Identifying The Cause: Omniscience

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Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

4. Omniscience

Omniscience is another controversial attribute.  On the one hand, it seems pretty straightforward; if God is all-powerful He must know everything, right?  Of course right!  And that is where I start with our not yet identified cause of the universe.  Since we know that it is omnipotent, it stands to reason that it has access to all truth at all times.

The difficulty with omniscience is with knowledge of the future, or foreknowledge.  In Christian doctrine, God knows the future.  Some charge that since God knows all future actions we may “choose”, there is in fact no choice because we can only possibly choose what God already knows will happen.  If only one course of action is even possible, how can humans have any free will?  It seems that if God knows the future, human freewill is impossible; but only an illusion of freewill is the case.  This objection to Christianity tends to have the end of disproving the Christian God, or at least the religion which holds to the apparently contradictory doctrines of human freewill & God’s foreknowledge.

Since we have already established the existence of an intelligent, omnipotent creator, rejecting its existence is not on the table.  Since we know that this creator transcends the universe it created, we know that time is not a limitation for it; therefore in light of its omnipotence, it must have knowledge of all truth; past, present, & future.  Perhaps there truly is no such thing as human freewill then?  Let’s take a closer look.

Suppose I was walking along a path & came to a fork.  Which side will I choose?  I don’t know; I haven’t decided yet, but an omniscient transcendent being would know because it would be able to observe the choice from a perspective outside of time.  Suppose the omniscient being knows that I will choose left.  In that case when I decide, I will certainly choose left.  Now, does it follow that I will choose left because the omniscient being knows I will choose left?

Well, on the one hand, we could say that because the omniscient being knows it, we can know that I will choose left; but this only describes how we come to know that, not how I make the decision.  There is a causal link between the omniscient being knowing what I will choose (and revealing it to us in this example), and our knowing what the result will be, but it is not clear at all how this knowledge causes me to choose one way or another.

Ok, but doesn’t the fact that the omniscient being knows what I will choose prove that the future is determined already?  If the omniscient being knows it, then there is only one possibility; I may think I have a free choice, but there is no possibility that I will choose the one the omniscient being knows that I won’t.  But then, there never was any possibility that I would choose what I wouldn’t choose, so why should this be a problem?

Is your head hurting yet?  If so, you might want to leave it there.  If you’re following, this is where it gets exciting.

So the major problem, as I see it, with the idea that an omniscient being knowing the future means that the future is determined, is that it forces temporal limitations on a being we know created time & exists outside its limitations.  If we view this being as a creature of the universe, stuck in the present along with all of us, then it’s knowledge of the future can only mean one thing: at the present moment, it is true that the future is written & is immutable (ie. the future is determined).  If the omniscient being existed in this way, stuck in the present moment, it would not have to know the future to be omniscient.  If the future is unwritten, it hasn’t happened yet & there is nothing to know.  But we would expect a being outside the spatial-temporal universe to be able to relate to the universe by any possible reference point in time or space.  To such a being, it would be as if the entire history of the universe is complete & yet mutable.  Changes might be made at one point in history which would affect everything afterward, yet the free-willed creatures would merely go about their free-willed lives as if it was always that way.

And of course it would have always been whatever way the omniscient (& omnipotent) being decided it should be.  It is important to not sneak temporality back in & see it as a sort of editing process, with a prior original history & then a succession of revisions.  If you could imagine all the revisions (we might call them, “acts of God”) being a part of the original creation, I think this would be a better picture.  You could think of the “end result” (though remember it would be more like an instantaneous act than a editing process) as something like the selection of one possible world out of many possibilities involving an infinite number of different combinations of potential revisions (or acts of God).

So in short; the future knowledge of an omnipotent being does not cause the necessary lack of free-will.  Rather, the omnipotent being knows what choices will necessarily be made, because it sees that they are in fact made.  The knowledge is a result of the choice, which is known from outside of the temporal system in which it is made.

Identifying The Cause: Omnipotence

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omnipotence paradox

Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

3. Omnipotence

Omnipotence is perhaps the most misunderstood characteristic attributed to God.  Before I can make the case for the omnipotence of the cause of the universe, we must understand what it is.

The most common definition I hear is that omnipotence means the ability to do anything.  What is ambiguous about this definition is the definition of “anything”.  Does it mean the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols?  Can an omnipotent being do agajkohgiohjgiaohgih?  There are two possible responses to this question.  The first is, certainly, whatever that means; an omnipotent being can do anything.  The second is, “what exactly are we talking about?”  If the question doesn’t even make sense, does it matter if there is an answer to it?  Does this even qualify as “anything”?

No, it doesn’t.  If you don’t ask a meaningful question, how can you receive a meaningful answer?  An answer is only meaningful in the context of the question.  “Yes” and “no” are not the least bit helpful when nobody knows what we are talking about.

A common method of attempting to disprove Theism is to ask a question about God’s omnipotence in order to show that this critical characteristic is logically absurd; and therefore God does not exist.  The classic example pits God’s power against himself, by asking, “can God create a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it?”  On the surface the question seems to make sense.  We can understand that a being with incredible power could create matter such as rocks, & we understand that rocks require some degree of power to move, and a larger degree of power for larger rocks.

Ok, now what exactly are we proposing God create?  Let’s clearly define an object too heavy for God to move, and then we can evaluate whether He would be capable of moving it.  But for a being who created matter in the first place, there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable limit to the amount of matter which can be moved.  The result is not a limit of God’s power to create; but a lack of a meaningful question.  Why not ask, “can God create a rock so purple that He can’t lift it?”  The weight of the rock is as irrelevant as its colour.

So this idea of omnipotence meaning the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols is clearly absurd.  It seems to me there are two groups of people unwilling to give up this definition.  The first are those who insist that God must have this characteristic in order to disprove His existence by showing that the characteristic is irrational & no being could possibly possess it.  The second are Theists who appeal to this characteristic as an excuse for anything intellectually troubling.  It’s an intellectual get-out-of-jail-free card.  If it seems like your religion might not be rational; that’s ok because God transcends reason.  If you want some entertainment, try to get one of each of these types together to debate the existence of God.

So what is omnipotence?  Omnipotent is Latin; the combination of “omni” (all) & “potent” (powerful).  It literally means possessing all power.  Therefore an omnipotent being can do anything that power can do.  It can’t increase the pressure of water to the point that unicorns pop out of it.  It can’t create a round square.

Finally, how do we know that the cause of the universe is omnipotent?  Simply because it created the entire universe in the first place.  If something can create matter & time, from nothing besides its own power, including the various cosmological constants which make up the laws of nature, then it can do so again on any scale.  It can make any change to any part of the universe, create any new object; in short, that being must be all-powerful over the universe, or omnipotent.

Identifying The Cause: Personality

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Personality

Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

2.2 Personality

Continuing in the task of identifying the cause of the universe & morality, today we will look at personality.

Everything that exists is either contingent or necessary.  Because these are opposites, this statement is a necessary truth, like saying, “everything that exists is either a narwhale or not a narwhale” or “there’s 10 kinds of people, those who understand binary & those who don’t”.  A contingent thing can exist or not exist; like a delicious bass, the whole universe, or Justin Bieber.  A necessary thing, as the name implies, cannot possibly fail to exist, like abstract realities such as numbers or the laws of logic.

Now, we’ve already established that the cause is immaterial & eternal.  If it is eternal, then it is a necessary being; because 1) it was not caused to exist by anything else & 2) it does not change (then it would be temporal), so it cannot cease to exist at any time.

But what is that cause like?  Is it personal or non-personal?  For example, if the effect was the warming of a room we might ask, was the cause a natural process, like the rising of the sun, or was it an intelligent agent, like a person turning a furnace on?  If the cause was natural, then any time the cause exists, the effect must exist.  If the sun rises, the temperature rises.  If the cause is a person, then the person can exist without causing the effect until he so chooses.

Ok, why is this important?  If the cause of the universe was a naturally determined process, then the effect must exist eternally along with the cause.  But we already know the effect (the universe) is not eternal.  Therefore, whatever caused the universe to exist is a personal being; that is, an intelligent being who chose to create the universe.

Identifying “The Cause”: Immaterial & Eternal

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Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

Up to this point I have argued for the existence of some being, which is both the cause of the universe coming into existence & the source of transcendent moral law.  But who or what is this being?  As many point out, just because something caused the universe or moral obligations to exist doesn’t mean that something is the God of the Bible.  This stage in my argument will identify certain characteristics of this being, which will help us narrow down who or what it may be.  I’m going to break this task up into the various characteristics that we can deduce about the cause of the universe on our own (without needing a special revelation from God, for instance).

2.1. Immaterial & Eternal

We already know that this being caused the universe to begin to exist.  Therefore we know also that it cannot be a part of the same universe it caused.  But could it be a part of some other kind of universe which is like this one – that is, a physical world where events occur in time?  For the same reasons that we know that this physical universe must have a cause, any similar physical universe would have the same requirement.  We would then be inquiring into the nature of that cause, rather than the cause of our own universe; but for simplicity’s sake, let us assume there is no middle man.

Therefore, the cause of the universe is not a material or temporal being.  That is, it is not composed of physical parts, nor does it have spatial relationships with anything else, and therefore it does not experience changes in those spatial relationships (what we call time).  This idea of non-temporality is often described by the word “eternal”.  This is sometimes confusing because what many people think of the word “eternal” is something infinite.  We went over this earlier, but this view of an infinite past is logically absurd (not that it is ridiculous, but that the concept doesn’t hold water).  It sounds like it makes sense at first, but when you really press it the idea is incomprehensible, like a round square.  For this reason, it seems appropriate to me to use “eternal” for what I have been describing, and use “infinite” for both the incoherent idea of infinite past time as well as for the (coherent) concept of a never ending future time.

This kind of existence is also called “spirit”; not because of any characteristic that we understand about it, but because of the understanding that it lacks any physical characteristic.  What that leaves us with exactly is something of a mystery.  But don’t misunderstand that we are unsure that this is true about the cause of the universe; we can be very certain of this fact, of which we have little understanding.

The Moral Law Giver

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Morality
It’s still Monday, so no apologies.  But here’s an extra long post to make up for the long wait (I’m just going to pretend someone was waiting).

Part 1 – The Existence of God

    1.4 Further Evidence: Morality Argument

So far I’ve focused on the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (that’s what it’s called by the way – I think I forgot to mention that).  First I showed that the universe has a cause, and then I addressed various objections that tend to come up.  Before I move on to the identity of this “Cause”, I want to offer a few additional pieces of evidence that will help us identify what this being is like.

I am primarily indebted to C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” for my understanding of this argument.  In fact, I am indebted to “Mere Christianity” for introducing me to the writing of C.S. Lewis.  If you have not read it yet, or if somehow you don’t even know who C.S. Lewis is (we are a peaceful race, please don’t destroy our planet); then you should stop reading this, go get the book & read it immediately.  Seriously, why are you still reading?  For the rest of you, since you’ve already read C.S. Lewis, probably the rest of what I write is of no consequence.  But just for fun, I’ll continue.

Ok, so the morality argument begins with an assumption.  The assumption is that the idea of objective right & wrong is a reflection of reality, rather than merely subjective feelings.  So when we say, “it’s wrong to rape & torture children”, we mean that this is objectively true; independent of what anyone thinks about it.

At this point I should explain “objective”, because this is often a point of misunderstanding.  In fact, until recently I misunderstood this term.  “Objective” is generally defined as “mind-independent”.  So we say that the statement “grass is green” is objectively true; because it describes something that is true regardless of whether there was any mind to perceive its truth.  It is simply the way reality is: grass is green & rape is wrong.  Now, critics often point out that according to Theistic morality, right & wrong is defined by God; who is a mind.  So if rape is wrong because God declares it so, how can we say it is objective?  Wouldn’t it be subjective?

Until recently, I actually thought this critique made a good point.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that subjective with respect to the eternal, transcendent (beyond the universe), all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe is practically the same as objective, as far as we’re concerned; so I was willing to grant the point.  I still think there is no significant difference as far as we’re concerned, so this is not an important point for me; however, I’ve come to understand it differently.

Objective truth is true regardless of the subject that knows it; grass is still green if it grows on a deserted island, and rape is wrong even when no people are present (it’s also impossible in that situation).  But this has nothing to do with the cause of that reality.  For example, say I discovered orange grass & in order to appease my offended senses, I painted the orange grass green.  I (a mind), would be the cause of that grass being green; yet it would still be the objective truth that it is in fact green.  My causing it to be that way does not make it a subjective “truth” (pardon the oxymoron).  In the same way, moral truth may be established by God; yet it remains objectively true.

Now where were we?  Right, so moral truth is an objective reality.  But what are the implications of this?  What is moral truth?  Well, morality is in the form of obligations on humanity.  Do not rape; do not murder; do not steal; do not tailgate in rush-hour traffic.  Where do these obligations come from?  We might be tempted to think that societies create these laws for the good of their people.  Well, societies certainly enforce these laws, but do they define right & wrong?  If that were the case, we could never consider other societies’ views on morality to be “backwards”, or “barbaric”, or “wrong”.  Things like the holocaust could be “right for them but not for us”.

But most of us simply cannot live this way.  Whether we like it or not, we do make the assumption that morality is objective & universal.  It applies equally to all humanity & is above us all.  There is no committee or power of mankind that can change moral truth.  And since it is beyond our control; & we can see that there cannot conceivably be anything within the universe that determines moral truth; we must accept that moral law comes from beyond the universe.  It does not arise from within the universe; yet there it is.  This leads to one inescapable conclusion; there is something beyond the universe – namely, morality.

But let’s examine this closer.  If morality is a set of obligations or commands about what we can & cannot do; where does it come from?  If it exists on its own as a sort of objective natural truth; then it is arbitrary & meaningless.  Suppose it is objectively true that peanut butter & bananas must not touch.  Well guess what?  Nothing is going to stop me from spreading peanut butter on bread & slicing bananas on top in order to make what may be the greatest possible sandwich.  Maybe it’s morally permitted, or maybe not; but who cares?  It makes no difference.

But this is not the moral law we have.  Moral law requires a moral law-giver in order to be meaningful.  If you found a rock in a field with the words “don’t run in the field” written on it, what would you make of it?  It could be a joke; or a long forgotten & unnecessary rule, created for some purpose that no longer exists.  Or it could be a warning of some danger.  What origin would give the command authority?  If it was a joke, or some miracle of nature, it would have no authority whatsoever.  If the original purpose no longer existed then it again would have no authority.  But what if it was warning of a real danger that was still in effect?  What if running in the field kicks up dust, which attracts dangerous animals?  In that case; if there is a possibility that this danger is still in effect; this law would carry authority.  Only if the law is created purposely with a consequence of violating that law can it have any meaning.

So, we have a transcendent moral law that we understand to be objectively true & universally applicable to humanity.  We know that an arbitrary moral law is no moral law at all; therefore there must be a moral law giver.  And finally, there must be consequences for breaking this moral law, or it would be nothing more than a transcendent & objective moral suggestion.  All of this is based on the assumption that there is real morality.  That the things we feel passionately are right or wrong; are in fact truly right or wrong.  There is real evil in the world; there are universal moral obligations.

If you can give all of this up; you can avoid the belief that there is a moral law-giver who exists beyond the universe & is the source of & enforcer of objective morality.  In that case, you must disavow moral outrage of any kind no matter the circumstances; except as you might pretend in order to influence others.  If you know who Ted Bundy is, you may be aware that this was his moral philosophy.  He defended his view quite well, in my opinion; and his life was consistent with that philosophy.  This argument should be compelling to most people; but for those like Bundy, it’s probably better to stay away.

Avoiding God: Alternate Models Of The Universe

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Avoiding God - Jonah

Part 1 – The Existence of God

    1.3 Further Objections: Alternate Models?

In Part 1.1, I argued that the universe has a cause.
In Part 1.2, I dealt with the objection “who created the creator?”

So far I’ve argued that the universe has a cause; and we all know where this is going.  But before we get there, let’s entertain some proposed models that attempt to sidestep that conclusion.  The main distinction that an Atheistic alternative for the identity of the ‘Cause’ has is that it must be a natural & impersonal being, rather than an intelligent & personal being.  Remember that “being” simply refers to anything that has “being”, or in other words, “some thing”.

Oscillating Universe Theory

The Oscillating Universe Theory states that the universe as we know it is continually expanding and contracting, that it has been doing so from eternity. The idea is that the rate of expansion eventually slows down and the universe collapses in on itself, after which it explodes once more and expands again.  This model is proposed to avoid the conclusion that the universe had a cause, by avoiding the beginning of the universe.

Problem 1: Closed System
Given the idea that the universe is all there is, the universe is a closed system.  If we are to consider the oscillations to occur within one unbroken temporal-spatial system (ie within one continuous timeline), it would contradict the known laws of physics. The second law of thermodynamics states that any closed system will tend towards equilibrium (where energy balances until it reaches a state where nothing changes any longer). Therefore, if we were to propose an infinite past, equilibrium would already be reached.  But, since it hasn’t been reached, the Oscillating Universe Theory cannot be accurate if applied as an unbroken chain of expanding and contracting within a single closed system.

Problem 2: Infinite Past
Secondly, this fails to avoid the conclusion that the universe had a beginning, because it requires an infinite past; an infinite quantity of physical events must have occurred already, which is simply a physical impossibility.

Problem 3: Runaway Expansion
The final nail in the Oscillating model’s coffin is that there is no evidence that the rate of expansion of our universe will ever slow down enough to reverse. Actually, I believe the evidence is in favour of the opposite happening; that the universe will continue expanding forever.

Oscillating Universe Within A Super Universe

It seems we are forced, if we want to hold the Oscillating Universe Theory, to scrap the idea that it is self-contained, since that simply doesn’t work, and propose that the oscillating universe exists within some larger system – a super-universe, which keeps it going. This system must either be physical or non-physical in nature.

Physical Universe – Back Where We Started
First; assuming a physical super-universe, can we save the theory? Well, being a physical universe, this super-universe would suffer from many of the same problems. Most importantly, being a physical universe means it would be subject to the same limitations deriving from this fact in our own universe. We can show that it must have a beginning due to the impossibility of an infinite past in time; and therefore it has a cause.  We are back where we started, which makes this model useless.

Non-Physical Universe – Back Where We Started
Next; assuming a non-physical super-universe, can we save the theory? Well, this means that there exists some non-physical being that causes our universe to continually expand and contract. However, a non-physical being is the very thing the Oscillating model was supposed to avoid.  Once again, we are back where we started, and this model is thoroughly useless.

Multiverse Theory

The Multiverse Theory suggests that within some kind of super-universe, an infinite number of universes like ours are created naturally (through some kind of natural universe generator). This could take two forms. The first is that they all exist within the same infinite space of the super-universe. The second is that each is created parallel, with their own infinite space with which to expand.

Multiverse In The Same Space
This would naturally be very troublesome, as an infinite number of universes which all expand would eventually collide with each other. Supposing an infinite past for the Multiverse (and if we don’t it is pointless because it admits a creator immediately), the multiple universes would have to have collided by now. Of course, this is simply a stage in the eventual state of equilibrium that we would expect the multiverse to reach after infinity. Since we neither observe other universes colliding with ours, nor has equilibrium been reached, this version of a Multiverse must not be true.

Multiverse Creates Parallel Universes
The alternate Multiverse model I think is more desirable because it doesn’t have the problems from all universes existing in the same space. However, it is not free from contradictions. Supposing that the Multiverse creates an infinite number of universes each separate from each other, it might seem reasonable that one should turn out exactly as ours has. However, we still have the problems that come with proposing an infinite past (which is a problem for both versions of the Multiverse Theory). The same criticism to show why our universe cannot logically have an infinite past turns out to be the reason why a Multiverse cannot logically have an infinite past. This takes away the only reason the Multiverse was a desirable theory.

It seems we keep coming back to a non-physical (or supernatural / transcendent) cause of the universe.

Who Created God?

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Who Created God

Part 1 – The Existence of God

    1.2 Objection: Who Created God?

In Part 1.1, I argued that the universe has a cause.  Here I will address the most common objection to the argument I made.

The Challenge

I have personally used this argument on numerous occasions, I’ve seen it used by experts, and I’ve read Atheist’s presenting & challenging this argument.  I cannot recall a time in all of these cases, whether on an amateur level or at the highest level, where the following attempted rebuttal was not raised: “then who created God?”  This may have been what you were thinking when I originally gave the argument.

Notice firstly, that this challenge makes no attempt to deny either of the premises or the logical progression of the argument; so at the very best this challenge would leave both parties in trouble.  But this in no way gets the skeptic off the hook of admitting the conclusion that there is a cause of the universe.

On closer look however, it is difficult to see what the precise objection actually is.  The objection can be stated variously, “if God created the universe, who created God?” or, “if everything needs a cause, then what is God’s cause?” or, “if God created everything, who created God?”  Let’s place this objection in the context of the argument:

The Challenge

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
4. Therefore, God has a cause.

Unfortunately, there is no logical reasoning given; the objection is merely an assumed conclusion.  In cases where a fuller argument is given, it turns out to be based on a different argument than the one that was presented; for example:

1. Everything needs a cause
2. Therefore the universe needs a cause
3. Therefore God needs a cause
4. Aha!

Or

1. God created everything
2. God is something
3. Therefore, God created Himself
4. Whaaaaaat?

Obviously, a Theist is not going to accept the first premise in either case.  In the first case we don’t accept it because we believe in an uncaused God.  The skeptic is well aware of this, otherwise there would be no “aha!” moment.  In the second case, a Theist might make the claim in premise 1 meaning that God created the universe; in that case he is guilty only of being imprecise.

In both cases, the challenge fails to deal with the original argument; and instead replaces it with a similar, easily defeated argument.

I don’t know why this objection is so universally raised, but it seems to me that the problem is a failure to address the actual argument given.  The challenge is raised against a similar sounding argument; but it is a flawed version of the argument, which is easily defeated.  This is called a straw-man argument.