God Is Not A Unicorn Series
Part 1 looked at the reason why the question of God ‘s existence cannot be satisfied by an appeal to the imagination alone.
Part 2 looked at the different approaches to the question of creation by Philosophy, Religion, and Science.
Part 3 looked at some of the scientific weaknesses of The Big Bang Theory, our modern Creation Myth
Part 4, below, is a post on the question of what do we mean when we talk about God. Secondly, can science address the question of existence and being?
This series began by explaining why the question about the existence of God is not the same type of question as the questions posed by imaginary things like a unicorn. It is time to return to the beginning in order to address how we got to this point in our culture that we think they are the same kind of question.
When we talk about God today, we are rarely talking about the God of antiquity, but more like a modern version of a demiurge.
Demiurge, Greek Dēmiourgos (“public worker”), plural Demiourgoi, in philosophy, a subordinate god who fashions and arranges the physical world to make it conform to a rational and eternal ideal. Plato adapted the term, which in ancient Greece had originally been the ordinary word for “craftsman,” or “artisan” (broadly interpreted to include not only manual workers but also heralds, soothsayers, and physicians), and which in the 5th century BC had come to designate certain magistrates or elected officials.
Plato used the term in the dialog Timaeus, an exposition of cosmology in which the Demiurge is the agent who takes the preexisting materials of chaos, arranges them according to the models of eternal forms, and produces all the physical things of the world, including human bodies. The Demiurge is sometimes thought of as the Platonic personification of active reason. The term was later adopted by some of the Gnostics, who, in their dualistic worldview, saw the Demiurge as one of the forces of evil, who was responsible for the creation of the despised material world and was wholly alien to the supreme God of goodness.Demiurge – Britannica
As the laws of nature began to be discovered and formalized in the age of the Enlightenment, the idea of the universe as a machine began to develop. This, in turn, produced the idea of God as mechanic or watchmaker. This God is called the Deist’s God. Deists are those who believed God created and set the universe in motion much like the first clocks needed to be wound up. They also believe God did not have to stick around after that. They believed that the universe did not need anything more than an igniting moment in order for the physical universe to keep on ticking.
belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.Google definition
The Deist’s Watchmaker is not what the ancients meant by God, but more like what they meant by a demiurge.
[In] the modern period the argument between theism and atheism largely became no more than a tension between two different effectively atheist visions of existence. As a struggle between those who believed in this god of the machine and those who did not, it was a struggle for possession of an already godless universe.The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, David Bentley Hart, p61
And so this confusion of meaning about what is meant by God would explain a great deal of the inability to communicate between Atheists and the traditional religions. It would also explain why so many New Atheists think that “God” is like a unicorn.
Touching the Heavens
Scientists and Ashiests often confuse what philosophers call Primary and Secondary causes. (See Turtles All the Way Down) A Primary Cause is not the first event in a series of events, such as the striking of the cue ball by a cue stick which in turn causes a rack of balls moving across a pool table. A Primary Cause is more like the owner of the pool table who maintains the table and the pool hall in which it occupies. This is a poor metaphor, but we have to begin somewhere to describe something our words cannot fully embrace.
In the past, philosophers thought of the heavens constructed of layers of primary causes – things that sustained the universe and kept it moving along. They were not unaware of “seconday causes” and so the idea of laws of nature working together as a machine to describe the interaction of things in the universe would not be inconsistent with that thinking.
The Flammarion Engraving (1888)
The print depicts a man, clothed in a long robe and carrying a staff, who is at the edge of the Earth, where it meets the sky. He kneels down and passes his head, shoulders, and right arm through the star-studded sky, discovering a marvelous realm of circling clouds, fires and suns beyond the heavens. One of the elements of the cosmic machinery bears a strong resemblance to traditional pictorial representations of the “wheel in the middle of a wheel” described in the visions of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.
The caption that accompanies the engraving in Flammarion’s book reads:Wikipedia
A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch…
The Mechanistic God of Time and Space
As the mechanistic view of the universe came to dominate Western thought, all ideas about Reality took on mechanical attributes. For example, it was discovered that it took 8 minutes for the light from the sun to reach Earth. This meant that the sunlight we perceive through our senses at any given moment is from an earlier moment in time – by eight minutes. This led to speculation that if one could somehow go faster than the speed of light away from the Earth, then one could begin to see the light from years past coming from the earth. In effect, one could see the history of the Earth unfold from some great distance away from the Earth.
Unfortunately, people began to conflate “seeing” light from some distant past (as when we watch a movie) with an actual experience of events from the past. They thought they could physically go “back in time.” Later on, when Einstein came along, his ideas about the geometry of space and time were also conflated with the reality of time and space itself. (See previous posts: Precious Time and The Einstein Revolution and Einstein’s Original Sin).
Spacetime and The Fourth Dimension
Contrary to popular belief, he [Einstein] did not draw the conclusion that space and time could be seen as components of a single four-dimensional spacetime fabric. That insight came from Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909), who announced it in a 1908 colloquium with the dramatic words: “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality”.
Four-dimensional Minkowski spacetime is often pictured in the form of a two-dimensional lightcone diagram, with the horizontal axes representing “space” (x) and the vertical axis “time” (ct). The walls of the cone are defined by the evolution of a flash of light passing from the past (lower cone) to the future (upper cone) through the present (origin). All of physical reality is contained within this cone; the region outside (“elsewhere”) is inaccessible because one would have to travel faster than light to reach it. The trajectories of all real objects lie along “worldlines” inside the cone (like the one shown here in red). The apparently static nature of this picture, in which history does not seem to “happen” but is rather “already there”, has given writers and philosophers a new way to think about old issues involving determinism and free will.Einstein’s Spacetime – Stanford.edu
As the quote above says, the drawing gives an “apparently static nature of this picture” of how space and time operate together. Our culture is conditioned now to see time like a solid line or series of blocks of time where the past and the future are as “real” as the present. But we know from our actual experience of space and time that this is not true. We know that even if we are remain perfectly still, we cannot stop the aging process. Time moves on, whether a thing “looks static” or not. We are always passing out of one present moment into the next “present” moment.
Einstein’s theory of relativity are useful tools in describing certain types of mechanics of the universe. But it has been and still is debated as to how closely these theories match with reality. (See Precious Time and The Einstein Revolution).
Scientists only think in terms of the universe coming into existence through a series of secondary causes. And this is a correct view as science, by definition, is the study of the natural world. But, is existence only a physical thing? So, these next two statements below are important in our understanding of our human limits.
An old and particularly sound metaphysical maxim says that between existence and non-existence there is an infinite qualitative difference.” p.95
Physicists can only talk of “the formation of our universe by way of a transition from one physical state to another. p.96The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, David Bentley Hart, p61
The word “infinite” is a very powerful concept. For scientists and mathematicians, who doubt there is more to the universe than the physical, this particular thought might bring on a doubt or two that their mental framework of reality might be missing something. For non-mathematicians, it means that no matter how much you break down the physical world into its fundamental laws and particles that infinite gap remains and no scientific theory can ever cross it.
Please note that this is not a “God of the Gaps” argument. (See Levels of Being: Putting the Mystery Back Into Life) How do we observe “non existence” and the transition to “existence” when science is limited to observations of physical states and transitions only?
Fundamentals of Time and Space
What was space made up of? Until recently – it was thought that Space simply “was.” It was debated whether Time and Space were independent of each other or parts of the same stuff of the physical universe but it was also believed that there could be places in the universe that were “empty” – where no mass or energy or anything existed in time and space. But recently, that view has changed with the proposition of the Higgs Field. This theory says that the Higgs field is in every point in space and there is no place which has a zero value in that field. Now, as I have said before, we say “field” when we know there must be a force involved, but we don’t know how the exact mechanism works. Also, the Higgs field still does not explain what time or space is nor how it is maintained.
The Higgs Boson
The basic equations of the unified theory correctly describe the electroweak force and its associated force-carrying particles, namely the photon, and the W and Z bosons, except for a major glitch. All of these particles emerge without a mass. While this is true for the photon, we know that the W and Z have mass, nearly 100 times that of a proton. Fortunately, theorists Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs made a proposal that was to solve this problem. What we now call the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism gives a mass to the W and Z when they interact with an invisible field, now called the “Higgs field”, which pervades the universe.The Higgs Boson – CERN
Upheld in Being
One metaphor that the ancients used to explain primary causes was to compare the universe to light from a candle. All is light until you blow it out. What is left is darkness.
What keeps the whole of everything in place? How does the whole universe move from moment to moment? What is the glue that holds it all together? Scientists might speculate it’s the Higgs Field. But what produced the Higg’s Field? This line of questioning brings us back to primary causes. It is not a question of how things came into existence (although that’s an interesting question) it’s a question of what keeps from passing into non-existence at any moment? What upholds our very being in this moment?
My point is that whatever the discoveries or new ideas coming from science today, yesterday or tomorrow, the natural sciences cannot answer questions about primary causes. Primary causes are not those things which set other things in motion. They are about “upholding in being.”
Finally, I don’t think the concept of primary causes is an easy concept for us moderns. We are conditioned to look for the physical or temporal cause of things, not for the sea of causes that we swim in from moment to moment. That would require looking in a different direction. It would mean to look beyond science. That is a difficult concept to grasp, but I think worth the time and effort to understand what it really means to be alive.