay! Let the old man come himself!”? I doubt it. I think you would investigate the lawyer’s claim rather energetically. And if your benefactor had proscribed certain conditions, or tests to prove your worth, I think you would gladly suffer them.

            If we are not interested in a certain claim, fine. But in the spirit of intellectual honesty we should not dismiss the validity of the claim out of hand.

            The point is that no one is studying a god. It's interpretation of assertions made by men.

            First, God is not a thing to be “studied”. Did you study your mother or father (or whoever may have raised you)? Did you probe the limits of their authority, analyze their love, scrutinize their worthiness as caregivers before accepting them as such? Or did you learn all about them naturally, through a living relationship and through the knowledge of life and of themselves that they freely imparted to you? Those of us who accept the claims of Jesus and are baptized into his church see God as our Father, and the Church and her sacraments as the way he has chosen to bring us into proper relationship with him. We try to learn about him, yes, but we don’t “study” him the way we would study a rock or a bug, as if he could even fit into our microscopes or yield to our instruments. We don’t stare down in superiority above an object of scrutiny; we learn about our Father.

            Second, can you name even one assertion that was not made by men? Should all assertions then be rejected?

            But, I remind whoever it may concern, that does not necessarily mean theologians can provide accurate answers to those questions, or that those questions are the theologian's territory.

            I agree with that point in as much as you employed the word “necessarily”. But keep in mind that if God does exist, and if he did establish a church, then it would be the only authority on earth that could in any way claim to have the answers to those type of questions. That is, we cannot logically dismiss the claims of the church based on the assumption that they are wrong. If we really care about the answers to those kinds of questions at all, it would be more useful to investigate in as much as possible the claims of the organization which offers the answers, particularly if that organization is respectable. The church is, after all, not some second-rate tabloid magazine or nutty sidewalk doomsday preacher; it is a two-thousand year old institution that has been a champion of philosophy, science, and art; it was the original founding force behind universities and hospitals; it has been benefactor to many of the greatest minds of all time; it is unequaled in charity and outreach to the poor; it has preached love, hope, and forgiveness without fail since its founding; and it is the only institution I know of that has remained utterly faithful to its original teachings throughout the centuries, standing solid against the shifting sensibilities and fickle beliefs of the fleeting ages. And, even more astonishingly, it has survived and thrived in spite of the misdoings of individuals both within and without (almost as if it had been shepherded from above). I do not believe that her claims can be so casually dismissed.

          • George

            Should I just assume that revelation, inspiration, and divinely established human authority are actual things? Or might it be reasonable to take the null position and wait for you to bring the evidence that this method of communication is real?

            Do you think I'm holding the claims to a standard which is just unfairly high?

            "But if I say, "We have the writings of Josephus that confirm his belief in the existence of Jesus", that is testimony, not hearsay."

            It is testimony that there were people who believed in jesus. We must ask why Josephus believed, if he did, and what exactly he believed. Did he believe in just the man, or did he believe in the supernatural resurrection part as well?

            "Now, if you cannot accept the claims of Christianity *solely* because you have no direct evidence but only the testimony of others, then I ask, "What knowledge do you possess which was not derived from the testimony of others?" "

            It's interesting how this attempted reducteo ad absurdum has cropped up again. Testimony is not the problem so long as testimonies together do not form a mere historical bottleneck. Look back at Josephus, what is he witnessing, since he didn't live during the events of the gospel story?

            "Have you ever sat on a jury?"

            No. And we both know juries can get it wrong. And we also both know that I haven't built a church on any of the things I learned in school, so what was your point? Besides that, do you think all of history is attested to, to the same degree as the resurrection story?

            "But when it comes to God I think that my occasional desire for absolute and personal "proof" amounts to little more than an arrogant demand that the Almighty subject himself to my scrutiny and approval, as if I am fit to decide whether he is worthy of belief."

            This is a very odd thing to read. What is arrogant about using your mind? How did you know what was and was not 'almighty' in the first place? Do you assume that status to something from the beginning and proceed from there?

            "If you wanted to impart information to me, you could visit in person, call me, email me, send a representative with a message, etc. It would not be wise of me to insist upon the first method only."

            But you do think the first method would be the best, right? And FYI, if all you ever got from me were the second-hand sources, you could be justified in suspecting I might have falsified my identity to fool you. What if my voice was electronically altered over the phone and you had never seen real-time video of my face as I spoke? What if I wanted you to believe in someone who had never existed? Food for thought.

            "it is a two-thousand year old institution"

            Is it? I don't see the point of claiming to be a continuous organisation when the organisation of 500 years ago was perfectly okay with executing intellectual dissenters via burning alive. Now you might make assumptions about my beliefs on moral relativism and past cultures, and about my knowledge of the gritty details. "Politics and religion were much more deeply intertwined back then. The church didn't kill anyone. They handed the prisoners over to the secular authorities." That's much better.

            Why can't you just say "It was a different time, and it was a different church" ?

            edit: "I do not believe that her claims can be so casually dismissed."

            Do you think it's okay for the claims to be casually *supported* by unfalsifiable special pleading such as "divine revelation". Are you now, in response, going to question the value of falsifiability?

            what if I started making claims and defended them by just saying they were't the province of science? "they're outside science, they're beyond science." what is the limit?

      • Are you saying that you do not believe that God was prior to the material reality? I'm not necessarily using "prior" in a temporal sense.

        I'm not suggesting a self creating universe anymore than theists are suggesting a self-creating deity. Rather, either way some entity must be an explanation of itself. I don't see anything illogical in this being material reality, rather than a deity. What is the difference, are you just defining material reality as incapable of to and the deity as being capable of this? I would think you would need to be omniscient to make such claims.

        I don't pretend to have an explanation of all logically coherent origin ideas for material reality. But neither do theists, other than to conclude that there must be one and label it Gpd and sneak in certain attributes.

        • Robert Macri

          Are you saying that you do not believe that God was prior to the material reality?

          I am saying that God was, is, and always will be. He caused all material reality but is not bound to time in the same way. (But I can't even pretend to fully understand what it is like to not be bound by time...)

          Rather, either way some entity must be an explanation of itself.

          I agree with that completely.

          What is the difference, are you just defining material reality as
          incapable of to and the deity as being capable of this?

          Yes, I think you've summed it up rather well. Thank you.

          I would think
          you would need to be omniscient to make such claims.

          But would I need to be omniscient to believe and repeat such claims if they were made by the omniscient God? Certainly not. Thus, the authority of such a claim rests not in me, but in Him whom I believe.

          I don't pretend to have an explanation of all logically coherent origin ideas for material reality.

          Me either! If I did not accept God's own testimony on his behalf I don't see how I could arrive at the God of Christianity (a deist god, maybe). I certainly wouldn't know much at all about his attributes, except in very generic terms.

          Admittedly, the kind of testimony (call it "proof" if you like) I accept is a bit like a stereogram: you either see it or you don't, depending on your manner of looking. At certain times in my life I've been frustrated with the "convenience" of such faith-based arguments, so I sympathize with the skeptic. In the end, my convictions come from the gift of a relationship with God that I in no way earned but merely had the good grace to accept, but those convictions do not put reason to sleep. Reason should always be our guide, just not our sole guide. Ultimately we all end up trusting something. The question is, is that something our own selves or something greater? If that "something greater" is reason itself, well, that's a good start. But I'm looking for the reason that reason exists!

          And if it does exist, I would hope it would reveal itself in some way.

          Perhaps it has.

  • David Hardy

    I will start by saying that I do not agree with the position that God is either too complex or too simple to exist, and so on this, I agree with the author.

    Fourth, the creation event is not a natural event. Therefore any rule observed in nature (such as the proposed "simple to complex" rule) does not necessarily apply to the origin of the universe. All of nature (time, space, matter, energy) and its laws came into existence with the Big Bang. Any cause before the beginning of the universe would not be a natural cause; it would be a supernatural cause

    Or before then nature operated on principles that we do not understand, because we are observing nature after this defining event. Certainly, our lack of knowledge should limit the inferences we make about the cause or nature of the universe prior to this point.

    Sixth, an effect cannot be greater than its cause.

    This is an odd position to me. Greater in what sense? In terms of force, form, complexity? None seem to actually be universally true, especially when many causes involve the interaction of things producing effects, rather than a purely linear and singular cause-effect phenomenon.

    The evolutionary process seems to know where it's going. Thus the order and intentional nature of such an evolutionary system appears to
    point towards a cause greater than itself—which would be congruent with
    the basic philosophical principle that an effect cannot have more in it
    than its cause. Kreeft admits that there is very good scientific
    evidence for the evolving, ordered appearance of species, from simple to
    complex; but if such a "simple to complex" process exists then what set
    it in motion? And furthermore, what mechanism keeps it on course?

    This betrays a misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution does not, necessarily, lead from simple to complex. Many micro-organisms have, despite their simplicity, evolved across time through alterations that did not require increased complexity. Humans have evidence that our species once had more hair and a tail - evolution involved a loss of some features, rather than an addition in complexity. Evolution does not necessarily always move towards complexity. The "course" is set by survival - propagation due to greater thriving increased the genetic traits of those who are prospering, regardless of the complexity of the traits.

    But sadly for those who continue to reject the existence of God, nothing will remain the explanation of everything—and the supernatural gap
    beyond the universe will remain unfilled.

    Forming an explanation to explain everything does not make it accurate, nor do I see any reason to infer a supernatural gap exists. There is nothing sad about recognizing and accepting the limits of our knowledge.

    • Andrew Y.

      You've made some good points here, but I'd like to point out that elimination of a "feature" does not necessarily result in a loss of complexity—in software at least. In fact, it often leads to an overall increase in complexity since other areas of the program are usually improved to compensate. I wouldn't be surprised if evolution followed a similar principle when we lost our tails and hair (or some of us, just the tail).

      • David Hardy

        Yes, and this is possible. However, it is not necessarily the case, nor does evolution always lead to complexity. The many forms of micro-organisms that presently exist have been going through the process of evolution as well, but did not become significantly more complex as a result. The loss of tails and hair may have occurred while other traits were becoming more complex, but this does not mean, for example, that we would not be more complex, biologically, had we retained them as well. A specific loss in complexity can still occur even in a general increase in complexity, and shows how evolution can result in the elimination of features, rather than just an increase in features.

  • Robert Caponi

    It should take any thinking person no longer than a minute to identify three fatal errors in Dawkins' argument "Why God Almost Certainly Does Not Exist".

    Interestingly, the premise "Anything that is designed must be designed by something more complex" (offered, naturally, without justification) directly contradicts another key piece of geek gospel— the Kurzweil singularity, which is based on the idea computers designing more-complex computers.

    Even if we grant all the premises of Dawkins' argument- which no philosopher does- we can simply say that God, as a being of pure will, could make Himself as complex as he wished.

  • Based on his logic, Dawkins would have predicted that the universe had started in a much higher entropy state than it did. As far as we know, there is no reason that the universe needed to start with such low entropy; it certainly isn't required for the anthropic principle. Arguably, this means that something more unlikely than necessary gave birth to our universe. And yet, Dawkins seems to dispute that this is a reasonable approach to cosmology. (Note that there is a strong connection between "more complex" and "more unlikely".)

    The idea that the starting point is "essentially nothing" and "very, very simple" seems highly contestable. For example, a deterministic understanding of the laws of nature would have complexity staying the same forever—a block universe. There's no reason that we cannot think of the universe as deterministic in this case (see the interpretation of quantum physics developed by Bohm and de Broglie), in which case Dawkins' idea here seems deeply questionable. What would save him is if many different micro-states could lead to approximately the reality we have, and if the universe were easily just one of many possible micro-states. And yet, the beginning entropy of the universe is far, far too low for this.

    So I'm not convinced that Dawkins has a case, on physical principles alone.

  • David Nickol

    All of nature (time, space, matter, energy) and its laws came into existence with the Big Bang.

    What's going on here? Apparently Matt Nelson doesn't follow the discussions here on Strange Notions, where good and faithful Catholics have made it clear that Lemaître himself warned against identifying the Big Bang with the moment of creation:

    By 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that Lemaître's theory provided a scientific validation for Catholicism. However, Lemaître resented the Pope's proclamation, stating that the theory was neutral and there was neither a connection nor a contradiction between his religion and his theory. When Lemaître and Daniel O'Connell, the Pope's science advisor, tried to persuade the Pope not to mention Creationism publicly anymore, the Pope agreed. He persuaded the Pope to stop making proclamations about cosmology. While a devout Roman Catholic, he was against mixing science with religion, though he also was of the opinion that these two fields of human experience were not in conflict.

    • Michael

      That's an exceptionally well sourced paragraph. Wikipedia at its best.

    • Peter

      "The world 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." CCC338

      There is no contradiction here. The big bang may not have been a beginning in the sense that it represented a change from a point of infinite density to a state of less than infinite density. However, even though it was a change, it was still a beginning in time from where time was zero to where time was more than zero. And in that beginning the world, i.e. our universe, was formed.

      The universe was probably created through a change from one quantum state to another quantum state. Since quantum states can be time-reversed, the universe would have been time-reversely created giving the appearance that it created itself. That's why there was no time before the formation of the universe.

      The universe creating itself is consistent with God's word drawing it out of nothingness. The universe was formed from the natural processes, as yet unknown, involved in changing from one quantum state to another. These processes may stretch back to infinity, but it is God who instantly causes those processes to exist instead of not existing at every moment of their existence.

      In that respect, God continually creates these processes out of nothing. Inasmuch as the processes which formed the universe come from nothing, the universe itself can be said to have come from nothing, even to have created itself from nothing. And a universe which creates itself from nothing is consistent with having been drawn out of nothingness by God's word

  • Mike

    why does life have this ability to adapt in the first place? how successful has life been over the years?

    if an explosion killed all life on earth today except some tiny bacteria would that bacteria in 500 million years become a human being? and if so why does "life" seem to have this force "behind" it pushing it forward and forward on and on in spite of all the threats and mistakes and deaths etc.?

    • Peter

      The universe's drive from lower to greater entropy creates pockets of increasing complexity in order to contribute greater net entropy to its surroundings. This drive towards greater local complexity culminates in the creation of life and, from a materialist point of view, consciousness.

      • Mike

        thanks for re-describing my question but i am looking for an explanation not a re-description.

        why is there is "drive" from low to high?

        • Peter

          Because of the second law of thermodynamics.

          • Mike

            ok again that doesn't explain anything. the law is a re-description of the reality that things seem to go from low to high complexity...but saying there just is this law like connection doesn't explain anything.

  • George

    If there is nothing, than there is not a rule that something cannot come from nothing.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Einstein wasn't a deist. He believed in Spinoza's God: A cosmos that explains its own existence. Spinoza's picture seems to me the simplest, most beautiful, and the most likely to be true. This is how I interpret Hawking's and Turok's cosmology. The origin of the cosmos can be explained without any reference to anything outside the cosmos. The cosmos by itself is simpler than a cosmos plus God, even if the God is very simple.

    • Peter

      If it were inifinite and eternal, the cosmos would not be the impersonal God of Spinoza. On the contrary, it would contain a personal God, perfect, omnipotent and omniscient.

      From a materialist point of view, we know that the universe is capable of, even driven to, creating consciousness since we are one example. One consciousness out of countless created the same way an eternity ago and ever since, would by now over an eternity of time and across an infinity of space have become perfect, omnipotent and omniscient. It would have become God in its own right.

      This is the only logical solution if you introduce infinity and eternity in your universe. If you do not, then you can't call it God, Spinoza's or otherwise.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        If it were inifinite and eternal, the cosmos would not be the impersonal God of Spinoza. On the contrary, it would contain a personal God, perfect, omnipotent and omniscient.

        This seems impossible. Perfection for Spinoza means being self-explanatory. A God contained in the cosmos would be explained by the cosmos, and so wouldn't be self-explanatory and wouldn't be perfect. Further, for Spinoza, ideas correspond intrinsically to material things, because they are the same substance. For God to be omniscient, God would have all ideas, in which case God would be all material things, in which case God would be identical to the universe, and not contained by the universe. The same argument runs for omnipotence.

        Even if these objections can be answered, what positive reason would there be to think such a being is in fact contained anywhere within the cosmos? You should have a logical proof that such a being must exist within an infinite cosmos, because you claim that this being's existence is "the only logical solution."

        • Peter

          From a materialist point of view, consciousness is an evolved part of the universe itself. An eternal and infinite universe would have a consciousness which had evolved eternally in time and infinitely throughout space.

          The eternal and infinite evolution of consciousness and its infinite and eternal acquisition of knowledge and power cannot logically result in anything less than omniscience and omnipotence.

          But this is academic because the evidence I see is that the universe is not infinite or eternal. It therefore possesses neither an omnipotent and omniscient consciousness nor does it constitute the pantheistic god of Spinoza. The universe cannot even explain its own fine-tuning.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            (1) I'm not a materialist. Neither was Spinoza. I do not think of the universe from a materialist point of view.

            (2) "An eternal and infinite universe would have a consciousness which had evolved eternally in time and infinitely throughout space." <- Why?

            (3) If the cosmos is all that is, then it satisfies Spinoza's definition of infinity and, if it explains itself, qualifies as Spinoza's God. This is regardless of whether the cosmos has existed for an infinite amount of time or is an infinite size.

          • Peter

            Even if you posit an infinite succession of finite universes to get over the entropy problem, it is logical to assume that a consciousness created in an infinitely distant universe would eventually be capable of migrating to successive universes. Having migrated across an infinite succession of universes, it would have pervaded not just its own universe but the entire multiverse.

            Second, if our universe is finite in time and space, how does one account for its fine tuning without recourse to something infinite outside itself such as a multiverse?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Even if you posit an infinite succession of finite universes to get over the entropy problem, it is logical to assume that a consciousness created in an infinitely distant universe would eventually be capable of migrating to successive universes.

            (1) I don't posit an infinite succession of finite universes. But, assuming there were an infinite succession of universes, then people travelling to other future universes is a logical possibility, but what's the argument that this necessarily happens? What's the argument that successors of a particular universe encompass the entire multiverse? In fact, it would seem to be impossible, since all future universes of a given universe wouldn't include other universes running in parallel or any of the past universes.

            (2) Spinoza's God is the self-explaining cosmos. Whether or not it has a beginning or end or edge, the cosmos would contain within itself the explanation for its existence, both that it exists and why it is the way it is and not another way. Its constants would necessarily be set as they are and could not be set any other way. The complete explanation of why the cosmos is exactly this way and not another way is for Spinoza beyond our capabilities: we aren't identical to the cosmos, and we would have to be to completely comprehend the cosmos. We might be able to determine in an incomplete and largely inadequate way how these constants are set if we discover a theory of everything.

            Does Spinoza's God exist? I am beginning to believe so.

          • Peter

            It is a cop out to say that the cosmos is as it is and we don't know why, therefore Spinoza's god. How can it be self-explaining if it's beyond our ability to comprehend it? Science has discovered very finely tuned parameters in the early universe which didn't need to be like that. So why were they like that?

            Second, if a consciousness is capable of migrating to successive universes, it is also capable of migrating to parallel universes.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It is a cop out to say that the cosmos is as it is and we don't know why, therefore Spinoza's god.

            That does sound like a bit of a copout. Fortunately, I never made that argument.

            How can it be self-explaining if it's beyond our ability to comprehend it?

            Maybe humans aren't smart enough to figure out the answer. It doesn't mean that there is no answer.

            There are many things we will never figure out. For example, say there's this moon around a rocky planet on the other side of our galaxy. We won't be able ever to explain the exact dynamical history of that moon. The explanation of why that moon is there and not somewhere else is impossible for us to determine. That doesn't mean that there is no explanation, no causal history for that moon. There are countless examples like this.

            It's possible that we may not even be able to figure out the bigger answer, the theory of everything. Even an incomplete and mostly inadequate understanding of the fundamental principles that explain this cosmos may be beyond our reach. I don't know. I hope that someday people figure this out.

            Science has discovered very finely tuned parameters in the early universe which didn't need to be like that. So why were they like that?

            Maybe they do need to be exactly like that and can't be another way.

            Second, if a consciousness is capable of migrating to successive universes, it is also capable of migrating to parallel universes.

            How does this follow?

          • Peter

            A consciousness may migrate to more than one successive universe from within its own universe, which would make those successive universes occupied by the consciousness parallel to each other.

            Second, we may never know the full history of that particular moon but we do know the laws of the universe which established it. By knowing that these laws are the same across the galaxy, we can eventually gain information about the moon in the same way as we are beginning to gain information about distant exoplanets.

            What we do not know is why those particular laws are as they are. To say that we may never know, or that perhaps they couldn't be any other way, is fair enough. But to jump from a position of ignorance such as this to a position of certainty about the universe being self-explaining does not make sense. Simply asserting that the universe is self-explaining does not make it so. You need to back up your claim with evidence.

            Perhaps you are confusing self-explaining with self-causing. Even if the universe caused itself, there still needs to be an explanation of why it caused itself in this way instead of any other.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            A consciousness may migrate to more than one successive universe from within its own universe...

            But not to a universe causally disconnected from this one.

            Second, we may never know the full history of that particular moon but we do know the laws of the universe which established it.

            I don't think we even know this yet. Present planet and moon formation theories are incomplete. Even if we had such an explanation, we would be able to hypothesize why that moon was where it was and not somewhere else, but we couldn't really know why, because we would still be ignorant of the initial conditions, of the physical environment, quite probably of the moon itself. There are many questions of the nature "why this way and not another?" that we will never be able to answer.

            What we do not know is why those particular laws are as they are. To say that we may never know, or that perhaps they couldn't be any other way, is fair enough.

            That's all I'm saying, both that we probably will never know why we have these physical constants and not others, and also that these constants could not be different. I think that the first can be argued in the same way as the exomoon example. There will probably be necessary information to constrain these constants that we won't be able to access.

            We may someday be able to describe how these constants would be constrained, even if we can't predict all the values themselves. String theory was supposed to do this. It set out to describe quantum mechanics and gravitation without any free parameters. So far, success with string theory does not look promising. Maybe another theory will be able to explain how the constants are set.

            Simply asserting that the universe is self-explaining does not make it so. You need to back up your claim with evidence.

            My argument is as follows: Given the principle of sufficient reason (the principle that everything has an explanation, both for its existence and for why it is the way it is and not another way), the cosmos must have an explanation. The explanation for the cosmos must be within the cosmos or outside the cosmos. There is no evidence of anything outside the cosmos, and it is difficult to make sense of the what it would mean to be outside the cosmos. Therefore, at present, I believe that there is nothing outside the cosmosdo not believe that there is anything outside the cosmos. Since the cosmos has an explanation, and the explanation cannot be outside the cosmosI do not believe that the explanation is outside the cosmos, I believe that the cosmos explains itself.

            Perhaps you are confusing self-explaining with self-causing.

            For Spinoza, explanation and cause are the same.

            EDIT based on suggested corrections.

          • Peter

            Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You cannot assert that there is no explanation outside the cosmos just because you see no evidence of it or cannot make sense of it.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Good point. To correct:

            *Therefore, at present, I do not believe that there is anything outside the cosmos.

            *and I do not believe that the explanation is outside the cosmos

            That would be more accurate. I'm open to the possibility, but at present, don't believe that there are such explanations outside the cosmos, both because there's no evidence and because I don't see how to make sense of what it would mean to be outside the cosmos.

          • Peter

            You said that it is beyond our capabilities to make sense of why the universe is this way, yet you accept it. Why, then, don't you accept other things you can't make sense of, such as being outside the cosmos?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I can understand how an explanation could be within the cosmos. Every explanation I have is contained within the cosmos. How does an explanation outside the cosmos make sense?

          • Peter

            You admit in principle that as a species we posses a limited ability of comprehension. Is it not possible, then, that our inability to make sense of being outside the cosmos also results from that limited ability?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I might accept something if I could make sense of it, even if there were no evidence for it. For example, if there were an argument I could understand for the existence of numbers, I might accept that numbers exist even though I don't have any evidence that numbers exist.

            I would probably accept something if I couldn't make sense of it, but had good evidence of it. Quantum mechanics is a good example.

            There's no evidence I'm aware of for something outside the cosmos. I can't make sense about how that would even work. What reason is there for me to seriously entertain the possibility?

          • Peter

            If we cannot even comprehend the cosmos we live in, what chance do we have to begin to comprehend anything outside it? If we can never know about our own universe, how much less so can we know about others?

            Your claim that we possess limited comprehension about our own universe is evidence that we would possess even less comprehension about what is not in our universe. And the less comprehension we possess about it, the less able are we to claim about it, including that it doesn't exist.

            It's not a question of seriously entertaining the possibility that something exists outside our universe, but of not ruling it out on the grounds that you can't comprehend it or see any evidence of it. I see no evidence of a multiverse, let alone comprehend how it would work, yet I do not rule it out.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            There are many things we can explain and many more things we cannot. It's amazing how much we can understand.

            I don't think we know anything about other universes, whether they exist or not, or what they are like. That's all speculation.

            Your claim that we possess limited comprehension about our own universe is evidence that we would possess even less comprehension about what is not in our universe.

            If there's anything at all outside our universe.

            I see no evidence of a multiverse, let alone comprehend how it would work, yet I do not rule it out.

            I think a multiverse is possible, and is seriously worth considering (although not very interesting to me personally). When I use the term cosmos I mean all of nature, whether it's the universe, a multiverse, or whatever else.

            Maybe there's something in addition to all of nature. But whatever it is, I cannot imagine how it would explain anything within nature.

            I'm not dismissing out of hand the possibility that there is something outside the cosmos. I just don't see any reason to seriously entertain the possibility. Given my prior commitment to the principle of sufficient reason, that means I'm committed to thinking that the explanation for the cosmos is within the cosmos, until either the evidence changes, my understanding changes, or both change.

          • Peter

            If by cosmos you imply a multiverse, then you have an explanation of why our universe is configured as it is, since it is one out of an infinite number of configurations which happens to be just right for life.

            A multiverse would have to be an infinite succession of universes, probably branching out to be parallel. It cannot be finite since all universes would be explained by the preceding universe, leaving the first unexplained.

            An infinite multiverse is a far stronger candidate for pantheism than a single finite universe, since it would contain its own explanation. Didn't Spinoza also reason that the cosmos was infinite? A multiverse would satisfy that condition.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't know if there is one universe or two or ten or 10^500 or an infinite number. None of this explains how this universe is the way that it is. After all, maybe there are an infinite number of universes identical to this one and no other kind of universe. Also a cosmos that contains only one universe can still explain itself.

            Spinoza defined God as a substance with an infinite number of infinite attributes. Something is infinite in its kind if another thing can be identified that is not a part of this thing. God could be a single universe that explains itself if there were nothing other than that universe.

          • Peter

            Spinoza held that the material universe was God, but that God was not just the material universe. God is infinite in all other dimensions beyond it which we cannot see. This sits badly with your claim that there is nothing beyond our universe.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't think it does. It would simply mean that Nature isn't just made of matter. It is made of Mind as well. The other attributes aren't other dimensions (those would all be part of the same attribute of extension). For Spinoza, they can't be anything we can know about, since he argues that we can only know about God as an extended thing and God as a thinking thing. There may be other attributes, but for Spinoza, we will never know what they are. I'm not so sure. If there are other attributes, maybe we can someday discover them. But it's hard to imagine at present what they would be like, if they exist at all.

            The fun (albeit odd) thing about Spinoza's definition of infinity is that Nature could be solely matter, and so long as there aren't other kinds of stuff, Nature has all possible attributes and this fits with Spinoza's definition of infinity (although not with his philosophy of mind).

            If the cosmos is simply this one universe, the universe still has all possible attributes: all possible aspects under which it can be understood. The two we know about presently are extension and thought.

            If the cosmos is a bunch of universes, two, ten, 10^500, an infinite number, then the cosmos also has all possible attributes, but extra universes don't add extra attributes. Each universe has to be comprehensible under every possible aspect.

  • neil_pogi

    if god is too complex to be the creator, then, why it is not that too complex for a 'nothing' to create a universe?

    so why the cell is too complex.. why God didn't just create a simple one?

    so why the human body has many systems when it just only eat, drink and breath in order to be alive?

    ...because God is thinking that one day, atheists will say that 'chance and unguided process', did them.

  • neil_pogi

    "Of course it's counterintuitive that you can get something from nothing! Of course common sense doesn't allow you get something from nothing! That's why it's interesting. It's got to be interesting in order to give rise to the universe at all!" --

    because only a miracle is able to do that. it is supernatural in nature.

  • TomD123

    This article has a number of problems which I think are worth pointing out.

    First, the author cites Plantinga and Craig to support the idea that God is simple. This is strange given that both of these men (especially Plantinga) have argued that God is not simple in the traditional sense. Maybe in some sense God is simple, but they certainly do not hold to the doctrine of divine simplicity as Aquinas or Anselm understood the doctrine.

    Second, it seems like far too many theists assume that the beginning of the universe, given that science currently does not have a complete description of how it happened, is somehow beyond the scope of science. Moreover, they say because it is beyond the scope of science, we can postulate God as the cause of the beginning. Making the core theological notion of creation rely on tentative theories in modern physics regarding the early universe seems both theologically weak+harmful and unscientific.

    Third, the author's "fifth" point seems to contradict his overall thesis.

    Fourth, there isn't much of an argument for why evolution points to God. The author asks what governs natural selection? But that is a bad question. The laws of physics govern everything that goes on in the universe, including what happens in natural selection. But leaving that aside, the selection process itself is fully explanatory in terms of explaining biodiversity. The article makes it seem like natural selection is some kind of invisible force which needs a further explanation.

    • Andrew Y.

      Moreover, they say because it is beyond the scope of science, we can postulate God as the cause of the beginning.

      "Beyond the scope" doesn't mean that science does not have an explanation yet. It means that it is not a scientific question, rather one of philosophy. Future scientific discoveries will only help us understand more fully the conclusions that philosophers have been drawing for millennia. The two areas of study are complementary.

      The laws of physics govern everything that goes on in the universe, including what happens in natural selection.

      Why are there laws?

      But leaving that aside, the selection process itself is fully explanatory in terms of explaining biodiversity. The article makes it seem like natural selection is some kind of invisible force which needs a further explanation.

      Not an explanation for natural selection itself, which is indeed quite helpful in explaining biodiversity. The author is asking why there is such a thing as natural selection in the first place.

      The question we must ponder is whether it is more likely that the universe is as it is because of an intelligent thing or because of a chance occurrence from the midst of chaos.

      • TomD123

        (1) Regarding the beginning of the universe, I am just saying that it is not true to say how the universe began is a question for philosophy. That is something that physicists can and do study. However, we currently do not have a complete description of how it happened, it is not beyond the scope of science in any way (as far as I can tell)

        That said, whether or not God created the world has nothing to do with how the universe began. A story has an author regardless of how the story began, likewise, a theist can argue that the universe has a creator no matter how it began.

        (2) Why are there laws? I would say because God made the universe that way. However, the way the article puts it seems unhelpful and vaguely unscientific.

        (3) Maybe you are right in interpreting the author. But still, the way he talks is as if natural selection is some kind of force that needs some explanation in terms of a cause--as if natural selection were a thing.

        (4) I agree that is a question we must ponder. Unfortunately however, I think this article isn't especially helpful in finding the answer.

        • Andrew Y.

          Thanks for the thorough explanation. I think I misunderstood your original comment, and after a second read I pretty much agree with everything you've said. :)

      • Doug Shaver

        Future scientific discoveries will only help us understand more fully the conclusions that philosophers have been drawing for millennia.

        What is the consensus among philosophers about the origin of the universe, and how did you discover that consensus?

        • Andrew Y.

          I hadn't heard that there was a consensus. Lots of interesting conclusions, though.

          • Doug Shaver

            Lots of interesting conclusions, though.

            And lots of them are mutually inconsistent, therefore mostly wrong.

            The two areas of study are complementary.

            They can be. For most of my life, I studied science while ignoring philosophy. Now that I've learned some philosophy, I have a better understanding of how science works.

          • Andrew Y.

            Do you think delving into philosophy is necessary when discussing the origin of the universe, or that science itself is sufficient?

          • Doug Shaver

            I see nothing epistemologically special about the origin of the universe. It's like the origin of anything else, just another another scientific question.

            I wouldn't necessarily fault anyone for being satisfied with whatever science has to say on the subject, but I also don't believe that any authority's pronouncements should be accepted without question. No matter who says what, it is always appropriate to ask, "Why should I believe that?" and to refuse to accept the answer, "Because we're the authorities." That said, I think an intelligent assessment of any other response requires at least an intuitive understanding of some basic philosophical principles.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Dawkins, of course, is not the cosmologist we are looking for (as he'd freely admit). But these men and women are...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNoFRKpu0Cs

    Hope this is available in everyone's respective areas. Its a good summary of theories about the concept of "before the big bang."

    • Phil Rimmer

      One delightful thing about this program on re-viewing it is the glee with which the scientists contemplate overturning existing "cherished" theories. (Penrose's section and at 36' through 39', f'rinstance.)

      The tired jibe of some atheist/scientific conspiracy over this or that theory, has always had little real evidence for it. As something of a closet anarchist myself, it is wonderful to see what a bunch of mischief-makers those at the intellectual coal face really are....

  • Doug Shaver

    Richard Dawkins believes that if the universe began to exist—it was caused by nothing.

    Dawkins's competence as a scientist is unquestionable, but his incompetence as a philosopher has often been noted, by atheists no less than by Christian apologists. To say that nothing caused X is to say that X does not have a cause, i.e. that there exists no Y such that Y caused X. It is not to say, "There exists Y such that Y caused X and Y = nothing." Competent philosophers understand that distinction, even if Dawkins doesn't.

    Atheists know that anything which begins to exist must have a cause of its existence.

    To say that we know anything is to presuppose its truth, and to say that atheists know something is the presuppose that all atheists believe it. Some of us do not agree with this statement. We think it possible that the universe could have begun to exist, in the sense that it has existed for only a finite period of time, without having been caused to exist.

    But in the case of the origin of the universe there seems to be an extreme aversion to the basic philosophical principle that "out of nothing, no thing comes"

    Not all philosophers regard that principle as basic to philosophy.

    Thus atheists object to Lucretius' ancient maxim: "Nothing can be created from nothing".

    Oh, I don't know about that. If I agree that something was created, then I agree that a creator must have existed.

    Science is founded on the principle that "things cause things".

    That wasn't in any of the science books I've ever read, so far as I can recall.

    such as Dawkins' fellow atheist, Michael Ruse, who once remarked, "I think Dawkins is ignorant of just about every aspect of philosophy and theology and it shows".

    OK, so Dawkins is both philosophically and theologically ignorant. Is this fact supposed to tell us anything about the likelihood of God's existence?

    Regardless, Dawkins and others continue to persist in this line of philosophically problematic thinking

    Yes, they persist, but so what? This is a Catholic forum. Would it be appropriate for us atheists to carry on about the persistence of evangelical Protestants' philosophical blunders to the same extent that apologists here carry on about Dawkins's philosophical blunders?

    therefore God may very well have reasons for setting things up as he has; and such reasons may be beyond what our limited intellects can grasp.

    Yes, that is possible. But if I have no good reason to think it is probable, then I'm justified in not believing it.

    Furthermore, they reject a complex God; but the God of Christianity is inconceivably simple

    What Christians say about God is anything but "inconceivably simple." Perhaps divine simplicity is of a different kind than what most people typically have in mind when they talk about simplicity, just as divine benevolence seems to be a very different thing from human benevolence.

    Second, God has no parts and is therefore more simple than anything in nature. God is pure spirit, by definition. He is completely non-physical.

    I see no reason to define simplicity merely in terms of number of physical parts. Any scientific theory has zero physical parts. That doesn't mean we're talking nonsense when we say that one theory is simpler than another.

    Fourth, the creation event is not a natural event.

    I agree: If it happened, it was not a natural event.

    St. Thomas Aquinas shows five ways we can know "the absolute simplicity of God" as understood from a Christian perspective.

    Aquinas was arguing from only one Christian perspective. Since I'm no longer a member of the Christian community, I see a great many other Christian perspectives.

    The evolutionary process seems to know where it's going.

    It might seem that way to you. It doesn't seem that way to me.

    the basic philosophical principle that an effect cannot have more in it than its cause.

    More what? More of anything at all, or more of just some things? And if the latter, which things?

    Nobel Laureate in physics, Dr. Richard Feyman, has expressed that "you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity".

    Feynman's competence as a philosopher might not be any better than Dawkins's. I can think of countless counterexamples to that proposition.

    But sadly for those who continue to reject the existence of God, nothing will remain the explanation of everything

    I agree that we will never find an explanation of everything. That is either because there is none, or because we lack the cognitive wherewithal to discover it if there is one.

    • Michael Murray

      I decided to try and track down that Dawkins quote. You can find it here

      http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3469101.htm

      ANDREW WATSON: Question for Richard Dawkins. The big bangers believe that once there was nothing, then suddenly, poof, the universe was created from a big bang. If I have nothing in the palm of my hand, close my fingers, speak the word bang, then open my fingers again, still I find there is nothing there. I ask you to explain to us in layman's terms how it is that something as enormous at the universes came from nothing?

      RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, obviously you're not a physicist and nor am I and I am delighted to say that during my time in Australia I shall be having a number of conversations, public conversations, with my colleague Lawrence Krauss, including one in the Sydney Opera House later - I think it’s next week and he's written a book on exactly that topic of how you can get something from nothing and I shall be questioning him about that. Of course it’s counter intuitive that you can get something from nothing. Of course commonsense doesn't allow you to get something from nothing. That’s why it’s interesting. It’s got to be interesting in order to give rise to the universe at all.

      So it's not a question of Dawkins confusing the meaning of "no thing" it's the usual Krauss confusion over what the definition of nothing is.

      • Doug Shaver

        Thank you for that research. I would not attempt to say which of those two is the worse philosopher, but they're both bad at it. When they're sticking to their specialties, though, I have the utmost admiration for both.

    • Peter

      "We think it possible that the universe could have begun to exist, in the sense that it has existed for only a finite period of time, without having been caused to exist"

      This makes sense. Time-reversed quantum effects would have resulted in a point of infinite density where time was zero, which changed to less than infinite density where time was more than zero. This would have represented a beginning in time for the universe but not any external cause.

  • VicqRuiz

    Strange Notions has served up article after article after article by scholars who have spent lifetimes of study in an attempt to determine the specific attributes of this entity of "pure simplicity". Without the least hint of irony.