Paul P. Mealing

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Friday, 25 May 2012

Why the argument for the existence of God is a non sequitur

This has been a point of discussion on Stephen Law’s blog recently, following Law’s debate with William Lane Craig last year. My contention is that people argue as if God is something objective, when, clearly it isn’t: God is totally subjective.

God is a feeling, not an entity or a being. God is something that people find within themselves, which is neither good nor bad; it’s completely dependent on the individual. Religiosity is a totally subjective phenomenon, but it has cultural references, which determine to a lesser or greater extent what one ‘believes’. Arguing over the objective validity of such subjective perspectives is epistemologically a non sequitur.

Craig’s argument takes two predominant strands. One is that atheists can’t explain the where-with-all from whence the universe arose and theists can. It’s like playing a trump card: what’s your explanation? Nil. Well, here’s mine, God: game over. If Craig wants to argue for an abstract, Platonic, non-personal God that represents the laws of the universe prior to its physical existence, then he may have an argument. But to equate a Platonic set of mathematical laws with the Biblical God is a stretch, to say the least, especially since the Bible has nothing to say on the matter.

The other strand to his argument is the Holy Spirit that apparently is available to us all. As I said earlier, God is a feeling that some people experience, but I think it’s more a projection based on one’s core beliefs. I don’t dismiss this out of hand, partly because it’s so common, and partly because I see it as a personal aspiration. It represents the ideal that an individual aspires to, and that can be good or bad, depending on the individual, as I said above, but it’s also entirely subjective.

Craig loves the so-called ‘cosmological’ argument based on ‘first cause’, but it should be pointed out that there are numerous speculative scientific theories about the origin of the universe (refer John D. Barrow’s The Book of Universes, which I discussed May 2011). Also Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma gives a synopsis on all the current ‘flavours’ of the universe, from the ridiculous to the more scientifically acceptable. Wherever science meets philosophy or where there are scientific ‘gaps’ in our knowledge, especially concerning cosmology or life, evangelists like Craig try to get a foothold, reinterpreting an ancient text of mythologies to explain what science can’t.

In other posts on his blog, Stephen Law discusses the issue, ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’ Quite frankly, I don’t think this question can ever be answered. Science has no problem with the universe coming from nothing – Alan Guth, who gave us inflationary theory also claimed that ‘the universe is the ultimate free lunch’ (Davies, God and the New Physics, 1983). The laws of quantum mechanics appear to be the substrate for the entire universe, and it’s feasible that a purely quantum mechanical universe existed prior to ours and possibly without time. In fact, this is the Hartle-Hawking model of the universe (one of many) where the time dimension was once a fourth dimension of space. Highly speculative, but not impossible based on what we currently know.

But when philosophers and scientists suggest that the ‘why something’ question is an epistemological dead end, evangelists like Craig see this is as a capitulation to their theistic point of view. I’ve said in a previous post (on Chaos theory, Mar. 2012) that the universe has purpose but is not teleological, which is not the oxymoron it appears to be when one appreciates that ‘chaos’, which drives the universe’s creations, including life, is deterministic but not predictable. In other words, the universe’s purpose is not predetermined but has evolved.

Some people, many in fact, see the universe’s purposefulness as evidence that there is something behind it all. This probably lies at the heart of the religious-science debate, but, as I expounded in a post on metaphysics (Feb. 2011): between chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, a teleological universe is difficult to defend. I tend to agree with Stephen Jay Gould that if the universe was re-run it would be completely different.

Addendum: Just one small point that I’ve raised before: without consciousness, there might as well be nothing. It’s only consciousness that allows meaning to even arise.


The Atheist Missionary said...

Paul, how can any material object (even at the quantum level) exist without time?

Paul P. Mealing said...


Good question. Actually, photons, therefore all radiation, exist in zero time. As Roger Penrose points out (in Cycles of Time), you need mass for time to exist. But there is an inherent paradox here because all radiation has a frequency and frequency is meaningless without time.

I'm not sure that material objects exist at the quantum level. Schrodinger's equation (which is time dependent btw) is for a wave function that does not exist in the classical physical world. When we take a measurement or observation the wave function 'collapses' - effectively disappears - and no longer has a role.

I hope I haven't confused you. Of course, there are many people who understand this better than me.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

There is a brief description of the 'Hartle-Hawking' universe at the bottom of this post in Addendum 1.

Regards, Paul.