Saturday, May 14, 2011

That God proposition again

When people say God is the creator of the universe, they'd be well served to stop there, because that's ***ALMOST*** a defensible argument. There could be something greater than this universe, from which this universe springs - but making claims about its characteristics can't be done without some evidence and/or logic.

God as Creator

God in the creator sense could be whatever the universe arises from. Okay - so far. We as a species can observe out to a radius of about 13.7 billion light-years. We see that the visible universe is expanding, so if we mentally reverse the process, we can "retrodict" that all matter and energy emerged from a small area ... maybe a single point. We cannot know this for certain, but the overwhelming evidence points in this direction. As scientists explore the high-energy regime that pervades the universe early on, there are periods in the past beyond which we currently Just. Don't. Know. About. Observation and math don't tell us unequivocally what "is" at these early times. Although I'm not an expert, it appears that up to the quark epoch, the universe can only be described in speculative terms, and thereafter (10 ^-12 seconds after the Big Bang) the picture becomes clearer.

What does that tell us? Our takeaway is that prior to this time of high energy and high density is "the beginning of the universe" ... but that's still speculative. It's in this period, up to 10 ^-12 seconds after the emergence of the universe from a extremely small area, that the conception of God (as a creator - and only as a creator) is where you can argue. It is still not logical that an entity outside our universe is responsible for the existence of our universe, but it's not as preposterous as other claims that ignore all of the normal atomic and molecular behavior that we see everywhere.

God with characteristics

Claiming that God has characteristics other than "it is that from which the universe arose" is where conceptions of God start to unravel.

The web page "What do the scriptures say" describes God thus:
  • God Is Spirit.
  • God Is Changeless.
  • God Is All Powerful.
  • God Is All Knowing.
  • God Is Everywhere.
  • God Is Eternal.
  • God Is Holy.
  • God Is Righteous.
  • God Is Love.
  • God Is Wisdom.

There may be other conceptions of God in the Abrahamic tradition, but this is good for now.

Let's look more closely.

God is Spirit

The claim that God is Spirit is, in this conception, to say that God has no physical or measurable form, is invisible, has no body. This is not instructive. First, the lack of form makes observation impossible, thus preventing its verification. Second, vague negatives like "God has no body" state only what God doesn't have, while simultaneously placing the idea of "body" (usually a human body) into the audience's mind. This is slick. We are told what God is not, we are not told what God is, and we are given the mental picture (which we may or may not accept) of God as a body (as in the incarnation of Jesus or more generally the giant white bearded guy in the sky). So that's pointless. God doesn't have an "is" here, just an "is not". There are infinitely more things that it is not, than what it is. This is not helpful in understanding the essence of God.

God is Changeless, Eternal, Everywhere

The claims that God is Changeless, All Powerful, All Knowing, Everywhere and Eternal are familiar themes to most everyone that's gone to a Protestant church, although my experience in this matter is decades stale. The Changeless, Everywhere and Eternal characteristics are fairly uncontroversial, as they could apply to physical concepts throughout the universe ... space, time, matter, energy, physical constants - but they have limits. Our experience so far tells us that these characteristics of God and characteristics of natural things in the universe may overlap - but it's not established that anything we observe is in fact Changeless, Everywhere and Eternal when considered in the extreme (quadrillions of years, quadrillions of light years ... googolplexes ...).

Can something be Changeless? Things might be changeless over millennia, even eons, but not eternity. In our current conceptions, time and space change. We might think differently if we someday discover greater structures or precedent structures that gave rise to this universe.

Can something be Eternal? I have no idea. Given the idea that space and time may not be verifiable at timescales near to the big bang, we cannot say now, nor can I personally ever say! I leave open the possibility that observation indicates otherwise in the future.

Can something be Everywhere? Again, this is not verifiable now, we do not know that space and time are everywhere in the greatest (pan-universal) sense. We similarly do not observe any single entities that span the observable universe.

The three preceding paragraphs tell you that I don't believe that anything can be Changeless, Eternal and Everywhere, but that's just me. It's logically possible that some things are - we just don't know about them.

God is All-Powerful and All-Knowing

Here we run into more problems.

What is "All Powerful"? The "What do the scriptures say" web page applies concepts to God that we can't know about something that does not definitely exist. Power is an obvious problem, because having the characteristic of power means either 1) it is power that is exercised in the universe and available for observation; or 2) power that an entity possesses, but is not used, thus is not evident in any way. Since power in this latter conception is not verifiable, the first alternative is assumed. Since no evidence that a godlike power has ever been exercised, then we add a third alternative - God doesn't exist.

What is "All Knowing"? The "What do the scriptures say" web page says that because God is everywhere simultaneously that he knows everything simultaneously. Now, clearly this claim has no premise that supports it. But if it did, "knowing" everything only has meaning in the context of using the knowledge to perform some act (retribution, reward, building a better mousetrap). The prior claim of "all powerful" doesn't appear to be evident, making this one irrelevant.

God is Holy, Righteous, Love and Wisdom

The final claims that God is Holy, Righteous, Love and Wisdom are really a problem for skeptics, rationalists and empiricists. These characteristics are ones that we attribute to people based on our perceptions. Gandhi might have seemed "excellent" and separate as in the "What do the scriptures say" web page's definition, so holy may apply ... similarly Righteous. Your Mom may have the attribute of Love, while your Dad may possess the characteristic of Wisdom. Ascribing these to God is to assume that God has human characteristics, or that we can project characteristics that we can conceive of onto to it (God). Because we have no way of determining that such a thing as God exists, the projection of these qualities is even more implausible ... it requires existence and the ability to possess these qualities. It is not a claim that can be made believably.


What are we left with? Well ... the "God of the gaps" I guess. So God being somehow an actor in pre-quark epoch cosmology is still arguable - if you have the energy.

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