Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes

Jaime: Okay, so why do you believe that your god is a good explanation for the universe?

Robin: Because everything that exists needs an explanation and the universe is no exception.

Jaime: But then why doesn’t your god need an explanation? Aren’t we just headed for an infinite regress unless you just admit that something doesn’t need an explanation?

Robin: Well, yes, that’s exactly what I believe—that there is something which does not need an explanation, and that is God. 

Jaime: But a moment ago you said everything needs an explanation. But now it’s okay that your god doesn’t? You’re just changing the rules for your god.

Robin: No, the point is that something must not need an explanation but must exist of its own accord—but that cannot be anything from within our space-time since it cannot account for itself. So, it must be a being that exists outside our universe, and whatever that being is, is God. Metaphysically speaking, that’s all we can mean by God. All our inferences about God’s nature that don’t come from the Bible must come from the implications of the concept of this metaphysically self-causing being.

Jaime: Why not just say that the universe itself is eternal and self-explanatory? It’s simpler. That way there’s no need for a superfluous extra super-being with superpowers that cannot be accounted for. We just say the world we know just exists on the most basic level uncaused. Cause and effect relationships are meaningful for interactions by which the universe we know morphs itself into different arrangements of beings but the universe itself is eternal and not the kind of thing that gets caused into being as the effect of other agencies or events. Cause and effect are just confused categories for dealing with the origin of the universe itself in that case. They only apply to particular events within the basic eternal constituent features of the universe itself. Something must mysteriously exist with no further cause, so whatever it is, it’s just fundamental to the universe itself.

Robin: But the universe does not seem to be eternal since it has a beginning. So the eternality must be in something outside the universe.

Jaime: Well, just because we do not know what came before the big bang does not mean that in some sense the universe could not be part of a larger eternal multiverse or an eternal sequence of universes or that the universe cannot be eternally expanding with a big bang and then contracting with a big crunch and reexpanding with a big bang, etc. There are any number of plausible explanations of our universe being eternal or part of a larger eternal arrangement. At least these all involve dealing with the known, rather than positing an implausible super-being that just happens to have complex human traits like personhood in a supposedly simple and uncaused being. Everything we know about personhood is that it arises as a later, complex development. It is the result of natural selection processes and it is a functional operation that arises in beings who are composed of trillions of cells, each of which are made of something like 10^14 atoms! And the atoms are further composed of subatomic particles, etc., etc. To posit a simple, timeless, spaceless, eternally existing being which serves as a placeholder of “cause of the universe” is one thing. It’s a speculation which can be defended and challenged on any number of grounds, much like other speculations about fundamental metaphysics. But then to conceive of it as a person like us? That’s as implausible as saying numbers have personalities or that the most basic rudiments of existence, whatever they are, have personalities. Personalities are based on compositions of those basic building blocks of reality, it’s wholly unlikely they would exist on the most basic level of reality.

Robin: But the concept of a personal God is not incoherent. And neither is the positing of a timeless and spaceless being incoherent either. Numbers, for example, are timeless and spaceless. They are not created at any specific date. One might think propositions are too. Whether or not they are true or not may hinge on circumstances, but their meanings don’t seem to.

Jaime: But the problem is this, you say that your god is timeless and yet that the universe does not always exist. But for the universe to not always exist that means that your timeless god must have not created the universe at one moment and then at another moment created it. In which case, your god would be temporal after all—not creating one moment but then creating the next moment. Then you have a temporal being but you claim your god is timeless.

Robin: Well, no, God does not create at a moment, God is always timelessly performing the action of creating the universe all at once.

Jaime: So the universe is always existing, there with your god? So it has no beginning after all, it is eternal on your account!

Robin: But it is of finite duration. It has a beginning moment and a last moment. It is a finite set of moments, whereas God is timeless and not constrained to a set of finite moments.

Jaime: But it is existing eternally, even if it is limited to a finite number of moments? So you’re saying its temporality—its having moments—is compatible with its being eternal but before you said that its having a beginning and, so, presumably a finite number of moments, required it to not be eternal. But now your god can make the whole set of finite, temporal moments exist eternally. So why not say that some feature of, rather than one outside, the universe (or a multiverse) allows it to be eternal despite its also having a temporal beginning.

Robin: Because that makes no sense, if it has a beginning it starts being at some point in time, so it can’t be eternal.

Jaime: But you just claimed God is eternally creating it and it has a beginning point. So it is possible on your account.

Robin: It’s possible if some other being is causing it to both eternally be but to be limited to a finite set of moments in a way that an independently eternal being is not. But if it were its own cause then either it has to be its own eternal cause making itself exist infinitely and not in a finite number of temporal moments, or it really wasn’t there before its beginning and then the question is how it could have poofed itself into existence and then in any meaningful sense be worth calling eternal and not just, say, everlasting. It makes no sense though to say that it just came from nothing. We have to posit an eternal something or there would still be nothing. So, since the universe has a beginning it is likelier to say that the eternal something is not within the universe but exists independently of it and has no beginning itself.

Jaime: But then your god does not freely choose to create the world. It just always does this as a necessary, eternal expression of itself.

Robin: No, there is no necessity in the concept of the eternal, self-subsisting being that necessitates He also be a world creator. From the fact that He has created a world it is clear he could do it, that it’s within His power. But He didn’t have to.

Jaime: But “He” just eternally always does this.

Robin: Yes. In that sense God is free to create or not. The concept of God, as far as we understand it, is not identical with the concept of the world. Therefore, it is not the essence of God to express itself in the world. They are distinguishable concepts. There are alternate possibilities that involve the principle of being, i.e. God, creating different worlds or no world at all. In that sense, this world must be chalked up to a choice by God—even if that’s a different, non-temporal kind of choosing, distinct from any kind we do as temporal creatures.

Jaime: How is it a choice if it’s made eternally and timelessly? All choices we make happen through a process, be it conscious or unconscious. There seems to be a fundamental disanalogy between the notion of a fundamental being principle which is outside the universe conceptually being able to either create or not create different possible worlds and a personal being making such a choice. A personal being is one that goes through a thought process that is temporal to make a choice based on things like desires, emotions, personal relationships to other beings, etc. What you describe could have no substantive similarity to such a being. You’re basically saying that whatever the eternal thing is, it’s not part of the universe and conceptually we cannot assume it needed to either create our universe or any other universe. But even if we grant this being existed, we cannot know (a) that it didn’t generate all universes and not just ours, (b) that something inaccessible to us about it did necessitate it create our universe (or, even, that it necessitated that it create all universes) or (c) that it was personal. In fact, as soon as you say it is timeless, I have to say it is impersonal as all other timeless abstract objects—like, again, numbers. And so metaphors of choice are misleading.

Robin: Well, impersonal forces can make choices. Your computer goes through decision procedures and makes choices all the time.

Jaime: True, but it’s not timeless. It’s the timelessness, that makes both personality and choice impossible. It just eternally would be making one of its eternal choices or eternally expressing a non-choice. But there would never be a moment of alternate possibilities followed by a moment of selection of one over others. And even then it is hard to see in what sense we could assume this being has any choices. All things in our experience are constrained by their natures. Why would not this being which timelessly makes an eternal choice for a world (or worlds) to instantiate not also be expressing an eternal essence the only way it possibly can when it instantiates the world or worlds it does?

Robin: God would be free because He would be outside the causal nexuses of our experience within the world. Determinations only occur within the constraints of nature. But God is beyond nature and not bounded by a nature. He is omnipotent, not finite in power.

Jaime: But the concept of a being with no constraints placed on it by a nature of what it is is incoherent. Either it has a set, whether finite or infinite, of powers, each with coherent natures that have specific means of performing actions or not performing them, or it cannot do anything. A god would have to have a nature that made it what it was and it could not create its own nature too without exercising powers it had through that nature itself.

Robin: Well, God is just the being who exists identically with His nature. He just always exists how he exists. And is not (like humans) just a hypothetical being with a nature that may become instantiated or not. He and His nature eternally are just both there.

Jaime: But then your god has a nature and is subject to its logic. So the logic of your god’s nature is a deeper reality than your god itself. It constitutes and constrains your god.

Robin: But no—God’s nature is not complex. It’s not made of parts. God’s nature is utterly simple, so God and His nature are identical and the most rudimentary being. It’s not like there are further parts of God. God is not made up of numerous powers, each with their own natures, which compose Him as an aggregate being. That would have God made of parts, even if not spatial parts, and that would make no sense. In some way, God must be radically simple such that all his powers are all identical with Him himself.

Jaime: But then you’re saying all your god’s powers are not distinguishable powers but are the same one simple thing. So your god’s love equals his creative power, which equals his destructive power which equals his power of intelligence. Then the powers are incoherent and make no sense.

Robin: But they do. From one respect we can see God’s power as love and from another we can see it as creative force. This is because God’s love is expressed in His creating and God’s creating is the expression of Love.

Jaime: That’s trivial. You can find specific acts that you could attribute to more than one power at once, but that does not make those powers identical in nature. Either you have separate powers, explicable by parts which create them or you don’t have any differentiations. Your god needs parts to make any sense. And those parts have to be spatial since even those activities like “willing” and “loving” and “personhood” and “knowing” which we think of as “non-physical” in all known reality are scientifically seen to emerge only out of essentially bodily components. They cannot exist anywhere in the universe in disembodied form. There is no reason to project such traits into a non-spatial, non-temporal being. These are powers that are rooted in bodily processes. We have these multiple powers because of the multiple processes that our brains can carry out. Some of the powers overlap, probably in no small part because they use some of the same constituent brain parts and processes to function. But they are distinguishable by function and by the uses of at least some different brain features.

Robin: But if the source of all being did not have rationality in it, then how could it create a rational world explicable by rationality? Even though for us rationality is something temporally carried out through reasoning processes, it must be able to exist in some non-temporal way as a basis of the universe itself for the universe to be rational at all. But to make the universe rational, you need a rational mind to start with.

Jaime: But you don’t! For there to be things at all, it just requires that they be the things they are and not other things—at least in their most basic constituent parts. Obviously complex beings are multiple things. But whatever multiple things they are cannot be mutually exclusive. In other words, each thing cannot be another thing that it would involve a contradiction for it to be. There are conceptually graspable limits on what different kinds of beings a particular being can simultaneously be or not be at the same time. This is just basic to there being anything at all. Were there no inherent constraints on beings, at the most rudimentary levels of the world, then there could not be anything. All would be an inherently formless and unformable chaos. So some basic universal categories according to which things differentiate must eternally simply be part of reality and make its expressions into different kinds regular and rationally explicable.

Robin: But how could those categories exist without a rational mind to make them? How could there be multiple of them, all coordinating logically with each other to make a universe or universes without utter unformable chaos?

Jaime: It’s no clearer to attribute all those universals to eternal existence in a radically simple and (puzzlingly) personal being either. There is a fact of multiple universals and rationally explicable laws of their conceptual relationships and laws of the interactions among physical kinds, etc. This multiplicity seems basic. Or if it’s not basic it would be explicable at least in terms of deeper, impersonal, more rudimentary realities. Even a god would have to be composed according to these basic laws of being and composition. And in such a case, positing such a being is wholly unhelpful and superfluous. It still would not explain why those basic ontological realities, through which it itself emerged, themselves existed.

To be continued...

Your Thoughts?


Previous Debates Between Robin and Jaime:

Hell as the Absence of God

God and Goodness

Is It Just A Mystery Whether God Exists?

More Debates Featuring Jaime:

A Debate About The Value of Permanent Promiscuity

Moral Perfectionism, Moral Pragmatism, Free Love Ethics, and Adultery

On The Ethics of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Babies”

A Debate About the Wisdom of Trying to Deconvert People

Atheist Fundamentalism?

Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech?

The Moral Imperative Not To Dehumanize When We Criticize #MuslimLivesMatter
ISIS’s Iconoclasm, The Bible, and The Problem With Taking Literalism Literally
Atheism Is Not A Religion. But There Should Be Atheistic Religions.
A Moral Philosopher on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • unbound

    Primary problem is the very first statement from Robin that was accepted by Jaime. Rather than disputing that highly questionable statement, Jaime started discussing the merits of that statement.

    Not sure if that statement is simply framing the debate or considered poisoning the well.

    • sqlrob

      Exactly my thought as well. That should’ve been the first thing challenged, especially given that there’s sufficient evidence to challenge it.

  • Kevin

    First claim: The universe needs an explanation.

    Yes. It does. But that explanation does not have to be a supernatural one. In fact, a supernatural solution is the least likely outcome based on our current knowledge.

    Substituting modern scientific findings based on hundreds of years of progress with 2500+ year old myths created by barely literate goat-herders is not an equivalent approach.

    Every time science points its lens at a problem that had previously been assigned to a god or gods, it turned out that the solution was a perfectly natural one. No god needed.

    Ancient men: Gods create lighting
    Science: No, it’s a natural phenomenon.

    Isaac Newton: God manages the complex orbits of multiple bodies in space.
    Science (LaPlace): No, it’s a natural phenomenon.

    19th century men: God created species immutable and entire.
    Science (Darwin): Nope.

    Modern theologians: God created the heavens and the earth (leaving aside timing and order).
    Science: The all-natural Big Bang accounts for everything we see from 10^-42 second before the inception of the universe.

    Modern theologians: God came before the Big Bang.
    Science: Show your work. Where’s your math?

    The only correct answer to the question “what came before the Big Bang” is “I don’t know and neither do you.” You can’t automatically then cede a supernatural force into the “We don’t know.” Because that’s a knowledge claim that is undeserved.

    You have to look at what best fits the evidence. There is no evidence anywhere that obligately leads to the supernatural and positively rejects the natural.

    And all arguments regarding the supernatural do not rely on evidence — they rely on arguments. Which are not evidence.

    If you want to posit a supernatural origin to the universe, you have to show — with evidence — that a natural origin is impossible. Not merely that science doesn’t know, and therefore your hypothesis wins by default. You have to show natural forces could not have been the solution and cannot possibly be the solution.

    And since modern cosmologists now claim that they do not need the god hypothesis to propose a solution to the origins of the universe, you’ll have to overcome those findings with math, scientific observation, and predictive power.

    “God did it” is a claim, not a testable hypothesis. And does not overcome the null hypothesis that all-natural forces were at work.

    • sqlrob

      The only correct answer to the question “what came before the Big Bang” is “I don’t know and neither do you.”

      Not entirely true, that question may be incorrect from first assumptions. One must show that the question is coherent even before “I don’t know”. Is there a before when there isn’t time?

    • mikelaing

      Exactly. Good point. Anything outside our conception of space-time is meaningless and un-understandable. God is actually probably far to simplistic a concept and is so bad it’s not even wrong.

      The conversation above and all further discussions are moot. Trying to apply logic is as mistaken as trying to apply known physics to ‘before.’

  • Robert B.

    To say that the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe is like saying that the North Pole is the edge of the earth. The word “beginning” doesn’t accurately describe the geometry. It’s not that there was no universe before then, it’s that there is no before then. The word “before” just doesn’t make any sense if you’re standing at the Big Bang.

    When Robin says that “everything needs an explanation” she means that everything needs a causal explanation – what made it happen? But causation is, physically, just a continuity condition. Things that happen at earlier times have to be related to things that happen nearby at later times in a certain way. That relationship, that continuity between past and future, is what we call causation. And when there is no more past, there is no need for the future to be continuous with it.

    At edges like that, there aren’t continuity conditions anymore, there are what we call boundary conditions. The boundary conditions of the Big Bang are surely important, though since our understanding of physics stops at a small but finite time after the Big Bang, I’m not aware of any clear ideas of what they might be.

    But it doesn’t matter. Whatever the boundary conditions are, they would not be a cause. They would be a fundamentally different kind of thing. Mathematically speaking, it makes sense to say that we could follow a chain of cause and effect all the way back to the Big Bang, and then explain the Big Bang with something that is not a cause, that has some very different properties from a cause, but is just as determinative. For one thing, a temporal boundary condition would not have to be earlier in time than its results, in the way that causes must come earlier in time than their effects.

    Basically, if you talk about the Big Bang without being informed by the math, you will get it wrong.

  • mikelaing

    Your Thoughts?

    Man, you are the epitome of rigorousness.

    This is just basic to there being anything at all. Were there no inherent constraints on beings, at the most rudimentary levels of the world, then there could not be anything. All would be an inherently formless and unformable chaos. So some basic universal categories according to which things differentiate must eternally simply be part of reality and make its expressions into different kinds regular and rationally explicable.

    I’m trying to figure out if this is valid. It is the only thing you say that I possibly might have a problem with.
    I would be more comfortable with the word ‘intrinsic’ rather than ‘inherent’, and therefore extrinsic, as a property, would obtain.

    However, in principle, I agree 100%, although, as a caveat, the reality we experience necessarily is rational to us, but other realities may exist that are rational internally yet irrational to ours… but then we arrive back at god not having a rational understanding of anything outside its reality, and its agency would not be applicable to our, irrational to it, reality.

    All I’m saying, I guess, is that ‘all would be inherently formless and unformable chaos’ is not necessarily true, but to us it still effectively is. Of course, irrational and not understandable or conceivable, and unregulatable(?!) or unformable/undifferentiatable is trivial, I think as your conclusion here is entirely the same:
    So some basic universal categories according to which things differentiate must eternally simply be part of reality and make its expressions into different kinds regular and rationally explicable

    Yes, there would have to exist an underlying commonality, rationally speaking!?

    Am I making sense? To think there needs to be an underlying intrinsic property is rational, which is meaningless because that property is not conceptually rational, or meaningful, intrinsically.

  • Contrarian

    Before I tackle the philosophy up there, random question for Dan: Have you thought about Godel’s version of the ontological argument?

  • jimmiraybob

    Numbers, for example, are timeless and spaceless.

    I apologize ahead of time. I am not a philosopher and would normally resist actually opening my mouth at something like this but my danged curiosity’s been piqued. [That's why this kind of question is best done at the pub so I could at least offer a beverage in exchange for your indulgence.]

    The whole in and out of space and time discussion seems to imply a boundary. And I was wondering what would be the portal between the two. The mind? When I am not thinking of the number 2, for instance I’m thinking instead of letters, maybe A….no make it Q, is the number that I’m not thinking about exist in or out of space-time?

    • Robert B.

      I don’t think the idea is that numbers exist outside of space-time. I think it’s that numbers don’t have a location or duration at all, whether inside spacetime or out of it. It’s not that they exist in some strange other place. It’s that, as abstract concepts, they exist in a way that doesn’t need a place or a time.

    • jimmiraybob

      It’s that, as abstract concepts, they exist in a way that doesn’t need a place or a time.

      Thanks. Although I wrote a bit snarky, I think this is where I was headed. At the point in the conversion after I branched off, if Robin had made this reply I’d have asked her how God differs from the numbers. But again, God is usually referred to as passing between the world of time-space and some landscape/thoughtscape with no time and no space. I would put the boundary as well as the non place in the mind.

      On a side note, I did make it to the pub last night and given this “inspired” line of thinking and the miracle of Guinness, I think that I have hit upon my new avocation: exploring the boundary between time and not time and space and not space. If some day you stumble across a blog that is a wild rambling rant of a manifesto on this subject, using all kinds of wild color combinations and lots of exclamation points, you’ll know that I’ve made it to the big time.

  • DiscoveredJoys

    One of the biggies attributed to the ‘god made the whole universe’ is the corollary that god is Omnipresent (which he would have to be if he was directly running stuff).

    That means that he is in bed with you when you are boffing your significant other; he is the bogey you are picking from your nose; he is in the bathroom with you and presumably in your wastes… That’s pretty creepy. I wonder if the religious are willing to consider the implications?

    • John Morales

      I don’t see how it’s a corollary.

      Can you elaborate on that claim?

    • DiscoveredJoys

      Robin says at one point But God is beyond nature and not bounded by a nature. He is omnipotent, not finite in power.

      It seemed to me that an omnipotent being must have perfect knowledge and as an immediate consequence or easily drawn conclusion must be omnipresent to be all knowing. YMMV.

  • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

    ok This time it’s Jaime who is playing the hand weakly (by being too forgiving of obvious inconsistencies) so I guess I can’t accuse you of unfairness. And having the characters be realistic does make for a more interesting discussion in the comments.

    But couldn’t we please have seen Robin be forced to explicitly retract at least one of “everything that exists needs an explanation” and “something must not need an explanation but must exist of its own accord”, rather than just being allowed to waffle in response to the rather weakly put objection.

  • Lenoxus

    Robin said:

    But if the source of all being did not have rationality in it, then how could it create a rational world explicable by rationality?

    Is it really correct to say that the universe is rational/comprehensible? I mean, it’s true that it’s not total chaos, but the way things actually work is very different from the intuitive expectations of the most rational known minds, those of human beings. Quantum mechanics is one example of a very real and fundamental phenomenon which, if not literally incomprehensible to human minds, certainly takes a great deal of effort to “make sense of”. And even before you get to that level, there’s the numerous common false assumptions about basic physics that show up in Hollywood movies, etc.

    I suppose part of this question hinges on our definition of “rational universe”. I infer it as either “able to be understood/contained in a mind” or “reflecting the content of minds”. The universe doesn’t seem rational by the second definition, although of course we cannot preclude the possibility of an alien species for whom quantum mechanics makes perfect sense, or for that matter, the very unparsimonious hypothesis that our universe is a simulation modeled on the mind of such a species. (Which in its own way is not far from the God hypothesis!)

    As far as I’m concerned, only the second definition is at all interesting. The first one seems trivial for the reasons Jaime already discussed. In addition to that, it’s entirely possible that there are elements of our universe which we can’t comprehend, and their very incomprehensibility is why we don’t know about them. Maybe our universe is only 1% comprehensible! (A notion which may lead to paradoxes… which is precisely the sort of thing I’m talking about.)

    • John Morales

      One word: Science.

    • mikmik

      What, in our environment, in all our understanding of local reality +/- several orders of magnitude, isn’t rational?

      My point above is that anything that exists does so according to the local parameters, ie laws of physics/nature, from which it arises, and therefore, whatever the circumstances in that reality/universe, it makes sense. Existence/stability over time, or the analogue, operates according to that reality, therefore:that reality makes sense to inhabitants of that reality = rationality.

      Because we exist and interact successfully (survive, and thrive), anything we understand as reality that allows us to more deeply interact successfully(increased understanding) is therefore the very meaning of the word ‘rational.’

      We don’t have to estimate how much of the universe we understand, everything that we can possibly understand follows the cause/effect relationship, because of the local reality of unidirectional time.
      It is only at extreme levels;energy,size,time intervals, and complexity, that we begin to encounter events that we don’t understand.
      Even here, the methods of science, based on the consistent properties of space/time that constrain ALL AND EVERY event and interaction imaginable, are expected to ultimately lead to a coherent understanding of these most extreme circumstances.

      Your “Maybe our universe is only 1% comprehensible! (A notion which may lead to paradoxes… which is precisely the sort of thing I’m talking about.)” is obtuse in the extreme, for our universe very, very, very well understood – to the point of successfully modelling and predicting events, with great precision, molecular and sub-atomic, and gravitational and cosmological, energies.
      Our understanding of the ‘laws’ of reality are 100% for almost 100% of time of existence of matter.

      That is rationality. That is what we mean when we say that because we are part of reality, we understand and operate and exist according to conditions that dictate what reality is.

      By existing and thriving and deeply understanding our place in, and interactions with, reality, we conclude that we are rational.

      Whatever the conditions of some other part of the multiverse, whatever exists inside them does so by ‘making sense’ of those conditions. We cannot possibly guess anything about what is outside of our reality, because our reality – the laws of our universe’s physics, break down. Our reality, and therefore what ‘makes sense to us’ no longer applies ‘out there.’ Before ‘here’, our universe.

      Therefore, it is principally meaningless to try and postulate possible scenarios and properties for some god or first cause, because those scenarios are meaningless outside of our universe in the first place.

      Our morality comes from personal understandings of reality that allow us to thrive as individuals, and through empathy, understanding that others have the same values as us and applying those personal understandings(values) universally.

    • Lenoxus

      Maybe I should try to clarify what I was saying.

      In general, I believe a lot of the way humans describe things are subtly human-centric, for example, calling some food “delicious” as if that were an inherent property of the food. (At its extreme, this sort of thinking leads to bad sci-fi wherein aliens find humans “sexy” and abduct us.)

      Meanwhile, I’m in agreement with the spirit of this article’s argument that quantum physics isn’t really “weird” or “incomprehensible”, but rather, human brains are the “weird” ones. Quantum principles are simply how reality works, period.

      That said, we can still refer to quantum physics as being “irrational” in the same sense we might call certain foods “disgusting”: with an awareness of the human-centric bias this involves. And if we use this as our metric, we find that no, the universe is not completely rational/comprehensible. Yes, a human is capable of comprehending it, but this is, to use the food metaphor again, like aquiring a taste.

      And even before we reach such extremes as quantum mechanics or relativity, basic physics does not follow our intutions, which are closer to impetus theory and such. The fact that the earth moves around the sun is, by my argument, “irrational”. It doesn’t instantly make sense or “feel right”; your brain has to work at it.

      My point is that if God is a humanlike mind, why would he create such an “unhumanlike” universe? Perhaps in a sufficiently “rational” universe, we wouldn’t need science as such; common sense would suffice. (Or our common sense would work exactly like science.) As it is, science seems like this weird otherworldly thing to most people, as if they personally spend their weekends in some sort of “non-scientific” universe.

      I admit this argument is a bit peculiar and my use of some words possibly nonstandard. But I believe that other definitions of “comprehensible” can come too close to anthropomorphic mistakes. What does it mean to divide universes into those which are comprehensible and those which are not? The original question of whether our universe is comprehensible is like asking whether Mount Everest is climbable. Both yes and no are arguable answers, since “climbable” isn’t rigorously defined.

      Anyway, as I said before, if we define “comprehensible” in the more usual way, then the whole thing is trivial for the reasons Jaime mentions. All it ought to take is that any given two things are distinguishable.

      There’s another thought that just occurred to me. If the theist were correct that a rational universe necessitates a creator, this implies the possibility of an uncreated “irrational” universe. But once we allow for such a possibility, we get the principle of explosion, or something like it. Surely an “irrational” universe could just plain happen to look/be like a rational one, and happen to lack a creator? At worst, this violates Occam’s razor, or would if the theists original argument held weight (and did not itself violate the razor).

      An additional question is whether our universe is or might be less than 100% comprehensible. I think it is 100% comprehensible, but would still argue that we can’t rule out other possibilities. By definition, however, we would never know. If something is truly incomprehensible, then even its existence would not be knowable (in my view). You can’t point at something and truthfully say “That thing over there? It’s totally incomprehensible.”

  • eric

    Your Thoughts?

    English and other normal languages are poor at capturing some concepts, like infinity. These are better understood via math.

    When Jaime and Robin discuss eternity, timelessness, and finite moments, I get the vague feeling that they are both wrong. There’s nothing specific I can put my finger on, but I’m reminded that Zeno’s paradoxes (discussing infinite numbers of infinitesimal things or steps) were never solved by any philosophical argument – they were solved by calculus. Yes, we can in fact count infinities of infinitesimal quantities in a finite number of defined steps. But not via philosophical propositional logic – by mathematical integration. Likewise here, I get the vague feeling that the issue of whether or not – or how – an event can occur within timelessness may never be solved by trying to find the right philosophical propositions, but by math.

  • consciousness razor

    Well, God is just the being who exists identically with His nature. He just always exists how he exists.

    It’s somewhat interesting that “God” apparently means only “existingness” to this sort of apologist, until they start adding personal attributes or bring up other nonsense like timeless creation. Whatever one might say about nonexistence, that is not a god, because a god’s existence is the only possibility they ever entertain.

    It’s mostly uninteresting, because they say the same damn nonsense over and over no matter your response. It’s not much like having a conversation and certainly doesn’t require much thinking, even for the most sophistimicated of theologians. That’s why I think dialogues on this (real or imagined) are unproductive, except to make their unproductivity apparent.

    In some way, God must be radically simple such that all his powers are all identical with Him himself.

    So it’s not so much that might makes right — might is right. Love is power, timelessness is creativity, knowledge is personhood, all deepities are like every other. It’s somehow worse than Orwellian, because at least “War is Peace” has a definite meaning, albeit a false one.

  • Martin J Sallberg

    The scientific method is to test the predictions that follows logically from theories. If the predictions are wrong then the theory is wrong. It is not scientific to add “reasonable limits” that do not follow logically from the premise and that prevents testing against observable facts. But nor is it scientific to lump one theory with a theory that has a different premise just because they are somewhat similar and assume that they make the same predictions either. Willingness to guess wildly and subsequently admit error is thus crucial for science. Ergo, any pressure to save face is antiscientific and antiintellectual. So is the “scientific community” really scientific at all, with all of its academic hierarchy, credit and discredit? Obviously the “scientific community” is full of antiscientific pressure. There are some cases where official “scientific” papers have published new theories and observations that do not fit into existing theories, of course. But then, most if not all organizations contain people who leak secret information too. And with all that antiscientific pressure around in the “scientific community”, there is no reason to think that something must be bullshit just because (most of) the “scientific community” boycots it. Read the theory instead. If it is bullshit, it either makes false predictions or is too vague to make any predictions at all. So just test the theories! To do real science, start sharing theories and observational/experimental results outside the Machiavellian academia, informally (such as on Pure Science Wiki). Also share advice on how to make scientific equipment as cheaply as possible.
    Why do some brain damaged patients recover while others with the same brain damage do not? Metastudies by Kurt Fischer, Christina Hinton et al. shows that the key is tolerant environments. This agrees with Francisco Lacerda’s theory that the reason why children learn language easily is because they do not fear being wrong, just like non-prejudiced scientists. The fact that the tolerant environment factor works even way past the end of all supposed “learning windows” also shows that there is no such thing as an immutable “shame instinct” either. Research about ancient climates prove that abrupt climate change have been common, so fixedness is and have always been incompatible with survival. There is evidence, especially from domestication research, showing that evolution can very rapidly select on individual variation and turn it into group differences. Thus there is a contradiction between nature explanations of individual psychiatry and nurture explanations of ethnic differences. There must be some missing methodological factor. Since racist discrimination is a form of intolerance often associated with other forms of intolerance, studies of ethnic differences effectively takes the tolerant environment factor into account, explaining why nurture explanations prevailed in studies of ethnic differences. But studies of individual psychiatry have, at least before Kurt Fischer’s and Christina Hinton’s metastudy, not taken the tolerant environment factor into account, explaining why nature explanations prevailed there. It is well-established that there was/is anomalies from the nature model of individual psychiatry, but people ignorant of the metastudy lumps everything into one statistic and dismiss the minority of cases as “anecdotical”. Real science is about finding the pattern behind the anomalies to de-anecdotize them, just like Kurt Fischer and Christina Hinton did. And considering how stupid behavior is destroying the world (just look at pollution and deforestation!), this research about possibilities to change behavior to a rational form is invaluable. The fact that the plasticity only applies if the environment is tolerant means that there is no reason to fear that dictators will abuse the plasticity whatsoever.

  • JLB82

    Hey, Dan,

    I’m an agnostic, but I have some (perhaps stupid) questions regarding this piece:

    Why can’t God still be eternal and create the universe in one moment? God would be eternal, but the action wouldn’t be, if that makes sense. Also, if God exists and were eternal/timeless, can there be “moments” in eternity? What I mean by that is, can there be before and after in eternity?

    I agree that human abilities like loving and knowing seem to depend on our biology, but is it possible that while those traits depend on biology for us, God can know, love, etc. without being dependent on biology, i.e., in a different, immaterial way? I’m not sure if I’m expressing myself clearly on that, but I hope you get what I mean.