Audhumla and Quantum Fields

I’ve just purchased the book A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival from Amazon.  I’ve done a bit of reading on the book and found, to my disappointment, that Dr. Krauss does not in fact explain why we have a universe.  In fact, Dr. Krauss apparently makes some common mistakes of logic that are, I think, very ancient.  I will reserve my judgement on the book until I get it and get to read what a physicist thinks about theology.

However, this short piece is on what a student of theology thinks about physics, an equally bracing and invigorating endeavor, I hope.  In a review of Dr. Krauss’ book, I found an interesting statement that reinforced something I had known for a while:  modern science does not attempt to explain where the laws of physics or quantum fields come from (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/04/23/science-will-never-explain-why-theres-something-rather-than-nothing/).  They are givens, already on the field before the game starts.  So when a professor of physics states in his blog (http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/why_is_there_something_rather_than_nothing)  that we can model “nothing” at the beginning of time, he slips in that we also need to imagine first a “monochromatic electromagnetic field.”  Now, Dr. Stenger, whose blog I’m referencing, does not tell us where this field came from.  Nor does he explain how the field, being something, is also nothing.

Anyone familiar with the ancient world will see what is happening here.  Such attempts are nothing more than the old model of pagan “creation” stories.  We begin with Gaia, or Uranos, or Ginnungagap, or the deep.  From these things, other things arise. The world cow, Audhumla, licks the ice and a head appears.  The world gives birth to the sky, or vice versa, and then all things come from their union.  The hero rises from the depths of the primordial ocean.

Or, in the modern world…a monochromatic electromagnetic field gives rise to particles because it is unstable.

They are the same answer to the same question.  They answer it in the same way, and they fail at answering it in the same way.  For the Norseman, Ginnungagap simply was, and then there was the cow, and the first giant.  For the modern physicist who tries to explain these things, there are fields.  And while the modern physicist has bigger words (though Ginnungagap is pretty big and much more fun to say than monochromatic), he doesn’t have more precise tools to answer the real question.  Where did Ginunngagap come from?

For, no matter how we torture the words, we cannot explain quantum fields by means of quantum fields, just as the heavens are not an explanation for themselves in the Greek myths.  Quantum fields are not self existent.  For quantum fields are in relationship to each other in a context.  One field is not the other, nor is it the context in which all the fields exist.  For two things to have relationship to each other, they must exist within a shared context.  Anything that exists within a context is not self existent, for if it were, the principle of its own being would be itself.  If that is the case, that being can have no shared reality with anything else unless that reality is based on the self-existent object.  Quantum fields do not have the principle of their own existence within themselves.  We know this because they are in the universe.  The only thing that we know of that could fit the requirements of a self-existent thing, as far as our reality is concerned, is the universe itself.  And here I mean that vast empty space with no attributes, not the ever expanding conglomeration of space-time that we inhabit.

And here is where the problem of a self-existent universe comes in.  For if the vast empty space with no attributes is self existent, then how does it come to have things inside of it.  It is logically possible, as I said above, for a self existent thing to bring other things into being that have a shared context with each other, and with the self existent being.  However, if that being is simple, (and it must be, for if it is composite, where do its composite parts come from?) where does its creative power come from?  For to create is the function of a mind and power.  Thus, if the vast empty space is self-existent, then it must also be a mind and agency.  But then these two ideas are obviously contradictory.  For if the endless empty space is truly empty, then where is the mind and what is the tool of its power?  If we say one of the things in the universe, we have contradicted ourselves, for the question is where those things come from.

Christianity answers all of this and says that the self-existent being is simple, non-composite, and creates a separate reality from itself that exists as a dependent on that self-existent reality.  That being is mind, meaning that it thinks and has a will.  It chooses to create something other than itself.  It is omnipotent, and thus has the ability to create.

Now, all of this has been said before.  But what I would like to propose is that there is an element of this that is not often considered.  And here is where I will bring in my other area of some knowledge, computer programming.

When we create virtual worlds, such as video games, we create an interesting three layer reality.  There is the reality inside of the game world, where objects relate to each other by the rules of the world.  There is the reality that we exist in, where the game is represented by electrical impulses and silicon in our computers.  Then there is the layer which defines the world of the game, in other words, the computer code.  That code exists in one way in our reality, and in another way in the game’s reality.  In our reality I can write:

void CalculateVelocity(ref GameObject O)
{
if (O.Mass > MassLimit)
{
O.Speed -= 1;
}
else
{
O.Speed +=1;
}

}

In simple terms, this simply means that I can check the mass of an object in my game world, and make a choice.  If it is higher than a threshold that I set, then the speed of the object decreases.  If it is not, then it increases.

Now, there are two things to note here.  First, this is not a representation of how mass and speed work in our world.  I know that much science.  Second, this doesn’t matter at all, because that code is defining how mass and speed work in the virtual world that I’m creating.

What is fascinating is that in the game world, these rules work just like the laws of physics.  You can observe them working, and you can, through experimentation, deduce what they are.  But, search the whole game world and you will never find them.  Because they both exist and do not exist in the game world.  They are part of its makeup, but not in the same way that the objects in the world are.  They are not affected by the laws of the world; they are the laws of the world.  And the laws of a world, while observable, are hidden.

And this is a good hint to us that we live in a created universe.  For, just as we create very small virtual worlds, and observe that they function a certain way, we observe that our world works in the same pattern.  And since we know for certain that the virtual worlds are created worlds, it may be a safe bet to say that the universe, which displays this same strange quirk of having observable but hidden laws, is also a created thing.

It also shows why science can never answer the question of “why there is something rather than nothing.”  For while it might catalog everything in the universe, the laws of physics and quantum mechanics are not “in” the universe the same way that matter is.  They govern the universe.  But to govern it, they must be, in some way, outside of it, and therefore outside of the reach of science. They are, even if we do not think of them this way, supernatural to the universe.

And thus, without a real understanding of the doctrine of Transcendence, which the ancient pagans did not have (with the possible exception of Plato), the best we can do is Ginnungagap and the monochromatic electromagnetic field.  We find that materialism always leads to the same results, just with different formulations.  And, contrary to Dr. Strenger’s strange assertion, we do not fall back as a last resort to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  Instead, we begin with the revolutionary and startling statement:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

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24 thoughts on “Audhumla and Quantum Fields

  1. Religion often claims to have answers to questions that science doesn’t, this is because science doesn’t consider “making things up” to be a valid form of answering questions.

    • This actually a misunderstanding of theology and religion are doing. There are two elements to the theological work. The first is the claim of communication from beyond our nature, which is called Revelation. The second is the attempt, with this information, to answer the questions that we have. These are not the same questions that science is attempting to answer. We do not claim that revelation has told us how quantum fields work. Instead, we claim that revelation answers the very difficult question of why quantum fields exist at all.

      • Ah, the different realms argument. “Science and religion by their very nature deal with different realms”. One could even argue that all science does is to build models that can explain and predict the world we live in, and that it has no bearing on reality at all. The problem I have with the “science and religion don’t overlap” argument is that it is the religious who claim that a supernatural realm even exists. Asserting that science fundamentally cannot even consider cosmological questions may be valid but then claiming that these questions are answered by mystical revelations is pushing it. The myriad of mutually exclusive and contradicting revelations in the history of religion illustrates this principle quite clearly.

        Current Christian dogma and canon were not revealed but created and decided upon. How can we contemplate anything that is completely “outside” our concepts of space and time (see what I mean). Something that (paradoxically) created existence itself seems unintelligible to me. The idea of God(s) differs from person to person. The word God therefore has no meaning and adds nothing valuable to the deep questions we as a specie asks.

        ‘Does God exist?’ I have no need for that hypothesis – Pierre-Simon Laplace

  2. There are a number of excellent things here! Ok, let me see what I can say to them.

    1. The claim of the supernatural is absolutely a claim for an area that science cannot say anything about. In fact, Christianity agrees that humanity cannot say anything about it at all. The point of this post, in some ways, is to show that even the old “supernatural” beliefs of the pagans were in fact ultimately natural beliefs. Zeus, though powerful, is simply part of the cosmos the same way that grass is. Ultimately what the modern physicist and the ancient Norseman disagree about is what the agents of action are in the universe. Is it Thor? Or is it quantum fields?

    Christianity, Judaisim, Islam, and parts of Hinduism, argue that the reason we can even begin to speak of something that is beyond the universe, beyond the whole natural realm, is because we believe that that reality has “broken into” our reality and told us about itself.

    You may not believe that this has happened, but there is no scientific reason to think that it hasn’t happened, since it cannot be scientifically shown not to have happened.

    2. The question of different revelations and different interpretations of even the same revelations (for you could make a good argument that if the Christian revelation was in fact the “right” one, then why is it that the people who adhere to it have such different beliefs?) is simply answered by the fact that human beings are not perfect receptors of any kind of information at all. In fact, not even the vaunted practice of science can boast that every piece of data is looked at the same way by every person. The stronger claim, I think, would be to say that there seem to be very few peoples who claim a direct revelation from the supernatural, and this seems very odd. Of course the answer here is that we have no way of predicting what a being outside of our universe would do, unless it told us what it was doing.

    3. The idea that God “created existence” is only true as far as God creates what we know of as existence within our own natural construct. God is not “self-caused” as that would be a logical contradiction. God is “self existent” meaning that God’s being is identical with all other attributes of God, and is thus simple, uncomposite, unchangeable, and totally independent. We might make that argument for the universe, but it is obvious that the universe is not simple, not uncomposite, and not unchangeable. Thus the claim that the universe is eternal is not quite the same claim as the one made for God.

    4. The epistemological element of your argument, that the idea of God differs from person to person is true of every single object of thought. What I think of when I say “chair” is going to be different from what you think of. We might argue that the ideas are close enough to be useful. Of course, that is the work of theology, to help to establish useful terms for dialog so we are not talking at cross purposes. Thus when we say that God created the universe, all we need to agree on in the term “God” is that God is a powerful being who is outside of the created order. When we want to ask more questions, we need to get more specific. This is very much the work of Theology.

    5. Your claim that modern Christian dogma is created is not really true. Modern Christian dogma is derived and debated. It is derived from the premises of revelation in a logical manner. If x is true, then how can y also be true? Ah, yes, if we say z about reality, then both x and y can be shown to work together beautifully. While this may seem like “creating” dogma, or making it up, it is really just the same process that all human thought goes through when dealing with what it sees as truth. It is comparable to the process that physicists have been dealing with with the attempt to understand how we have two models that coexist in the universe. Now, where Christian dogma can be wrong is in the same way that any human thought can be wrong. Either one or more of its premises are incorrect, or it draws a consequent that does not in fact follow. The main difference between what Theologians do, and what physicists do, is that the tools by which physicists can test their theories are mathematical and physical. The tools theologians use are logic, established truths, and the human lives that either assent or dissent from the conclusions. This of course means that theologians often have less certainty than physicists. But it does not remove the validity of the work.

    (Of course this work is also more complicated than the above description, because there is debate on the meaning of the revealed messages. This brings in problems of interpretation. All of this means that there is very difficult work which produces fewer definite results than something like science.)

  3. I think my major grievance is with the idea that something has broken into our universe, and that this belief is at least as probable as disbelief. What you call revelation I would either call delusions, metaphor or in some cases outright fraud. “God has revealed to me that I should sacrifice my two children.” How would you convince this person that what they experience as revelation is in fact mental illness?

    Our (humanity’s) idea of God has changed so much through the ages. “Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it’s always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one. We haven’t come to any sort of consensus about which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. We haven’t even come up with a method of deciding which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world.”

    Religion arises when a philosophy is held captive by superstition. Debating theology does (in my opinion) not add to the progress of humanity in any form. Claiming a modern god that is immune to scientific inquiry does not make it a more sound claim than that of the pagans. One is just retreating to a more defensible position by lessening the anthropomorphic principles of said god. The “J” document of the Pentateuch has god physically visiting Abraham in the desert to tell him of his future. Similarly the writer(s) has god closing the door of Moses’s arc himself. These personal encounters are seen by later writers as improper.

    My point is that humans have endlessly debated the nature of the supernatural. Even if there does exist a supernatural (big if), there is no way of discerning fact from fiction. I would argue that popular modern religions will only survive if they adjust their views to comply with scientific observation. Otherwise they will be demoted to superstitions, as have happened to countless “primitive” belief systems. We will end up with at the most a deist position, and religious folk will claim that this has been the true concept of God all along.

  4. We now enter the realm of morality, which is a very sticky one, and not the point of this article. But I would argue that you have very much the same problem with extreme utilitarianism. Someone who says “These people are not useful to society” is just as convinced by his philosophy that people should die as the parent in your example. Religion does not create bad people, it, like many other philosophies, simply gives them justification for their actions. You might argue that the more reasonable and moderate atheist would never reach to the point of extreme utilitarianism. This is most likely true, but it is also demonstrably true that the vast majority of theists never reach the point you’re describing either. They do not, to return to your point, partially because of what G.K. Chesterton calls the “democracy of the dead” and what Jaroslav Pelikan calls “the living faith of the dead”: Tradition. Many voices all saying very similar things (with some admitted differences, sometimes very large differences) which help to normalize our own personal individual experiences.

    Now Christianity and Judaism and Islam, among others, at their center (and by this I mean the vast majority of people both living and dead), have the corrective of tradition working to offset the man or woman who wants to kill his or her child. Something like extreme utilitarianism does not. This does not, of course, mean that a mad person who finds justification for their mad ideas, will be convinced by the great tradition of the Rabbis or the Priests. But the average person is far more likely to be able to balance some errant idea against the traditions that have gone before.

    To say “religion arises when” is to say what you do not know. You, and many others, speculate on the origins of religion. Yet, this is a highly non-scientific and non-historical statement. We have nothing like this in history. In fact, what we do have, is philosophy growing up long after religion has been established. In fact, it is dogmatic positions like this one, that undermine the arguments of scientific philosophers. We know nothing about the original rise of religion. We do know about the rise of the theory of the origin of religion, and we know that it was proposed by people who have an ax to grind against religion. We are on far more solid ground to doubt the postulation of the theory than to believe it, since we are very familiar with its origins, and not familiar with the object of its claims.

    And with regard the probability of revelation vs. madness, can you show that to be true? What are your statistics for universes that have both had revelation and those which have not? Once more, the use of pseudo-scientific terms serves to undermine your points, not serve them. We have no information at all on what is more probable, delusion or revelation.

    I do wonder about the “death knell” of religion. It was sounded over two hundred years ago, and religion shows no signs of disappearing. In fact, your claims for the deistic response by religion are very similar to those made by scientists during the late eighteen hundreds. Yet, here we are, still arguing about it.

  5. My intention was not to discuss morality but to show that revelation should be treated with scepticism until it can be verified by other means. This however leaves us with the option of cutting revelation out of the process altogether. There will always be crazy people but religion teaches us to accept certain beliefs because of tradition and that these revelations should be held in higher esteem than what we have discovered through labourious investigation. The christian church has a long history of denying scientific facts.

    I wasn’t trying to argue that religion is inherently harmfull to society. Just that it is not necessary. It is not needed for our discussion of morality nor is it needed for our understanding of our universe. Where religion does become problematic is where certain ideas are considered holy and not to be questioned.

    I agree with you that religion and tradition go hand in hand. It has been clearly demonstrated that religion runs in families. Giving the dead more say in your life than you yourself have is absurd. It protects ideas from rational query and promotes closing yourself off to foreign ideas. Tradition is an apeal to authority, dead authority

    Regarding the origins of religion, I misquoted. “All that is needed for a religion to flourish is for a superstition to enslave a philosophy”. Let’s leave conjecture about the origins of religion for now. What we shurely can agree on is that Christianity (like most religions) change and “evolve” over time. What I was getting at was that the ones that were too resistant to change have become less popular and finally were discarded altogether. This holds for sects within religions as well. I’m not saying that religion will dissapear but that it will continue to change or face being marginalised.

    • “[U]ntil it can be verified by other means” which, I assume, means “scientific means.” This is perhaps one of the biggest complaints that we have about this kind of thought. It subjects all things to science, when not all things are in the realm of science, especially logic or revelation. The argument that says “all things that are worth knowing are under the realm of science, and since revelation cannot be scientifically verified, it is not worth knowing” or anything like it, is suspiciously like the Papal claim to authority and infallibility. it is also itself, not under the realm of science, as it exists as a philosophy.

      The argument that the Church has denied scientific facts has been true. There are segments (and relatively small segments, compared to the whole of Christianity…a fact that skeptics seem to forget) that currently deny the big bang, evolution, and an old universe/earth. But the vast majority of Christianity accepts these things. Scientists also seem to forget that the discoveries of science were a rather big shock to the world. They also seem to forget that other scientific notions have been equally big shocks, and that the scientific community, in their infinite wisdom, have also denied scientific discoveries because they do not fit with accepted models of the universe. Why is science, which takes its time to come around, somehow allowed this time for adaptation, but the Church is not?

      And surely you must see the end result of abandoning tradition, or jettisoning it as restrictive. Morality is a tradition. Language is a tradition. History is a tradition. In fact, sorry to say, the Scientific Method is a tradition. Now, the reason we keep traditions is that they are either useful or not. Religious tradition, you might argue, is not useful. But you don’t have the scientific models to back that up. What does a world look like when it does not have a religion? Well, we know what it looks like when it does not have a monotheistic religion that insists that people be good to one another. It looks far more barbaric than our existing barbaric world. Would an atheistic world which jettisons all religious tradition be better? You may think so, I may not, but neither of us can show any scientific proof of this. But historically I can show that Europe in the middle ages, despite popular belief, was a more civilized place than it was before Christianity.

      And, while you may argue that Christianity, like all religions changes (and I do agree), as a student of Patristic and Medieval Christian theology, I am afraid the most striking thing is how similar things are. What has changed is the world, culture, and what ideas are prominent. The church has flexed, compressed, split, and done many things. But the general lived reality of people engaging with each other in the context of the belief that God is ultimately at the ground of the universe, and ultimately loves them, remains the same.

      And there is no historical evidence of the worship of Apollo fading because it was too rigid,or the worship of Odin because it was too stodgy. Again, this is a myth. History tells a very different story about why religions die out. It is usually because of oppression by another belief system. Now, I am not at all convinced that Christianity may not disappear from almost all of the earth. For it may be that at some point our new priests of that ascendant god “physics’ may treat us as we once wrongly treated the followers of Mithras or Baldur, and purge from the planet as many followers of Christ, Buddha, Mohamed, and Moses as they can find “for the good of the human race.” Whether this is done with terrible weapons, or the terrible weapons of eugenics, really doesn’t matter. The possibility is certainly very real.

  6. Let me put it this way: If all human knowledge were lost, we would slowly but surely regain all our scientific knowledge. We would not regain our current religious beliefs, new ones will spring up to take their place but it won’t be the same ones.

    All traditions should be held up to scrutiny. All of those traditions change and evolve over time. People are continually updating and improving these traditions. Revelation on the other hand is claimed as coming from a unchanging god. More revalation should lead to more clarity wich is not the case.

    Religion, like secular law, served to order society. I agree with you that religions don’t usually get adopted because of their philosophical soundness but beause they “work”. I believe we now have enough social, scientific and philosophical tools to abandon our religious crutches. The persecution of the religious by the non religious has happened in communist countries but like eugenics, these movements should be treated like any fundamentalist ideology. As long as we are allowed to dissent (politically or religiously) our good ideas should be able to stand up to scrutiny.

  7. I agree with your first statement completely. Science is derived from things we can naturally do within the context of the universe. Religion is not. Unless of course any particular religion was in fact founded on a real revelation, and then it is very possible that the God who revealed it would reveal it again. Who can say what a God who chooses to speak to human beings will do except that God?

    On the other hand, we do not argue that God has given “more” revelation, but instead helped the church to unpack the revelation that has been given. Thus, what is known as progressive revelation is really the understanding that as time passes, the revelation becomes more clear, as long as we do not abandon the parts of it that were made clear in earlier times. (In fact, what systematic theologians like myself do is often to find that new understanding is helped along by really understanding that which came before us). Therefore, because the vast majority of Christians in the world are not fundamentalists (and never were, the exegetical schools of Antioch and Alexandria in the early centuries of the church are an excellent example), and do not read the Bible literally in all places, the concept of slavery was seen to be inconsistent with the progressive revelation of the meaning of the Incarnation. Similar discussions are happening today with the concepts of homosexuality and women’s roles in the church. So in this sense we do have some sense of change, but only in how we understand how the pieces of the revelation relate to each other. There is no “new” revelation, only progressive understanding of the old revelation. Religions with “new” revelations are those like Mormonism, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    And again, we have no record of religion existing because it “worked.” We see people, especially in the Roman Empire, adding foreign gods to domestic gods in the hopes of having a wider audience for their prayers, but never the simple utilitarian adoption of religion because it was practical. Instead, we have records of religions being adopted in spite of terrifying horrors that awaited those who adopted them. The records we have of people becoming this or that religion tend to be records of people striking out into wild and unpredictable directions, not answer questions that people had about the world or society. The Constantinian adoption of Christianity as the religion of the empire came nearly three hundred years after people had been adopting the religion with the very real promise of social exile and physical death.

    I agree with your final point very much. But I do wonder if we will be allowed to dissent in the future (either you or me, or both of us, honestly). I do not assume that science is more evil than religion, but that men and women are very often evil, especially if they are in power. Science is a neutral thing. A good scientist is one who reports what he or she sees as true, but then leaves it to people to take the information or leave it. A science teacher’s job is to educate his or her students. But the non-scientific attempt to eradicate religion from the world, which is very much the project of some of the modern atheist skeptics, is just as much a very real danger as fundamentalists trying to rid the world of scientists. It is rational to fear both, since both are real dangers.

  8. I guess I take issue with the premise of theological debate, that God intervenes in the natural realm, ie. miracles, prayer and revelation. What you are asking is that I believe that the natural “laws” of the universe (the very fabric of spacetime) was/is altered in a specific manner by a deity from another realm. Is it more likely that the laws were suspended in such a manner, that you have made a mistake or that you are relying on extremely dubious sources?

    Revelation will always boil down to hearsay and at the most, interpretation of personally experienced phenomena. If there is a supernatural realm but we cannot access it by any relibale way, it either has to interact with the natural realm, in which case it becomes verifiable, or it remains irrelevant. Coming back to my earlier point, if all religious knowledge were lost, and the one true god does reveal it again, how would it be distinguished from all the other religions/sects/superstitions that would spring up alongside it. Eyewitness testimony and personal experience is the most convincing to the experiencee but the least convincing to anyone else.

    “The argument that says “all things that are worth knowing are under the realm of science, and since revelation cannot be scientifically verified, it is not worth knowing” or anything like it, is suspiciously like the Papal claim to authority and infallibility.”

    I would respond with:
    “If the term “science” throws you off, then consider it a placeholder for “the closest to reliable truth humanity can manage using its most careful methods of scrutiny.”

    The thing is that religion does not only deal with its own magisterium, it continually makes claims about the natural world (miracles, power of intercession etc.). It becomes defensive when inquisitive minds encroach on what it sees as traditionally “its” territory. Case in point: your article about science and cosmology. As I understood it, you were saying that the ultimate questions should be left to theologians and that there are certain spheres of knowledge that science cannot say anything about. Throughout history science has time and again stepped on religion’s toes. Finding answers to questions that were traditionally purely philosophical in nature (Why are we good? Mind/Body dichotomy etc.). I’m therefore very weary of the belief that science has nothing to say about about cosmology, the human psyche, human nature or any other traditional religious/philosophical territory.

    Some would say it is a leap of faith to imagine a world beyond this world, I would call it a lapse in reason.

  9. Once again you fall into the fallacy of assuming you know the likelihood of the intervention of deity into our universe. There is not, and cannot be any data that would establish likelihood. There is only the rather overwhelming statement of human history that these things do in fact happen. And the fact is, that though most of human beings do not in fact know how quantum physics work, they do know when the laws of nature are being suspended (i.e. people have always been very well aware that virgins don’t have babies and men don’t walk on water). The modern physicist adds nothing to the conversation when he or she says “Well, granted that a man walked on water, which is very unlikely, it could have been a quantum fluke.” Everyone knows that, if it happened, it was a fluke, that is the nature of miracle. It is utterly unpredictable, unless of course you are on intimate terms with the one who is doing the miracles.

    Unfortunately your understanding of humanity seems to be very poor here. Eyewitness testimony, in the life of the average person, is overwhelmingly convincing. The sheer spread of Christianity in the first century is evidence enough of this. People went around saying “I saw a man rise from the dead” and people believed them. You may have contempt for those people for believing “hearsay” but the force by which these people attested this event (i.e. that they did it in the face of their own deaths, and there is no record of recantation) was deeply convincing to some people (and continues to be to this day). In fact, much of what we know about any history at all, and everything that anyone who is not an archaeologist knows, is all “hearsay.” But then, my experience is that people of the extremely unscientific mindset of your next point are also contemptuous of history as “too unscientific.”

    For your next point is “the closest to reliable truth humanity can manage using its most careful methods of scrutiny” is simply a confusion of terms. Science gives us facts, and facts that can be interpreted one way or the other. Facts that are overwhelming in one direction are considered “truth” by people who hold the position you are offering. But this is quite a leap. For the actual tool by which human beings come to “truth” is deductive logic. Science is, for all that it is, merely inductive logic. There has never been a scientific discovery that has arisen to the iron-clad truth of a soundly argued deductive argument. All of the “evidence shows” statements in the world can never jump from the category of induction to that of deduction.

    And this is where you leave real science behind and enter philosophy, and honestly, very poorly practiced philosophy. For it is a philosophy that degrades the act of philosophical thought. (And before we pick at nits about philosophy vs. theology, the only difference is that theology includes a single class of information, revelation, that philosophy does not. After that, they go on very much the same. But there are also plenty of things a philosopher would admit that a scientist would not, such as personal human experience.) To elevate science to a “truth getting tool” from what it actually is “a fact getting tool” is the real delusion of the position you are holding.

    In other words, Science does not give truth. And the claim that it does is a confusion of terms. You may say “granted then, science only gives us something that approximates truth, and only what is actually really useful to us.” But of course, the vast majority of human beings would disagree, for they want something more than the mere facts. They want truth, not just probability. As well, the vast majority of people have found that religion is an integral part of their lives. You would strip this away saying “it is not integral” as a blind man who has learned to adapt to his lack of sight would try to poke out the eyes of those who can see because he knows that we can get along without that sense.

    My argument that science does not answer “why there is something” is not the same argument that “science can’t talk about the human psyche.” Instead, my argument, and many theologians’ arguments, is that your position is a confusion of terms that makes claims for tools that cannot get at what you want. It is like a claim that if I do the right kind of math, the balance of my checkbook will go up. They are categorically different, though admittedly related, things. Math and checkbook balances are related, but not in the way that any math in the world that I do on some paper at home will really get at the reality of changing my balance. One category does not have access to the other.

    All science can do is tell us what things that already have some kind of existence in our universe do. Even starting from the most minuscule particle or the most vague field, there are things that already have existence. Science cannot tell us what brought them into existence, not because that is somehow the privilege only of theologians, but because the category of question is outside of the realm of those that ask “what does this do?” and “What can this math show?”

    This comes mainly from an abandonment of causation in the Aristotelian sense. Science is always and everywhere concerned with the material cause of things. However, when we come to the initial “coming into being” of our whole framework, we leave the question of material causes, and enter into a question of efficient causes in a way that a closed universal system cannot have them. For the modern model of the universe means that all causes are really only material causes,and there are no efficient causes.

    In other words, this whole elevation of science to the throne of knowledge is not because we have learned so much, it is because we have intentionally forgotten areas of human knowledge that exist outside of, and in fact, under-gird science.

    And the fact that we are both attempting to argue logically shows that there is a whole field of knowledge,and in fact the most fundamental field of intelligent inquiry, that is not in the least “scientific” (i.e. the collection and interpretation of data). Instead, it is logical, and that has to do with something that is immediately supernatural. For nowhere in the universe will you find the “ground/consequent” relationship. You may search the human brain all you want, and you will not find the “premise/conclusion” connection. You may find the brain doing activities that correspond with the statements “if/then” but you won’t find the actual real relationship between things that the brain is shaping our thought to make. For there is no such thing in the universe as logical connection. That is something only the rational mind can do. And, if our minds are free to make that connection, and not merely slaves to a deterministic material process, then they already have access at every second of every day to a free supernatural world where the connection of ground to consequent is possible in a way that material causation is not. Therefore, if you wish to know whether the supernatural is relevant, you need look no farther than your last “if/then” statement.

    Thus, the scientific view, which insists that it is the only keeper of truth, is the real lapse of reason. For confusing science with reason is very unreasonable.

  10. You seem to be wanting your cake and to eat it too. I’m perfectly happy with theologians contemplating theology or a supernatural realm. I’m just not convinced such a realm exists. You cannot both claim that religion asks different questions and then also make claims that fall well within the realm of science. If religion kept to the realm of theology, we wouldn’t be debating this right now. The religious often claim that science has nothing to say about the divine, but only when the results of scientific inquiry are unfavorable to their beliefs. If there ever were results that support their world view we wouldn’t hear the end of it. If science proved God does exist, would you accept it? Or would you still keep to the notion that they ask fundamentally different questions?

    Yes, we cannot go from inductive reasoning to deductive reasoning. Science does not claim to accurately represent reality, all it does is build models that are either useful in predicting and explaining phenomena. Whether or not humans are satisfied with these explanations is not really relevant. Some of us humans take scientifically derived facts as the truths because we yearn to know the truth. Pointing out this fallacy does nothing to strengthen the claims of religions. Just because we cannot know something by scientific means does not automatically give any one religion a gap to jump in with their own answers. (I guess they’re welcome to, but I don’t see them as adding anything useful to the debate)

    Science makes a lot less assumptions about reality than religion does. Religion assumes that revelation is of divine origin. It takes God as a given. Religion has always changed because of the advancement of scientific knowledge, not the other way around. Sure, science is based on deductive logic which in turn is based on inductive logic, but religion seems to be on even more shaky ground. Revelation is not based on reasoning at all. The unreliability of emotion and intuition as indicators of truth can be hard to face, but that’s precisely why we need things like evidence and peer review in the first place: to make sure our interpretations of phenomenon are the correct ones and not vulnerable to our own cognitive biases.

    Humans have always been prone to believe in other’s personal convictions and anecdotes. This does not make it a valid way of discerning truth. Not the age nor the ubiquity nor the strength of your convictions are convincing reasons to believe in a supernatural deity or events. Yes, humans will readily follow beliefs that give them hope, certainty, comfort etc. This does not in any way speak to the veracity of those beliefs. Many early christians believed (like some modern muslims do) that martyrdom is the only sure way to salvation. That is why they clung to their beliefs even in the face of torture and the threat of death.

    The pagans themselves felt very threatened by this new destabilizing, gods-denying cult just like the later church felt threatened by heretical views and new scientific discoveries. A belief that goes to the very core of one’s world view is not something you give up with ease. I digress, how does religion justify its assumption that what it believes to be divine revelation is in fact that?

    Concerning the nature of logic, yes, I will concede that logic is not corporal. It is however conceptual. Although a few fundamental principles of logic are not dependent on conceptual human thought, to assume that they are dependent on some supernatural entity is fallacious. These principles exist as the very nature of reality, without these principles there can be no reality or existence. They are part and parcel of what “is”. To propose a supernatural agent, especially an anthropomorphic one is just multiplying entities needlessly. You yourself admit that even God is subject to these fundamentals: “God is not “self-caused” as that would be a logical contradiction.”

  11. Not sure where I’m making claims that fall within the realm of science. Can you show where I’m making the scientific claim? And no, I would not believe scientists if they “proved” God, because the thing is logically impossible. Any “god” that was thus proved would not be the entity that monotheistic religion is speaking of. My point in the above article is that paganism would have a different answer to this question.

    Again, you are assuming that we ask the question “who created the universe” and then jump to the conclusion “God did.” This is historically inaccurate. No one was asking the question “who created the universe?” They were asking the question “how did things get the way they are?” Essentially they were asking the same question that scientists are asking today. What were the first conditions? How did they change? They used myths of sex, and cows, and melting ice. Scientists use formula about fields. This is not the same question as “Who created the universe?” That didn’t arrive as a question, it arrived as an answer to an unasked question.

    And this debate is good evidence of that. You simply can’t get your head around the question, since you’re perspective keeps answering it in ways that do not satisfy the question. That is understandable, because it does not seem to be a human question. It seems to be a divine intrusion offering a bit of evidence about something we never asked about. In the most advanced Philosophy of creation in the ancient world, Plato’s demiurge merely applies form to the void. Somewhere in Palestine, in a small town, most likely a priest wrote the words “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is not the answer to something. No one asked who did it, or when they did it, or how they did it. No pagan ever proposed something even similar. It just showed up somewhere. And there are two startling facts that lead me to believe that it is revelation.

    1. The question still doesn’t seem natural. When left to ourselves, we don’t ask that question until we are prompted to.
    2. The question seems to be a valid one, otherwise it would have been shown by logicians to be an invalid one long ago. But instead, logicians, and there were very very many of them in the second century when the first Christian Apologists were trying the weight of this revelation against them, only resorted to the dogma that “the universe is not created.”

    You see, your position is ancient, it is the Jewish/Christian position that is new,and it is revolutionary because it does not simply spring forth from what appears to be the natural course of human thought.

    My point about humans being convinced by experience was very specifically to counter your point that “Eyewitness testimony and personal experience is the most convincing to the experiencee but the least convincing to anyone else.” Which is simply demonstrably false.

    And, once more, your history is off. Pagans were not bothered by Christianity because it worshipped One God. They had dealt with the Jews for centuries and respected their stubbornness. The history is more complicated than that. The Jews were exempt from Emperor Worship, which for a time was granted to Christians because the Romans thought they were Jews. When the Birkat Ha’Minim and other activities separated Christians from the synagogues, the Romans removed the protection from the Christians as merely a breakaway sect. Thus the suspicion was largely national, and social, as Christians would not worship the emperor. There are also reasons to believe that the very earliest Christians were highly egalitarian, and this was seen as what we might call “terrorism” today, as undermining established social norms.

    But, the picture you paint of pagans being uneasy with Christians is rather false. Government was uneasy with Christians, but the average pagan didn’t notice them unless they were at the arena. For paganism was so complex and new cults were popping up all of the time, what was to be noticed about these new Christians?

    Again, we do not propose a supernatural agent simply to show that logic works, we argue that logic requires something outside of a causal system to work. And since simply saying “part and parcel of all that is” means that it is somehow and in some way part of that system, you are back to seeing it as inside of the causal system, and have not gotten over the real problem. Incidentally, this is why a very few pagans believed we have eternal undying souls…because we can reason. It was a conclusion drawn from a premise in a world where everyone believed that you sort of degenerated into a shadow, or you went an drank until you died again in a fiery battle. No one really, except perhaps Hinduism, had any concept that humans were immortal. But I’m sure that you would propose that religion was answering the question “what happens when you die” in a needlessly complex way. The thing is…we already had an answer, and it looks very much like the one that science would offer today.

    That is, until some very strange things happened in Palestine in the reign of the Emperor Augustus.

    As to the point about God obeying logic, that is a more complicated question. I would argue that nothing about God is illogical, but that logic finds its roots in the nature of God. Thus God will not contradict logic, but logic may not compass in God. If you try to argue that logic has its roots in the universe, you find that our thought is still bound by the processes of the universe, and no “free logical process” has been discovered or even proposed. As well, if it did exist, it would have to exist separate from the other processes in the universe, or on its own, only touching where there is “mind.” And since a process that is not affected by other processes, and only touches where there are human beings around, sounds exactly like a supernatural logical level, I think we return to my original assertion.

  12. “My point about humans being convinced by experience was very specifically to counter your point that “Eyewitness testimony and personal experience is the most convincing to the experiencee but the least convincing to anyone else.” Which is simply demonstrably false.”
    ^ I see, my bad.^

    The aforementioned claims that fall in the realm of science are all the claims of miracles in the Abrahamic faith’s accepted canon. We disagree on whether the holy scriptures (let’s stick with the gospels and acts for sake of argument) should be taken as literal accounts of what transpired. Yeshua of Nazareth probably never claimed that he was divine nor demonstrated anything that might have led people to attribute this to him. His divinity is a later invention, maybe a sincere one (meaning unintentional). Paul himself did not believe that Jesus was from God but that he was raised up to the point of being second only to God because of his faithfulness to God. The Trinity is a later doctrine that proposed that Jesus was of the same substance as God but still different in some way.

    Point on history: it is true that the Romans were much more tolerant toward other faiths/belief systems than the Greeks were. They venerated Judaism because of its antiquity and ethical reasoning and were only forced to crush the Jews following the various revolts. The new Christian cult was however fundamentally different to it’s pagan contemporaries in the fact that it denounced all other gods as false idols. No pagan would mind making room for yet another god in the pantheon. They accused the Christians as being atheists because of their adamant rejection of all gods except one. Civilization was seen as a great achievement and not something that should be threatened by mocking the existence of, or scoffing at the very gods that had a role in its creation. Christianity had neither the antiquity of Judaism nor the rituals of paganism but it spread because it had something different: hope. The theological arguments to back it up came later.

    Logic principles do not have their roots in the universe, the universe depends upon these principles. They are tautologies and self containing. If someone would like to call this god, by all means. But don’t then go proposing other demi gods or supernatural entities that act as intermediaries between our realm and this “prime logic”. These claims are dubious and unsubstantiated. That is what I take issue with. To propose that there is something “simple, non-composite, and changeless” is to propose something that cannot interact with the universe and something that we cannot grasp. Religion thus has the problem of being between a philosopher god and and anthropomorphic one. The “logically sound” one has no bearing on our lives or our universe. The intermediaries are the ones I object to because they would have to interact with this world and we would have more evidence than visions, hearsay and anecdotes.

    Incidentally I would propose that at the fundamental level the universe is simple, non-composite and unchanging, the emergent phenomena are however non of these. The more we find out about the universe the more we realize that (counter intuitively) complex things emerge from simpler things. The rules themselves don’t change but things change according to those rules. Where do the rules come from? Well, they don’t come from anywhere; existence has to follow these rules in order for it to be existence. If this is inherently supernatural, then I will accept that, but calling it God and trying to reconcile it with a specific middle eastern tribal deity is problematic. Our ability to somehow grasp this “idea” does not point to divine communion but to the amazing fact that brains are bits of the universe that have become conscious of other bits, itself and the underlying principles of existence.

  13. Once again, some really great stuff here.

    We must be clear about what we mean by miracles. A miracle, by definition, has two elements. First is the supernatural act, and second is the natural consequence. Thus, if a man walked on water, and it is a miracle, then there are two elements. There is the supernatural power that affects the water, or the man, or both. The second is the change in the water, man, or both. Now, the first element is outside of the realm of science. The the second element is not. If miracles were predictable, we would expect that what we could measure would be the seemingly causeless change in nature. What we would not expect to see is the supernatural impetus that caused them. It is this element that is outside of the realm of science. No one that I know of claims that the resurrected body of Jesus would have been opaque to a microscope. In fact, the records of Jesus eating after the resurrection seem to be aimed at those very kind of doubts.

    Your statement about Jesus’ claims to divinity are unsubstantiated. The so called “Historical Jesus” hypothesis begins with the assumption that the historical figure did not do miracles, did not claim divinity, and did not predict future events. And of course, working from that “demythologized” framework, that is what they found. Shocking.

    The arguments for the dates of the New Testament, especially Mark’s Gospel, which forms the low end of the Gospel tradition, are very dubious and show themselves to be hiding some very basic assumptions. The only tool used to date Mark is the Little Apocalypse. This is used based on the premise that “people don’t predict future events that really happen (i.e. the date of the Temple destruction)” and “if they do, they don’t write it down until it has already happened.” Thus Mark must be written around 70. However, this is demonstrably not true from the Hebrew scriptures. Most famously, the prediction of the time of exile by Jeremiah, recorded before the exile took place and then proved out by history. Now, this is not a proof of divine intervention, but a proof that the assumptions used to date the Gospels are quite loosely founded.

    Thus we cannot say what Jesus “probably” did if we do not know the real facts about how the Gospels were composed. Nor can we make a claim that certain records of Jesus are more valid than others unless we come to it with the assumption that we know that certain other records are from the gate invalid. But we do not know that, unless we wish to argue in a circle. Miracles are impossible, therefore any record of miracles is inadmissible. The claims for divinity in the Gospels are myriad, including claims that only one familiar with Jewish law and custom of the day would recognize. (such as Jesus’ claim that He is greater than the Temple).

    As far as Paul goes, it seems very clear that Paul did not have quite the same theology as the Council of Nicaea, but modern scholarship, especially that which has left Martin Luther’s understanding of Paul, has argued very convincingly that Paul saw Jesus much more clearly like the later church than “historical debunkers” would propose. For it is not an understanding of popular modern theories that is useful here, but a good understanding of Koine Greek and ancient culture.

    Also, every claim that you make about the Christians was true for the Jews as well. They despised the Roman and Greek gods as well as the Egyptian Gods. The difference was that the Christians actively made converts while the Jews passively did. The “godfearers” of the ancient world were just as much converts as new Christians.

    And to argue that the theological arguments came later is to ignore the early letters of Paul. And this was in a time well before Christians were persecuted. In fact, no one minded the Christians before their theology started to form. It was only when they were thrust out of the synagogues, and had their protection removed, that they became a target for scorn.

    I would ask what the conceptual and logical level “is” then. What is it made of, and how does it relate to the universe? If the universe is “founded” on it, in what way? Are you not merely making up a logical level to preserve your own logic with no scientific basis? How is this different than saying that God made the universe? And what is this fundamental level of the universe? Is it separate from the universe we see and know? Does it exist outside of the universe? Because then, once more, we come to a supernatural entity.

    And to the point of the “counter-intuitive” nature of complexities arising from simplicities, it would be best to consider the beliefs of the Valentinians, Neo-Platonists, and others who argue very clearly that complexity arises from simplicity. In fact, even several of the world “Creation” myths work in this order. The truly counter-intuitive thing is that the world does not start merely from “one” and move to “many” but that it starts from “non-being” and is brought into being.

    And I would argue once more, that the attempt here is not merely to take the God of the philosophers and somehow reconcile it with an anthropomorphic God. Christianity is the attempt to assimilate the information that a man was the incarnation of this God, Prime Logic, or, as St. John puts it, Logos. You may reject that information as false, and then not be a christian. Or you may accept it as true, and deal with all of the ramifications, many of which are very practical and useful in human life. But it would be a mistake to think that our project is somehow trying to reconcile these two elements to come up with a bridge between God and the universe. That is in fact the work of something like the Logos in Philo, or the Metatron in later Jewish Rabbinical tradition. Christianity is not a hypothesis, it is a consequence to a premise.

    “If this man was the very God of the Universe incarnate as a human being then…”

  14. One other note, since I did not reply to your statement about religion changing because of science. I think that when it comes to the subject of religion, this is simply demonstrably false. Christians in the ancient world believed the following:

    1. God created the universe
    2. People who were once good became bad, and that badness has polluted the whole world
    3. God became a human being to solve this problem
    4. That human being lived, died, and rose from the dead and then went “somewhere else” which is called “The right hand of God.”
    5. That human being will return to end history

    We believe the same things today. However, what has changed is how we understand each of these things particularly working in the context of the natural universe. For example:

    1. Most of us don’t believe that the 7 days of creation are literal. But the fact is, very few Christians believed that in the past. Many schools of thought existed in the very early centuries which understood that things like Genesis were not to be taken literally, but as metaphor or poetry speaking about things we cannot speak about normally.
    2. This belief has not been changed by science except that we now know that it could not have been humans to introduce the first breaking into the universe, but something earlier. Interestingly enough, before science told us how old the world was, we already had a sacred story about a being before humanity who messed everything up.
    3. Nothing at all has changed here because of science.
    4. Again, nothing at all has changed, except that instead of thinking that Jesus went up through the cosmos to the highest heavens, we now say that the “ascent” happened in a way that we do not know, and that the “right hand of God’ is a metaphor for God’s power (and this argument was being made in the 1520’s by Martin Luther, 40 years before Galileo was born, because of logic, not science).
    5. Again, nothing has changed. What has changed is that we think that the universe has a natural end now, which we didn’t before. However, this has no bearing on whether or not there will be a supernatural end.

    You can list any of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, from the inspiration of Scripture to the sacraments. Science has not in fact changed our core beliefs in any way.

    • Of course some Christians and Jews and Muslims have always viewed the more fanciful stories in the scriptures as metaphor while others believed them to be infallible literal accounts. Science has made it more difficult to accept these accounts as literal, especially the seven day creation myth.

      • I invite you to find the ones who thought that it was literal. They are few and far between up until the last two hundred years, and they are almost all those who have inherited a particular philosophy shared by Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. You will find almost none of this in the Patristic age, nor the medieval age (aka, the first 1500 years of Christianity).

  15. Yes, but why accept the premise?
    Because it was revealed to us divinely.
    But why believe a divine exists?
    The universe needs an explanation that itself require’s no explanation.
    How do we know this unexplained explanation can interact with the universe?
    Because it has, this man was the very God of the universe incarnate.
    Then I reject both premises, and I think we are at an impasse.

    • We may be at an impasse, but I would make one last comment about your above reasoning, and then, please, by all means, respond and let me know if you have tired of this debate. The statement “because it was revealed to us divinely” is not the reason given. A close study of every single move of divinity in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is one that works like this.

      “I Am God, and if you go and do this, X will happen.”
      The person goes and does it.
      X Happens.
      Another generation comes.
      “I Am the God of your fathers who did X, now you go do Y and Z will happen.”
      People do Y, Z happens.
      Or, more often, people don’t do Y, and Z does not happen.

      This is the basis of religion. A truth claim backed up by experience. You may find millions of examples of these kind of claims on a much smaller level in the everyday lives of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. The question of comparative religion from a Christian perspective may be answered simply that God has never abandoned the Jews, and God accepts the Muslims as part of the overall family of monotheism.

      And the fact that there are an overwhelming number of human experiences that follow this pattern (of which I think almost any Christian can fashion you with several), is either mass hysteria (of which there is no other evidence) or real divine communication (of which this could actually be evidence).

      But what you will not get is the logic that you propose above. And the Incarnation fits into this as well. Jesus made claims, and then backed them up. You may say that he made no claims, or that his claims were not backed up. And there is our impasse. But for those who do accept that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who “brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt” we find that there is a rather continuous intercourse of mind that involves the divine command and resulting good when it is followed, or the divine prohibition and resulting ill effects when it is disobeyed.

      • No it is not mass hysteria but the kluge we call our brain. We all suffer from conformation bias, anchoring and use ad hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. I lack the believe that the scriptures that the Abrahamic faiths (especially the pentateuch) are anything more than oral traditions that were written down, concatenated, edited and updated by more than one person.

        It is this skepticism that leads me to question their content’s veracity. You may be of the opinion that the whole of scripture reveals a “simple, non-composite, and changeless” deity, but I do not.

      • Had to cut that one short.

        …You might be of the opinion that these ideas are fundamentally different to any other religion and you may be right. It just isn’t enough to convince me that they are true. There seems to have been decades and centuries spent trying to reconcile contradicting information. You might see this as just trying to better understand the true meaning of what was originally intended. I don’t have a problem with trying to find meaning in ancient texts, I just don’t have that need myself. As long as no one is following a fundamentalist ideology I’m happy.

        This debate has been quite satisfying. I enjoyed debating a Doctoral student in theology, but I think my brain needs some rest. This is after all not really my field of study nor my first language. I’ll continue to check in on your blog and maybe give my two cents on your posts.

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