The Mind of God

Ok, so from the point of view of modern cosmology, we can postulate a beginning without the need for a creator [in a nutshell, although our best theory of gravity cannot give a successful description of the universe when it was of atomic dimensions, quantum physics predicts that the universe could in principle have arisen out of nothing, see posts below].

It is interesting to turn the problem around, and look at it from the point of religion. The most famous arguments concerning the origin of the universe were first put by St Thomas of Aquinas

His main arguments were basically

1. Everything observable has a cause outside itself, therefore the universe must have a cause outside itself – by a process of regression this can only be God.

2. The natural world is much too complicated not to have been designed by deity.

it is often pointed out that the problem with the first argument is that it is not entirely self-consistent – it assumes God does not have a cause. Also, it is not clear that God should be omnipotent etc

The second argument seems to me to be a perfectly valid and powerful argument for a 10th century philosopher. It is not so valid for modern philosophers. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution provides a powerful explanation of how complex organisms arise from simple origins – certainly not by chance, but by a process of natural selection (the theory is of course backed up by extensive fossil evidence). In modern cosmology, a similar argument applies – much of the apparent fine-tuning is not independent, but deeply inter-related (see below).

The complexity argument for the existence of God has become very popular recently, especially in the US – this is the famous Intelligent Design (ID) argument (see the Answers in Genesis website) . it seems to me that the argument has progressed v little beyond the Aquinas argument: except that St Thomas did not know what we know now, whether it is evidence from the fossil record of mammals, or evidence from the sub-atomic world of particle physics.

This raises a tricky point for religion. Since the time of Galileo, the Church has learnt that religion should provide an explanation for our existence that does not contradict known facts – otherwise it becomes enforced dogma, not personal faith (blind faith rather than faith). As science progresses, this task does not become easier, but more difficult…Richard Dawkins has a good discussion on this in chapter 4 of his recent book ‘The God Delusion’


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7 responses to “The Mind of God

  1. check out terrance mac kenna. food for the gods. great insite to cosmicnatur evolution.

  2. cormac

    Thanks for that Kalysty – I never heard of the guy, but I just googled him and he certainly looks interesting!
    Not your average dull scientists, that’s for sure…

  3. Aleksandar Mikovic

    The experimental fact that the Universe has a beggining is not that surprising when one has a basic knowledge of General Relativity, but the question whether the Universe was or was not created has always fascinated me, especially because one of my passtimes is philosophy while professionaly I work as a theoretical/mathematical physicist.

    As a young man I was convinced that the Universe was created from “nothing” as a quantum fluctuation, and that only the spacetime and elementary particles with their interactions existed, while everything else was a product of the particle interactions goverened by the simple laws of a unified theory. After twenty years of work on string and quantum gravity theories, a feeling has developed that a short list of equations cannot explain everything, which was further reinforced after reading Penrose´s book “The Emperor’s New Mind” and getting aware of Goedel’s theorems in logic.

    The Goedel´s theorems simply state that a finite logical sistem has a finite demonstrational power, i.e. there will be statements which can not be proven, and can be taken that are true. Furthermore, if one beleives in Platonism, i.e. that the mathematical (and oder) ideas have an independet existence outside of spacetime, then the idea that the Universe and intelligent life was created from “nothing” is impossible.

    This argument depends on the acceptance of Platonism, but not accepting Platonism creates problems for the simplistic
    matrialistic philosophy. Namely, if one rejects Platonism, the he must reject the natural laws, because of the following. If one accepts that the natural laws are different entities from the spacetime and the matter, then due to the Goedel theorem, there can not be a finite number of laws which completely explain the universe, and one must introduce an infinite number of them. This means that in addition to spacetime and matter one has an infinite number of other entities, which are not material, and hence one is back at Platonism.

    On the other hand, if one denies the independent existence of the natural laws, and says that they are just random regularities which appear in the motion of elementary particles, then one accepts the view that everything is random, which means that one can explain everything by simply saying that any phenomenon is a random fluctuation.
    This doctrine is a logical possibility, but it is on the same footing as solipsism, which everybody rejects.

  4. cormac

    Hi Aleksander, thanks for your comment!
    I need to think it over before I attempt any sort of reply.I’m sitting in a noisy internet cafe, so I’m going to print it out and read it somewhere quiet over coffee.
    It’s a very interesting area, isn’t it? related to the old question of mathematics – did numbers always exist independently or did they come into being? Cormac

    P.S.I recognize the name, where do I know it from?

  5. Aleksandar Mikovic

    Dear Cormack,
    We have attended the O’Raifertaigh symposium in Budapest in 2006, and that’s the reason why my name sounds familiar to you. As far as my argument for Platonism is concerned, it may appear complicated, but it is straightforward. The bottom line is whether one beleives that our world with its wonedrfull complexity (i.e. inteligent life) is a result of a pure chance or there is something behind this. I beleive in the latter possibility, since you can not get something out of nothing.

  6. cormac

    Hey Aleksander, I knew it was a positive connection, it’s always great to hear from Lochlainn’s colleagues and students!

    I really enjoyed that symposium, it meant quite a lot to Conor and I. Also, I think it is exactly the right way to remember Lochlainn. He had absolutely no interest in fame or fortune, but was intensely interested in the work of his peers.I can’t tell you how often he turned down the opportunity to chair a large international conference in order to attend a small gathering of group theorists.

    Sometimes I think Lochlainn overdid this slightly – in his own country he is virtually unknown, and routinely overlooked in books on Irish scientists. More seriously, the Institute remains seriously under threat, and Ireland remains a non-member of CERN…ah well

    Re Platonism, apologies for not getting back sooner. I went straight from a weekend away to a full-on conference, this is my first time back at the office…will think on it some more…Cormac

  7. Julius Erving

    special theme?