Turtles All The Way Down

Does God Have A God?

I consistently come across debates, books, and articles by Dr. William Lane Craig, where he make vain attempts at using science to prove God. I have no doubt that he is a very highly educated man, which can be deduced solely from his use of language, but he has the unfortunate bias of already being convinced of the existence of God before the science even comes along and so extrapolate out his bias for God and as such, does little more than shift around and use big words in eloquent sentences that sound logical, but which are anything but when critically explored. In every debate that I have watched of Craig, his logic and reasoning are almost fool-proof if no prior understanding of science is known, which luckily I have. Slightly off-topic but related. It seems to me, his language is far more linguistically robust (and dare I say, poetic) than that of the majority of the scientists that he debates against and I do believe that this use of language circumvents (at least partly) much of the intellect of the audience at times.  When was the last time you heard of  a scientist whip an audience into a fervor? I need not askwhen the last time you asked a preacher do the same thing, we’ve all seen on it, either on tv or in person.

Consider this example; really the only example that needs refuting and to which I will devote my time too, by Mr. Craig. His first, and singular point in regards to the existence of God in all of his debates is the scientific principle of causality; that this Universe has been caused i.e. it had a beginning at some distant point in the past, and that since causality cannot in essence cause an effect before it begins to exist, therefore there must be an external cause, by a transcendent being he calls God. However, in invoking that God created the Universe vis-a-vie cause and effect, he refuses to go one step further and ask ‘What caused God?’, and makes the assumption that God is timeless by way of a few logical and philosophical calculations. In doing this, he thinks that this notion explains the existence of God, and that it is more sound than not having a god.

My first thought when presented with this reasoning was, what is the difference between the Universe creating itself, as opposed to being created by an external personal entity? Well, for me, the answer is word magic. Especially when it is within the scientific laws of physics that a Universe can actually be spontaneously created from nothing according to Stephen Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design.

This theistic notion of beginning in itself doesn’t make much sense from a scientific perspective (no matter how much Craig wants it too). As anyone who studied high school physics will recall, time is relative, and not an absolute function of the Universe. That is, to different observers in different places around the Universe, time is a different and personal thing, much as our own thoughts are. There is also nothing in the laws of physics that expressly say time moves forward, it is free to move backwards as well and I’m sure there are Universes in which time does indeed move backwards. Therefore, the concept of time and events having a definite beginning and a definite end cannot be assumed to be valid, and Dr. Craig’s first assumption is that the Universe has a finite past. Although the Universe seems to have a beginning from our perspective, that does not mean that was the beginning, nor that there was nothing before it.

According to Stephen Hawking, the 4th dimension of time’s inception was as a spatial dimension, this occurred when the Big Bang was small enough to be governed by both the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory, which eventually morphed into what we know as time. So, this being the case, prior to the morphing of the 4th spatial dimension into a temporal dimension, how could one define a beginning? For all we know (and perhaps more likely), it could exist like that for infinity, putting into question the notion of a finite past. Time is in essence, the material rate of change. Without a temporal dimension, can something be said to begin, that is to change from nothing to something, and then change continuously?

Pursuant to this, many scientists today are moving on from the notion of the big bang being the beginning, and there is tantalizing physical, as well as lots of theoretical evidence to suggest that we live in a multiverse, and our Big Bang and Universe are just small events and places in this Multiverse. According to the theory, there may be upwards 10^500 Universe’s, and ours is but one among them. This is a number beyond any notion of imagination. As Stephen Hawking put it in The Grand Design, if you could count one integer per millisecond since the Big Bang, which is a thousand times a second for 13.72 billion years. By now, you would have only reached 10^20.

Since time is merely a dimension, and perhaps, not an intrinsic property of Multi-verse, than the issue of where did everything come from, or rather, what cause everything to spring forth, becomes in a sense, irrelevant. If time doesn’t exist outside of our Universe, than what can be said of existence? It has been found that the total energy of the Universe, when added all together, is exactly zero. No word magic or tricks, literally ZERO. Does Cause and Effect still hold sway in causing into existence that which cancels itself out mathematically. What is true is that there is a lot more to be learnt, and we are still a ways off from fully understanding the Universe, how it came to be, and the greater multi-verse. I have made a few assumptions in my reasoning, but those assumptions (I like to think) are logical and will be what comes to pass. If that is not the case, then I am content with changing my argument based upon the new evidence at hand if it ever shows up. Something those that argue for the existence of God never do.

Naturally, once this new theory, M-theory becomes verified, validated and accepted, Craig will simply re-arrange and re-purpose his argument and move his transcendent cause back a few steps to suit his already defined and unchangeable notion of God, and twist the science in trying to solidify his conclusion, and persuade others who aren’t very well-versed in scientific matters on the nature of existence.

According to this logic, merely extended a few extra steps (though he attempts to explain it away), God, the cause of our Universe, must Himself have a cause, and though he wishes it away with philosophical statements of grandeur, timelessness, and personality, doesn’t make it so. So with this in mind, perhaps, God, like a majority of people on this insignificant speck of dust flying through space, believes in a God to explain His own creation, and the conundrum ever spirals upwards, each God believing in an ever greater God.

How different is this analogy to that little old lady who stood up in Bertrand Russell’s lecture, after he had just finished explaining how the Earth revolves around the Sun, which in turn revolves around the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, and said that everything he just said was nonsense, that the Earth is flat and actually supported on the back of a turtle. To which he replied, “What is the turtle standing on?” too which she countered that it rests upon the back of another turtle which rests upon another turtle, and so on into infinity. I guess God is a turtle… She was just making stuff up that best agreed with her philosophical intuitions, much as Dr. Crag does at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and science where things get very, very murky.

15 comments

  1. I think it was Hitchens made the greatest argument against these men by arguing that- even if we do grant them this god who supposedly created the multiverse- then what of it? We still can’t say he’s involved in our lives- there is no justification. The argument between Deism and atheism is not usually the one that causes problems in our country- it’s the argument between atheism and theism that causes all the trouble

    1. Yeah it’s very well said. Sometimes I wonder if its even worth it to write these types of post, as the only people who read them tend to usually of this persuasion already, and you’ll never get a god-fearer on here actually dissecting these points and giving proper answers, and even if they do, they wiffle waffle sideways and answer everything but it.

      1. For the sake of discourse, I am not sure I agree with you, nor is it clear what people mean when they say God. But my reasons are different than taking a point by point argument against your post, which I agree with (and I am certainly not one of the God-fearing types you disdain upon). My problem with atheism is the same with fundamentalists: the question of the existence of the Other is unanswerable, and I don’t like the hubris on either side. As Leibniz asks, “why is there not nothing?” For me this is the most delicious edge of exploration because it “leads beyond the horizon of such knowing…. [Beyond the ] consciousness of objects. (Heidegger)” As you can see I’m more interested in the philosophical question than I am the scientific, but in the end, those scientists don’t know either.

        1. When God is invoked, it is invariably used to explain the cause of our existence, or that of the Universe, with an emphasis on us. It is nothing more than ego masquerading as humility. I do not disdain god-fearing types, my entire extended family (100+ member, I’m arab, that explains the large number) are all god-fearing, and I love them all. Having said that, that doesn’t mean their right, and it can still mean their wrong. Very rarely is God used in any other circumstance, only by the likes of Einstein and other such notable characters who used it to refer to the Universe at large, an immaterial deity to more personalize our relationship with it.

          The question of the Other, as you put it, is answerable. Our science is there, or tantalizingly close unless I’ve misread the science. Take for example, the recently discovered notion that our Universe is flat. With a flat Universe, it is within, I say again, within the laws of physics for the Universe to come out of nothing. We can say that with a high level of certainty today, and as future discoveries, telescopes and experiments bear further fruit, we will be as close to certain as possible. Much as we were certain of the nature and structure of the atom for many many years before it was ever directly observed. The mathematics, which explain most observable phenomena clearly describe this flat Universe, born of a quantum field creating itself to what we see today. A quick primer is this hour long lecture by Lawrence Krauss. It’s long but he’s also a funny guy and easy to watch.

          Philosophical questions are all fine and good, but they are, in a sense, useless from a materialistic standpoint, and serve to get us nowhere than where we are now, so while I respect your stance, I do not share it. Religion and God are ever encroaching into the territory of science and that is a grave failing of our educational system and the attitudes of todays people.

          I don’t much like the hubris either, and while I do get emotionally invested at times into the argument, but what else is to be done? A belief in a God is not in itself damaging, but the religion that inevitably springs forth inevitably causes a lot of damage. A mini-government unto itself, the distortion of capital that ensues, education, priorities, science and the like all suffer, and that has broad implications for humanity at large, even those who aren’t god-fearing like myself.

          Atheism, at least from my perspective, is not a belief in anything but the knowledge that nothing can truly be known i.e. The Abrahamic God, but it is rather an embrace of our ignorance, and the removal of it also through the collective application of what knowledge we have. We do spend a lot of time talking and debating with religious folk but this is to curb their very loud voice, and their need of exporting their ‘morality’ and practices to all others via government or its sister, religion. We are but responding, and hope that in this response, that those not yet convinced will have their eyes open to things that can be proven, and that apply to their current well-being. Religion is an antithema to this. This is a point I am trying to make in my upcoming book of the same name as this blog, though I’m sure i’ll fail to give it justice. I’m just a guy who reads a lot, I’m no scientist, philosopher or anything like that.

          To summarize, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a belief in God, but religion is another thing entirely. God is spirituality, the religion built around an imagined version of Him is earthly politicking via word magic, misdirection, and outright lies. And I don’t disdain religious people, but they can be, and according to the currently accepted scientific theory’s, they are wrong. In a quantum field, something actually is created from nothing. I have to edit the post to reflect this, I think I rushed it, and your question has prompted new insights that I can work into this post, so thanks for the discourse. I do enjoy talking about it with non god fearing types because it rarely denigrates into a useless battle of logic that it invariably ends up as, and nothing is accomplished.

          1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and knowledgeable response. Once again, I agree with you, and trust me, and am incredibly worried about the poisoning of education and the absence of critical, scientific thinking being pushed by religious groups. The consequences of that kind of religious thinking tends to be utter oppression and acts of inhumanity that somehow serve the material wealth and power of a few.

            But I am enjoying thinking of the subtle differences between us. For instance, I wonder then what you make of the unsolvability of Goldbach’s conjecture and Godel’s inconsistency theorem. There will always be the unanswerable (not to mention the ever unknowable death).

            Thanks for the interesting discourse.

  2. Great discourse indeed. Godel’s inconsistency theorem is very interesting! I had never heard of it before. It reminds me of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in Physics which states that you cannot know both the velocity and position of a particle at the same time. By measuring one, you affect and therefore change the other. So it is literally against the laws of nature to know both where and how fast a particle is going at any given time, you can only ever be approximately sure of the two variables. This is the essence of Quantum Mechanics, which is the base layer of our Universe, so far as we have gathered. For me, with the 5mins of reading into this theorem, it seems to be a link between the physical and mathematical worlds thereby removing the certainty that our brains so covet, which makes something like religion possible IMHO.

    No idea what to make of Goldbach’s conjecture aside from the fact that nature is full of beautiful, sometimes symmetrical things, even when transferred to our own language.

  3. Godel’s incompleteness theorem leads to discussion in the wrong direction, to my mind. It’s easy as a rational mind to attempt to fill in the ‘God of the gaps’ with suppositions based on the limits of our current or potential understanding.

    The scientific method however begins with a hypothesis based on observable phenomena. There must first be some property of the world in need of explanation, some demonstrable effect for which a cause can be investigated. There’s no such basis in theology from which to develop a hypothesis or theory, and really nothing to investigate scientifically and disprove.

    Check out the Flying Spaghetti Monster for a far better and more humorous illustration of my point :)

  4. We should not look at God as a person but rather as a single spiritual organic entity that is so huge and powerful that it covers the whole universe. The non-organic elements we see are mere creations of God. God places order through the laws of sciences into the seemingly chaotic universe. When we die, our spirits (being a part of God) joins back into the single entity.

  5. Speaking of William Craig, I recently saw a debate between 3 prominent atheist intellectuals and 3 prominent theist intellectuals. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&v=Uaq6ORDx1C4. One of the atheists was the famous Richard Dawkins and one of the theists was Craig.

    I thought Craig did very well. He kept reminding the audience of points that the atheists apparently didn’t answer. While Dawkins made some powerful points, his strategy seemed to be to silence dissent with insults. He kept calling the theists “lazy” and “childish”, which is certainly not something I’d expect from an intellectual. I also could not help feel that his responding to arguments made in the Middle Ages was a straw man argument – nobody’s saying that today. I don’t remember if he was called out on that.

    I think it’s also interesting that Dawkins refused to face Craig in a 1-on-1 debate.

    Lastly, I liked the point that the Japanese physicist made that the scientific position is an agnostic one. It is neutral on things like the existence of a Creator or whether the universe has a purpose. That’s simply not what science deals with.

    1. I completely agree with you. WLC does have some very nice-sounding arguments, though they can be opposed usually to the point of uncertainty if not more, so I don’t know why Richard Dawkins takes the disdain approach that is not helping him win any critical thinkers who may be repulsed (though he is getting them), and definitely not helping him at least explore his thoughts from those on the religious side.

      He refuses to debate WCL because at his base, and I agree with Dawkin’s here, Craig will invoke God as the instigator of the big bang (which is fallacious), and Dawkins believes it arises out of naturalistic means. And when Craig uses God, he uses it in the sense of a personal, conscious creator, which to me, doesn’t answer anything (I like the idea of Einstein’s god in which we personify that immaterial process to connect with it). So I understand his position. In point-of-fact, I’ve heard Dawkins on numerous occasions express doubt (as he should and does) on what created creation, simply holding out for more scientific information, though you would never see Craig do this. Dawkins is both humble in thought and arrogant in tone, while Craig is arrogant in thought, and humble in tone. A weird dichotomy. I think in a few years as knowledge accumulation exponentially accelerates, this religious/scientific debate will cease, and a scientific/philosophical debate will arrive, and perhaps shortly thereafter, a scientific/philosophical merger occurs, as due to technologically augmented humans being able to learn at ever-accelerating rates, will result in scientists becoming philosophers, and philosophers becoming scientists (as well as everyone else becoming a mesh of the two), and a new naturalistic knowledge is all-tied-together. I think that is super-exciting! What are your thoughts here?

      I like that point too, that science is an agnostic position, it’s just that it seems to naturally be encroaching on theological territory today as we push the boundary of what is known (it was bound to happen).

      1. Well, I concede that I’m not qualified to know if William Craig is misrepresenting science in his arguments. Certainly a scientist like yourself would know better than I regarding this. But I don’t believe that it’s the reason Dawkins is refusing to face him, because at a conference he said that Craig hadn’t accomplished anything and so wasn’t worth his time :) Apparently, being considered a leading Christian intellectual, with 30 books under his belt isn’t worthy enough of an opponent on debating the existence of God, and yet Dawkins debates lesser opponents on the same subject.

        I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say regarding the position of science. Or, rather, what the Japanese physicist was saying regarding it. He explains that the existence of God and whether or not the universe has a purpose are things which are not falsifiable. He argues, therefore, they can never be proven either way, so there will always be debates on these subjects. This is what I meant by the agnostic position of science on these subjects – it was not a statement on the current state of scientific theory.

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