Of Gods, Watchmakers, and Unicorns (Part 4)

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.

Deism

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:
A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch…

Wikipedia

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.96

The 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.

21 thoughts on “Of Gods, Watchmakers, and Unicorns (Part 4)

  1. “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.”

    none of this is different than what I have written. you seem to be parroting the “ground of being” claims by Tillich and Armstrong. You need to claim some supranatural thing being at the root of existence to find a job for a god.

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    1. You haven’t really told me anything so I don’t know what to say. And if all you got out of all that I’ve written is that I am referring to “a job for a god” then you missed the whole point of this series of posts. You have proven my point that atheists argue about the existence of a demiurge and not what traditional religions refer to as God. Thank you for the validation. 🙂

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      1. PS. I did update the post to include a note about “god of the gaps” since you seemed to misunderstand which gap I was referring to. I do thank you for pointing out how that has contributed to confusion on this subject along with the demiurge issue.

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      2. and still unable to tell me how I’m wrong about primary causes. No surprise here, Alexis.

        Oh and now gnostic nonsense. I was a Christian so I know exactly how to describe its god. Is that enough of a “traditional religion”? This god is the primary cause per these “traditional religions”. I speak about those gods, not some silly demiurge that was made up too. I love theists who cling to that nonsense in order to pretend that their god is “really” ever so much better than what is described by humans.

        A demiurge is just another imaginary bit of nonsense to explain why various gods are impotent. Always such poor little gods if this demiurge always wins.

        Your nonsense is still nonsense. No validation for you.

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      3. (Sigh) Again, you show that you do not know the difference between a demiurge (imaginary or not) and traditional concepts of God. A demiurge would be a secondary cause because they are in nature, not outside of it. You cannot replace (or ignore) a primary cause with a secondary cause. By definition, science (as well as all demiurges) fall short in that endeavor. You are still misconstruing my words. I suppose we are at an impasse, but I do thank you once again for the illuminating discussion – even if you think it’s nonsense.

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      4. It is curious that you continue to claim I don’t know the difference between the demiurge concept and the concept of a god from “traditional” religions. I’ve shown that I do and have asked you to explain how you think I do not understand them.

        You refuse to do so. Why is that, Alexis?

        I do not replace a secondary cause with a primary one. Many theists try the demiurge argument, which is no more than the claim that somehow there is some god “outside” of nature and time and space.

        This nonsense is invented to avoid the common problems with gods and their very human actions per their myths. Some new character must be inserted to make the god desired by the human beyond criticism.

        The demiurge is created to be the “fall guy”, part of the just-so story on why there is evil in the world. Alexis, you have nothing special or secret in your claims. People have been discussing the demiurge for quite a long time, and again, there’s nothing I’ve said that is not reflected in that discussion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demiurge

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      5. I suggested – in my very first reply – that you read David Bently Hart in order to have a fuller explanation. And no, you obviously don’t know a demiurge is if you think they exist outside of nature – the very link you use as reference refutes you. Did you even read it? Obviously you don’t think much of my thoughts, so why continue to return? As I have said, we are at an impasse.

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      6. and again, you still can’t tell me how I’m wrong. that you can’t explain yourself and support your claims shows that you have no idea what you are talking about.

        Now amusingly enough, David Bently Hart is just one more Christian who has invented his own version of it. He’s written quite a few books, so which has about your gnostic nonsense, Alexis? I’m certainly not going to bother reading all of that nonsense.

        Hart does do a great job underlining how Christians don’t agree on things with his articles about the arguments between Catholics and his favored sect, Eastern Orthodox. Unfortunately, in his book that makes false claims about atheists, “Atheist Delusions”, he tries to paste over those disagreements when he goes on about how unique, and therefore, true, Christianity is. He also has to try to lie and claim that atheism is “fashionable”. Hmmm, how fashionable is it to be hacked to death by theists?

        if you think this person, who bears false witness about others is to be followed, well, that is a common choice amongst theists if he says things you want to hear. I’m not interested in someone who makes false claims about others in order to pretend his nonsense is true.

        You also need some reading comprehension lessons. I said that there is a *god* outside of time and space. The demiurge is claimed to be within it. Both are part of your nonsense.

        I have no problem returning as long as you are making false claims. I enjoy demontrating them for what they are.

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      7. “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
        ― Mark Twain
        That’s a hard pass. We’re done. Troll somewhere else. Thanks.

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  2. I repeat from above: No, you still have it wrong. You confuse secondary causes with primary causes. I’m sorry. I have explained it in a number of posts and given several references to explain it. And as for the New Atheists – take up their status as “new” with them. I simply respect their own designation as they wish it. And yes, I’ve read Russell and many other atheists. If you want a discussion, that’s fine. But, your anger at me is unwarranted. There’s no need to be disrespectful of my character or opinion.

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  3. “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 secondary 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?”

    So, which god or gods are responsible? Most, if not every, religion makes the same claim you do.

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    1. That’s my point. New atheists are not talking about the same being at all. They are speaking about a god bounded by the natural world. That’s not what any of the traditional religions mean when they speak about God. For a better explanation I recommend David Bentley Hart’s book that I quote in the post. He covers all aspects of the question. And that should read “primary causes” not “secondary causes”. I will fix that. Sorry for the confusion.

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      1. Atheists, there are no “new” ones, are also not talking about any god or gods. That is a lie invented by theists who need to desperately pretend everyone is like them, so they aren’t so ridiculous.

        you seem to need to claim that some god is a primary cause. You have no evidence for this at all. You also try to claim that the science won’t be able to find any primary cause. No reason to be true either. You again have a god of the gaps that depends on all research stopping right now and going no further.

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      2. Firstly, what you’ve written indicates to me that you don’t understand what a primary cause is.
        Secondly, I reject the god of the gaps – and you’d know this if you had read my previous posts.
        Thirdly, the fact that you don’t know who the New Atheists are (and that they call themselves this) does not make what I’ve written a lie. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Atheism
        Spend a little time looking these things up. Thanks.

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      3. I know what a primary cause is. It’s a common theist attempt at a logical argument.

        I don’t care if you reject the god of the gaps and I know you do. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t using the concept.

        and new atheism is an invented term that makes no sense if one knows the history of atheism. If you and Gary Wolf, had read people like Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, etc, you’d see that the same arguments and attitude have been around for at least a century or more.

        Do indeed spend some time looking these things up.

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      4. Well, so far you haven’t demonstrated that you know what a primary cause is at all. I get that you reject it, but I’m not convinced you understand it.
        Also, since you didn’t know who the New Atheists were until just recently, how could you know if they are different than Bertrand Russell, et al of yesteryear?
        I still think that you are the one demonstrating deficient knowledge.

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      5. Alexis, I have demonstrated that I know what a primary cause is. it’s the nonsense that Aristotle postulated from the believe that something needs to cause something else. The cosmological argument is based on that.

        You need to pretend I don’t understand it. Please do explain it to me if you want to make the claim I don’t understand it.

        I know who theists and others call the “new atheists”. I do not accept the term since I have read atheist commentary from the last hundred plus years and there is no difference. I haven’t known about them “recently”. I’ve read Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc when they came out with their books.

        Have you read Robert Ingersoll or Bertram Russell?

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      6. LOL. and Alexis can’t explain what either are, not even providing a link.

        and again, none of the “new atheists” called themselves that. Your claim is again false.

        and there is not one bit of evidence you’ve read Russell, etc. I have no anger at you, that is what you want to claim to avoid addressing my points.

        Respect is earned. Can you do that? Show me where I am confused with secondary and primary causes. Tell me where I’m wrong, rather than claiming that somewhere you’ve written about it. Show me where you’ve written about it. Cut and paste what you’e written here.

        If you cannot, well, then…..

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      7. ah, hit send too quickly. The term “new atheist” has been around for 14 years. I’ve read the supposed “new atheists” when they published their books. Dawkins wrote his first one on this subject in 1986. Hitchens 2007. Harris 2004. Loftus 2010. Dennett 1995.

        You have to make false claims again. I know both “new” and other atheists and I know that there is no difference. From appearances, it seems that you have not read any of them at all. Have you?

        Since you can’t demonstrate your claims to be true, it’s rather sweet that you accuse me of demonstrating “deficient knowledge”.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmoved_mover

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